Running’s Forgotten Asset : Strength & Conditioning for Endurance

So you’ve signed up for that charity 10k in the midst of mince-pie-ridden guilt, and now you are in the changing rooms of the gym lacing up ready to slog out 40 minutes easy jogging in the Cardio area. After all, thats how you train for a run, right?

You may think you are doing the right thing, but sticking to the trusty treadmill day after day will mean you are missing on one of the most effective assets in the avid runner’s armoury: strength training…

But the Weights Room is Only for the Shredded, Muscly Blokes, Right?

Walk into any weights area of most popular gyms, and you will no doubt see the odd Grunter lifting disgusting amounts of weight with ridiculous ease floating around a squat rack. Yet almost everyone else in the vicinity is…a little more conservative when it comes to the numbers being lifted!
Image result for muscle gym

Free weights have gained popularity in the last two decades, largely due to their well-documented benefits for the general population. Gym facilities have become more inclusive, welcoming, and community-based environments that cater for all abilities. Secondly, no longer is the humble bench restricted to anyone whose muscles defy the laws of biology; free weights have now become the everyday gym-goer’s best friend!

And yes, runners can stray from the cross-trainer to train with free-weights; indeed, a well-structured programme could, believe it or not, pose more benefits for your endurance performance than spending 60 minutes slogging away on the treadmill…

How it works…

Resistance training causes a variety of physiological adaptations to occur, many of which pose direct benefits to your running performance…

Image result for strength for runnersBy changing the type of training you do on a regular basis from solely cardio to a varied routine that involves a couple of weight training sessions every week, you will stimulate an increase in strength of your ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues. This will serve to massively reduce your chances of injury when you hit the roads attempting to hit a 5K PR!

Furthermore, including more strength and power-based exercises, such as Box Jumps, Step-Ups, Ski Jumps & Burpees improves neuromuscular coordination. This is a posh way of saying how the speed of instructions sent from the Central Nervous System to each individual muscle increases significantly, ultimately meaning that you become more efficient with your movement. This could be the difference between running a good race and a great race!

Finally, most free-weights and bodyweight exercises involve a significant element of core activation as you are constantly aiming to maintain balance whilst moving through an exercise. The development of a strong core is a must-have on every runner’s physiological CV as it reduces the chances of lower back pain or other spinal aches and pains. 

So if I want to Run fast, I Need to Lift Weights…?

Well, eventually yes. But first, it is important to master the art of moving correctly and safely. This is where bodyweight exercises come into play…

Practice bodyweight squats, hip-hinges and press-ups (or modified press ups) until you get confident with the different movements. At the gym, stick to a combo of fixed resistance machines and bodyweight exercises before trying squat under a loaded barbell (recipe for disaster…). This will help you to build a base level of strength and groove different movements so that when you start more advanced training methods, you will be primed for maximal #Gainz…

For more information on how to train for endurance with weights, feel free to contact me via:, or check out this great article

Okay, but I have never lifted a Weight in my Life; Where do I Start?!

As with every new experience, going into the weights room is a bit of a scary one, and if you are struggling to pluck up the courage to enter the weights room then check out the infographic at the bottom of this article. 
However, one of the best ways to overcome the initial fear of a room full of dumbbells is to go in knowing exactly what you are going to do, what you need to do it and where you need to go. That’s where the planning comes in…
To start with, you just want to keep it simple; pick 5-8 exercises, order them from hardest to easiest, and repeat that session 2 x per week for a month or so. This will help you gain confidence in your ability as you become better and better at each exercise, to the point at which it becomes (almost) habitual.
However, remember that weight training for runners is not limited to the lower body, and each session should try and incorporate more than just exercise to develop leg strength. Below is a brief summary of the best exercises I have used myself when it comes to improving my running

Building Stronger Legs

Image result for bodyweight squat formTo start off, you want to master the Big Daddy of Strength and Conditioning: the squat. As you become more competent with bodyweight squats, there are many different ways to add an external load to help ramp up the intensity and increase overall strength in the lower body.
Image result for lungesOnce you have mastered the squat, other useful lower-body exercises to include:
  • Deadlifts- Squatting’s Best Man (just as important), Deadlifts are a great way to build rock-solid hamstrings and glutes, both of which are often regarded as weak points for runners
  • Lunges –once you are strong enough, try progressing to explosive Plyo-Lunges to help build power and reap the benefits for your neuromuscular system
  • Box Jumps- get the heart rate soaring with the brutal box jump. When included in a regular routine, these will help develop your anaerobic capacity to help you push through on that final kilometre!

Don’t Forget about Upstairs…

Image result for hyperextension
Upper body work, including bench press, shoulder press and row variations, are just as important in a training routine for endurance. 
Developing strength endurance in your chest, back and core is important when aiming for the optimal posture during running gait. Integrating the following exercises into your programme will help you do this:
  • Hyperextensions/Supermans – these help to develop the stabilising muscles in the spine and lower back, whilst also hitting a bit of extra glute work (which, for many of us runners, is a big bonus…)
  • Planks – a timeless legend of the world of Weight Training, planks are a great way to get accustomed to bracing your core properly, which will reduce the risk of injury when you are running. 
  • Overhead Press/Shoulder Press – this compound lift requires a bit more experience, but once you are competent, will activate your entire core whilst also building rock-solid shoulders.

The Final Word

If you are anything like me, running can become a bit addictive. When you are training for a big event, all you want to do when training is either hit up a long, steady-state run or ramp up the intensity with some hill work or tempo training.
But if you really want to take your running to the next level, integrating a couple of strength training sessions every week will help you push for those split times you’ve been dreaming of.
Whether it’d be injury prevention, rehabilitation, or speed development, there are so many different reasons to lay off the treadmill once in a while and hit the other parts of the gym.
Plus, everyone needs a bit of variety after all…


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