As an Osteopath and Personal Trainer who works largely with endurance runners, I’m constantly encouraging my clients to build regular strength-training into their running regimes to improve their running performance. Traditionally the training protocols, physiques and events associated with strength training have been quite different to that of distance runners. However, studies are showing us that there may be a link between engaging in heavy weight training and improvements in running performance.
What Happens When Distance Runners Lift Heavy Weights?
Studies have shown that over time the message has been the same…heavy weight training improves running performance! An article published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning in 1997 observed the effect that strength training had on female distance runners after 10 weeks of strength training combined with endurance training. The participants performed various exercises such as the lateral pulldown, bench press, squat and lunge. The researchers observed improvements in running economy without any changes in body composition. Strength training lead to an increase in running performance but did not result in the development of a bulky, muscular physique.
Norwegian researchers conducted a study in 2008 analysing how maximal strength training impacts running economy. They found that after 8 weeks of performing squats at high weight for low reps x3 per week, there were significant improvements in not only running economy but also maximal aerobic speed. The researchers also observed no change in body composition.
In 2016, researchers from universities in Spain and Greece performed a systematic review of several studies that looked at the effects of strength training on running economy. They concluded that endurance training in combination with strength training performed 2-3x per week for 8-12 weeks is an appropriate strategy to improve running economy.
If you’re a runner and you want to improve your running performance, include 2-3 days of upper and lower body strength work. Try not to be too fixated on getting your miles in. Allow time for your body to recover from your runs by lifting weights in between. In my experience this will not only improve your running performance but also decrease your risk of injury.