Runners and Resistance Training

It's unfortunate, really, that distance runners - and endurance athletes, in general – could benefit more from a solid strength training program than nearly any other population.  I say this is unfortunate because the majority of distance runners tend to be more adamantly opposed to strength training than almost any other group of people I’ve witnessed.    I’ve heard it all:

  • “But I’ll get slower if work out in the weight room”
  • “I’ll become ‘big and bulky’ if I lift weights!”
  • “Strength training will interfere with my running” (yes, it certainly could, but only if you don’t understand how to design the program appropriately)
  • “Won’t I gain body fat if I cut back on running and replace it with lifting?”
  • “Well, I get all the ‘strength training’ I need for my lower body through running!”
  • “I don’t have time to strength train”

I can see why these concerns may arise in a distance runner, especially if he or she has never experienced the value of a professional designing his or her strength training program (p.s. most of those programs you read in the magazines don’t count).  However these qualms with strength training tend to be grounded upon emotion, misconceptions, a bad experience, and/or erroneous propaganda as opposed to reason and approaching the topic with no presuppositions.Now, I can’t necessarily blame them, as there are many factors outside their control constructing their belief of the relationship between resistance training and running.  However, understand that as a performance enhancement specialist, I write this series in an effort to help the endurance community – not deride them.

Why is it accepted - rather than vehemently challenged - that the majority of runners will experience an injury in the next year?  

Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run, cites multiple statistics claiming over 66% of runners will suffer a serious injury in a given YEAR.  Yet this is just shrugged off by the endurance community as the norm??!  Stress fractures, IT Band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, patellofemoral knee pain, low back pain, and tendonitis plague the bodies of distance runners and yet this seen as “the consequence of the sport??”

I used to work as a Physical Therapist Aid, and an astonishing percentage of non-surgical patients in therapy were runners!  And you know what the advice of the physical therapist was (on top of rest, ice, and soft tissue work)? 


Now, I’m aware that when you hear the words “strength training” the first image that comes to mind is a bunch of college boys bench pressing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and incessantly bicep curling away in front of the mirror.  I can’t blame you.

But understand that a good training plan incorporates movement preparation, corrective exercise, dynamic flexibility, resistance training, core work, cardiovascular work, and recovery/regeneration.  This can be accomplished in as little as two, 75-minute sessions a week (even less if you’re really pressed for time).

Most distance runners tend to approach their training by punching the accelerator while the emergency brake is on.

As Alwyn Cosgrove says:

“All of us in the fitness industry, trainers and trainees alike, have been brainwashed into thinking that the only way to improve results is to push harder. If you aren’t making gains, it’s because you aren’t training hard enough or often enough…The answer to every problem is to punch down harder on the accelerator. 

But think of a car with the parking brake on. If you push harder on the gas pedal, you’ll only run out of fuel quicker, right? But if you take off the brake, the car will go farther and faster, and probably use less fuel in the process."

With runners, this couldn't be more true.  Most runners assume that the answer to faster times, enhancing cardiovascular capacity, and improving running economy is to run more, more, and some more.

Need to improve my 5k, 10k, or marathon time?  Add more miles each week!

How do I lose that extra five pounds to make me faster?  Increase my weekly running frequency!

This will keep going.  More miles.  More days per week.  Just continuing to press down on that accelerator while your body is trying to tell you that there is a parking brake lifted and you need to release the brakes before you continue to burn fuel and eventually sustain an injury.  Maybe not even accrue an injury.  Maybe just continue to go about your training in a sub-par manner, requiring your body to do more work than is actually necessary to achieve your goals.

As Mike Boyle says:

"In endurance training, the emphasis is usually high on the quantity side and low on the quality side.  This is the main mistake of endurance athletes in training."

Well, what are the "parking breaks" in endurance athletes, you ask?  The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Stiff/immobile ankles.  Poor ankle mobility and ROM is strongly correlated with ankle sprains, tendonitis, and pain/deficiencies further up the kinetic chain (think knees and hips).  Everything starts from the ground up, so don't ignore this area.
  • Unstable knees and hips.  Honestly, I want to cringe when I drive by people jogging on the side of the road.  Knees and feet flailing about since they don't have the hip stabilizers required to keep everything in line and move proficiently.  Knees landing way out of alignment with their feet.  It's terrible.  Not because they look goofy, but because I wonder how long it will be before they need to schedule a visit with the physical therapist.
  • Weak/dormant Glutes.  I'm sad to say we live in a society plagued with "gluteal amnesia."  Steady state running does absolutely nothing to strengthen the glutes, which is a death sentence to running efficiency, low back health, proper knee tracking, and overall structural enhancement (in more ways than one :) ).
  • Terrible thoracic mobility.  Think range of motion about your spine in the upper back region.  Have problems with the low back, shoulder joint or neck?  Look at what's going on at the thoracic spine.
  • Poor Running Form. Every mile you run requires roughly 1,500 plyometric repetitions with forces of 2-4 times bodyweight. Better make sure each of those reps is done correctly.

The list goes on, but my point is you have to release the breaks.  And you can't release them by just tacking on those miles to your training weeks.

You need a solid resistance training program.  The tricky part is ensuring that the program addresses your needs and, does so with the appropriate frequency, intensity, and volume so that it


your body as a running machine as opposed to hindering your training sessions.  Unfortunately the professionals that know how to do this are few and far between.

I've been there.  

I want to make sure you're aware that

I have personally competed in endurance races in the past

.  So I'm not just preaching at runners from a completely removed standpoint.  My training weeks frequently entailed NO MORE than 2-3 running sessions a week.  How did I do this?  I released the breaks through appropriate strength training, followed the 80-20 rule, and ran


, not hard.

I can also tell you that every runner that has trained with us at SAPT has seen a DROP in their running times, along with decreased (sometimes eliminated) pain associated with all the "nagging injuries" they had when they first walked in our doors.  Something is working.

To any endurance athletes in the crowd that need that extra boost to their training, click


to get started, whether it be in our training facility, or, should you live across the country, through our distance coaching program!