Strength Training for the Endurance Runner

Some endurance runners laugh at the thought of it; others have little time for it; and then some of us just simply don’t know where to start with it. But strength training can be easily applied and doesn’t have to dominate your training schedule to be effective; after all, who has time to go to the gym for 60 minutes three times weekly right?

So why should a time-starved endurance runner integrate a strength program into their busy schedule?

An integrated strength program is not simply lifting heavy weights or attending a Pilates class for a couple of sessions per week. A good strength program should be progressive whilst also targeting muscle and joint mobility and stability, as well as muscular strength. This will improve the movements necessary to make performance specific gains. Therefore, the benefits of a well-designed strength program will unlock your potential as an athlete in four specific ways:

  • Increased movement synchronisation and co-ordination
  • Improved form and biomechanics
  • Improved running posture and athleticism
  • Enhanced injury prevention.

So what does this mean for the endurance runner:

  1. An integrated strength program will enable you to activate your muscles correctly through your entire gait cycle. Therefore, all your muscles will work together so instead of stronger muscles compensating for weaker ones, you’ll have synchronised movement with maximum strength potential.
  2. Your running form and biomechanics will also improve which will enable you to run more efficiently and generate a much greater given power output
  3. Good running form will also improve your breathing and overall running economy enabling you to enhance your VO2 max
  4. Lastly, staying healthy unlocks the holy grail of endurance running, being able to train consistently over many months without having to take time off through injury.

How should you integrate a strength program into your busy running schedule?

To avoid compromising allocated endurance training, your strength training program must be efficient and focus on the key pillars of movement.  However, it should still be progressive, specific and target mobility, stability, strength, synchronisation of movement and plyometrics.

So, let’s break a strength training plan down into several key phases:

  1. Foundation phase: This will include the introduction of movement patterns to increase movement competency and synchronisation. This phase will increase your mobility and stability whilst correcting for movement asymmetries.
  2. Preparation phase: Focus will be placed on maintaining the core principles of the foundational phase whilst increasing strength capacity.
  3. Strength phase: This phase focuses on increasing functional muscle mass. This is achieved through a balance of mechanical stress (the weight that is lifted) and metabolic stress (the total time the muscle is under tension within a set, due to a changes in tempo or the volume prescribed).
  4. Race specific phase: Perform more power and explosive exercises whilst maintaining the strength and movement patterns acquired from the previous phases. Your program will also become more regenerative to support the rigours of the endurance race by performing more mobility exercises.

What exercises should be included in an integrated strength program?

In the SquareOne performance program we focus on the building blocks of human movement and we coach our endurance athletes to become competent in each movement. These individual movements have exercise patterns ranging from easier to advanced.

The movements are:

  • Squat (Double leg/ single/ split)
  • Deadlift
  • Upper body push
  • Upper body pull
  • Hurdle step
  • Rotary stability
  • Trunk stability

How long and how frequent should strength sessions be?

Typically, 30-45 minutes for two sessions per week depending on the phase and time you have available. In fact, you can do these exercises with minimal equipment, however the key is to focus on how your program is related to your endurance activity.

Blog written by Shaun Clements APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and member of the SquareOne Performance Physiotherapy team.