The COVID-19 pandemic has driven many people to take up running to get their exercise fix or take control of their health. A September poll of almost four thousand runners by RunRepeat found that 28.76% had started running in the last 14 months. Of these new runners, around half plan to participate in races .
Like many before them, it’s likely that these fledgling competitors are chasing an edge to maximise their performance. Runners readily invest in the best footwear and training programs but commonly overlook one of the most simple ways to get better results: lifting weights!
Heavy strength training is a low hanging fruit for improving running performance. A simple strengthening routine added to a well-designed running program has a host of benefits for performance and improving tissue capacity.
Many runners would find this counterintuitive and have concerns that lifting heavy weights will mess with endurance gains by increasing muscle mass. A common belief is that weight training for runners should be high rep-low load to mimic the endurance demands of running.
Evidence clearly shows that these concerns are unfounded. A systematic review from 2018 showed that both heavy or explosive resistance training improves running economy (the energy or oxygen cost of running), time trial performance and maximal sprint speed in middle and long distance runners .
It was found that runners completing these styles of resistance training had greater improvement than those partaking in a strength-endurance approach. It seems that heavier or explosive weight-lifting offers considerably more bang for buck than the traditional high-rep, load low method. This makes sense when you consider the forces that the leg muscles produce while running, the soleus muscle alone exerts force of up to six times body weight during stance phase while running at 4:46 min/km . Stronger lower limb muscles can exert the required force for propulsion with greater efficiency.
We should also consider the potential that resistance training has to decrease risk of injury. We have good evidence that resistance training reduces risk of both acute and overuse injuries across a range of sports  While this has yet to be replicated specifically in runners, it is fair to assume that these findings are broadly applicable due to the comparable physical demands in these sports. It seems that tissue adaptations to strength training helps the body withstand the physical demands of running.
If you’re interested in complementing your running program with strength work, book in for a consultation. We have developed an assessment tool for runners using our force platforms and dynamometers. Identifying and quantifying areas of weaknesses and asymmetries aid in developing individualised strength programs to improve performance.
- Athletic shoe reviews. 2021. Running Boom: 28.76% of runners started during the pandemic. [online] Available at: <https://runrepeat.com/new-pandemic-runners> [Accessed 6 December 2021].
- Blagrove, R., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 48(5), 1117-1149. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7
- Dorn, T., Schache, A. and Pandy, M., 2012. Muscular strategy shift in human running: dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance. Journal of Experimental Biology, 215(11), pp.1944-1956.
- Lauersen, J., Bertelsen, D. and Andersen, L., 2013. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(11), pp.871-877.