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Skinny African’s & Ethiopians runners are not the average people you expect to see in your local gym. But is that because weight training is detrimental to their running performance? Well yes and no. Some readers might be surprised to learn just how many studies have been conducted concerning the effects of weight training on endurance running performance. These studies suggest that if done the right way, weight training can give the likes of Haile Gebrselassie the edge they’re after.

Concurrent Training

As touched on above, a rife of studies in the last 3-4 years have looked at whether weight training can improve running performance. What’s more, studies have looked specifically how to modify the variables of weight training so as to produce optimal improvements in running speed and economy. In the literature, the combination of weight training and endurance training is referred to as ‘concurrent training’. However, when weight training is found to adversely affect running or endurance performance, this is referred to as the ‘interference effect’.

For weight training to provide a significant performance benefit, evidence suggests it needs to be of relatively low duration and high intensity. More specifically, weight training should incorporate what is termed maximal and explosive strength training. Plyometric training also falls broadly under the umbreally of weight training and it forms an important part of an effective strength training program.

Maximal Resistance Training

Maximal weight training refers to lifting loads between 70-90% 1RM with low repetitions per set. This is said to result foremost in neural adaptations followed by muscle hypertrophy over prolonged training periods. An example of a maximal strength training program for a runner is shown below.

Maximal Strength

Exercise

Sets

Repetitions

Load

Recovery (min)

Squat

3

4-6

80-85% 1RM

2

Leg-press

3

4-6

80-85% 1RM

2

Calf exercise

2

12-15

50-60% 1RM

2

Sit-ups, back-extension

3

20-30

Body weight

2

 

Explosive Resistance Training

In contrast, explosive resistance training involves lifting low to medium loads (between 30-60% 1RM) at high speeds to improve neuromuscular characteristics, especially rapid activation of the muscle due to increased motor unit recruitment. More specifically, during explosive strength training, the focus is on executing the concentric movements of each exercise at maximal speed with good form. An example of an explosive power strength training program for a runner is shown below.

Explosive Power

Exercise

Sets

Repetitions

Load

Recovery (min)

Squat

3

6

30-40% 1RM

2

Leg Press

3

6

30-40% 1RM

2

Scissor jump

2-3

10s

20 kg

2

Maximal squat jump

2-3

5 single

Body weight

2

Maximal squat jump

2-3

5 in series

20kg

2

Sit-ups, back-extension

3

20-30

Body weight

2

 

Combined Maximal & Explosive Training

The combination of both maximal and explosive strength training has been shown to be more effective in improving strength, power and muscular activation in recreational endurance runners than say concurrent circuit and endurance training1. A mix of maximal and explosive strength training in a single session and performed together with endurance training can have an additive effect over maximal or explosive strength training performed concurrently with endurance training in recreational endurance runners. This fact has been verified by a number of studies.

For example, the graph below shows the results of a study that took a group of runners and split them into four different training groups. One group trained using a maximal strength protocol (MAX), another using an explosive power protocol (EXP), another with a mixed of maximal strength and explosive power (MIX), and yet another that undertook a circuit training type protocol that only used body weight as resistance (CON). As you can see, the MIX group had superior strength and power results throughout the 8 week course of the study.

1Rm leg press loadCMJ

 

Example of Running Strength Training Program

The table below provides an example of both a maximal strength and explosive power weight training regime as well as an example of a combined or mixed maximal strength and explosive power such as is recommended for endurance athletes such as runners.

Mixed Maximal Strength & Explosive Power

Exercise

Sets

Repetitions

Load

Recovery (min)

Squat and Leg Press (wk 0-wk 4)

Warm-up

1-2

10

50-70% 1RM

2

Maximal strength training

2

4

4RM

3

Squat/Leg Press (wk 4-wk8)

Warm-up

2

10

50-70% 1RM

2

Maximal strength training

3

4

4RM

3

Box jumps

2-3

8-10

Body weight

2-3

Vertical jumps

2-3

8-10

Body weight

2-3

Sit-ups, back extension

3

20-30

Body weight

2

 

Plyometric Training

Box jumps and vertical jumps cited in the above table are common examples of plyometric exercises. Several studies in recent years have sought to determine whether incorporating plyometric exercises into a running program can improve performance. A review published in 2008 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that explosive weight training such as plyometrics was likely to lead to a positive effect on endurance running performance2. More recent studies published as late as 2014 were also able to conclude that properly programmed concurrent explosive strength and endurance training could be advantageous for middle- and long-distance runners in their competitive performance3. Among well-informed running circles, its widely accepted that a propely devised plyometric training programme can play a vital role in optimising endurance running performance.

If you are looking for an extra edge in your running, consider a properly devised strength training program that incorporates the elements mentioned in this article. In order not to hinder your running performance, its important not to ease into the weight training and always focus on quality over quantity.

 

1. Taipale RS, et al. Neuromuscular adaptations during combined strength and endurance training in endurance runners: maximal versus explosive strength training or a mix of both. Eur J Appl Physiol (2013) 113:325–335.

2. Yamamoto, LM, Lopez, RM, Klau, JF, Casa, DJ, Kraemer, WJ, and Maresh, CM. The effects of resistance training on endurance distance running performance among highly trained runners:A systematic review. J Strength Cond Res 22: 2036–2044,2008.

3. Ramirez-Campillo R, et al. Effects of plyometric training on endurance and explosive strength performance in competitive middle- and long-distance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2014; 28(1)/97–104.

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