Previously it was thought Physical Therapists should withhold strength training from endurance athletes or have athletes perform exercises with high reps (>15) and low weights (30-45% 1 rep max). These incorrect guidelines and prescriptions created insufficient training loads in endurance athletes and even worse led many endurance coaches and athletes to avoid weight training all together. As our research improved over the past two decades we have gained a better understanding on the performance benefits of heavy (70-85% 1 rep max) strength training in this population. Surprisingly, the evidence on strength training and injury risk reduction in runners is lacking, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a strong, injured runner. Importantly, runners have been shown to quickly increase their strength and performance with weight training without significant changes in either body mass (hypertrophy). A recent review of the literature describes what performance benefits runners can expect with adding weigh training into their training.
Authors in the journal Sports Medicine reviewed 16 studies on the impact of strength training on recreational and professional runners (Denadai et al. 2017). Each of these studies examined the impact of adding heavy weight training and/or plyometrics into a runner’s current program. Significant improvements were found in strength, time trial performance, time to exhaustion, and importantly running economy. A runner’s efficient utilization of fuel and oxygen at a given speed over a given distance has been shown to be one of the most important predictors of running performance. These gains were found without significant changes in body mass reducing athlete’s unjustified fears of “bulking up” or putting on weight. Also participants did not report increased fatigue or lack of recovery time on subsequent runs. Strength gains were thought to occur to improved activation of muscles and recruitment of motor units (motor nerve and its’ innervated muscle fibers).
In our Boulder Physical Therapy practice we advise our runners to create a program specific to their needs with an emphasis on strength development under heavy loads (70-85% of 1 repetition max). In general athletes should aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions (1-2 repetitions in reserve at the end of each set) performed 2-3 times per week. Exercises should be selected from these 4 categories. Videos can be found here
Core strength – anterior, posterior, lateral, or median line weakness assessed with the bunkie test
Squat – sit to stand, goblet squat, front squat, back squat or split squat
Hinge – Romanian deadlift, kick stand deadlift, or single leg deadlift
Calf – bilateral or single leg heel raises