Strength Training for Runners: Part 3 - The Programme

Image: One of our former runners, Penny, testing her Jump Performance as part of her strength & power programme.

In part 1 and part 2 I discussed why you should remove circuit training from your schedule and include plenty of strength training to help improve endurance performance.

If you have not yet read either part 1 or part 2 I strongly suggest you do before reading on.

In this instalment I aim to help you understand what it is you should be doing.

Now, please understand that the programme of one individual is going to be completely different from that of another. I am only outlining the basic fundamental principles of an endurance athlete's strength training plan, and will not be able to identify the finer details that your programme needs to ensure success in your own specific goal(s).

It is my responsibility, as a strength and conditioning professional, to educate the endurance athlete on the importance of strength training to improve their economy, thus reducing their metabolic demand, ultimately leading to an improvement in endurance performance (Johnston, et al., 1997; Paavolainen et al., 1999).

In athlete’s currently performing endurance training, it may be necessary to reduce their volume by 40-60% (Tønnessen et al., 2014) in order to allow for the introduction of specific strength training that involves traditional closed chain movements such as squats, deadlifts, squat jumps, Olympic lifts, hops, and bodyweight jumps. This reduction is best coming from exercise duration/length rather than frequency.

Figure 1 Comparison of improvements between strength training only, endurance only vs. concurrent training.

As can be seen in figure 1, larger improvements in endurance performance (blue) can be experienced when strength and endurance training is combined versus just one of those methods performance alone (Blagrove, 2013).

The reduction in endurance training volume will account for the additional work during strength training sessions, of which should be included in the athlete’s programme at least twice per week in order to experience positive neuromuscular adaptations (Heggelund, et al., 2013).

Movements such as squats, deadlifts, squat jumps, Olympic lifts, hops, and bodyweight jumps are to be utilised in order to increase the athlete’s ability to produce maximal force, thus reducing the intensity at which they will be working at during their sport.

Image: One of our marathon runners, Leza, has a back squat 3RM of 106kg.

During the early stages of strength training, emphasis is to be placed on strength training, at loads greater than 80% of their one repetition maximum (1RM) as this will lead to greater adaptations (Caleb, et al., 2015), however, the inclusion of Low Force Hight Velocity (LFHV) movements must be considered as the athlete develops in order to optimally improve and target all sections of their force-velocity spectrum.

The inclusion of such power training methods is important, as they not only have a positive impact on economy (Saunders et al., 2006) but also increased stiffness upon landing (Verkhoshanky, 1966; Caleb et al., 2015) and may reduce the risk of injury in endurance sports that involve running and jumping.

An example of how these movements could be structured in a session is given in table 1.

Table 1 Example of a strength-trained endurance athlete’s strength training session

During such movements, it should be highlighted that weight is to be moved as fast as possible during the concentric (driving) portion of the repetition. This focus may then result in an increase in the athlete’s ability to produce force at a faster rate (Heggelund, et al., 2013).

The exercises selected are to develop:

  • Eccentric control

  • Landing absorption and stability

  • Prevention of overuse injuries

  • Economy of movement

  • Joint stiffness

  • Economy of movement

  • Rate of Force Development

  • Plyometric ability

  • Ballistic / explosiveness

  • Stabilisation of muscles

  • Prevention of fatigue

  • Maintenance of good posture under fatiguing conditions

  • Pelvic control - ‘you cannot shoot a cannon out of a canoe’

If the athlete’s work schedule permits, it is recommended that strength and endurance training sessions are performed separately (table 2) to prevent an interference effect, preferably with endurance training being completed first, followed by strength training more than six hours later (Kraemar and Szivak, 2012) in order to allow the athlete to recover optimally and restore depleted glycogen levels through correct nutritional strategies (eating lots).

Table 2 Example of typical concurrent training week for an endurance athlete

The individuals ability to train will be dependant on:

  • Acute and chronic fatigue / tiredness

  • Glycogen status (ability to eat enough food)

  • Current volume and intensity of endurance training

  • External stressors - job, family, friends, finances, sleep etc

However we should generally aim for the following:

  • 2-3 strength sessions per week

  • lasting 45 minutes to 1-hour (not including warm up)

  • Progressive

  • Including exercises that are directly transferable to the sport and are designed to:

  1. Improve strength

  2. Improve economy

  3. Decrease injury risk.

Utilising strength training effectively in order to improve their economy could be the necessary intervention required to separate one athlete from another, particularly between athletes with a similar VO2max (Bassett and Howley, 1997).

During the early stages of developing a novice endurance athlete, the emphasis should be on maximal strength development first before eccentric-type training (Beattie et al., 2014). This may involve:

  • Sets consisting of 1-3 reps

  • Ultimate aim of training force production (move weight as fast as possible)

  • High Force, Low Velocity (HFLV) training which has been shown to produce more performance improvements over a larger portion of the force-velocity spectrum than LFHV (Caleb et al., 2015).

For the experienced strength-trained athlete, however, a continual emphasis on all parts of the force-velocity spectrum is needed (Cormie, McGuigan and Newton, 2011), in other words, the inclusion of power, ballistic and plyometric type training will be required in addition strength training.

For power or ballistic type training:

  • 3-8 reps are recommended

  • This will improve strength and velocity if performed at maximum speed with lighter weights

  • It is important that you stop before failure

  • An example could be 4 sets x 5 reps of jump squats with 10-12Rep Max (65-70% 1RM).

Reactive or plyometric type training may include bodyweight hops, skips and landings. Great examples are the drop and depth jumps. Typically:

  • This type of training helps to improve Rate of Force Development and musculotendinous stiffness (Caleb et al., 2015; Østeras, Helgerud, and Hoff, 2002)

  • This type of training is especially important for runners and sports with a running and / or jumping components

  • Less beneficial for non-impact sports eg. cycling and swimming

  • 3-8 reps are recommended

  • It is important that you stop before failure

  • These exercises can be loaded with dumbbells, barbells and weighted vests but are typically done at bodyweight. Additional weight may limit speed of movement. Slow is not good in this circumstance.

  • This type of training trains the eccentric component, very important for injury prevention.

  • It also improves starting speed (If necessary)

Image: One of our runners learning the Olympic Lifting start position

It must be noted that strength training is not used to make the individual 'fitter' - that comes form aerobic / anaerobic training. Instead, indirect benefits of strength training will allow an athlete to perform better.

Generally, high volumes of strength training are not necessary. Neither is exercising to exhaustion.

Long rests are essential. Maximal efforts in the weight room are only possible with rest periods of 3-7 minutes. If you're only used to circuit type training then a change of mindset may be necessary (Kraemar and Szivak, 2012).

3-5 sets of 4-6 exercises per session is more than enough to stimulate improvements in strength. It is important to remember that we are using strength training to improve endurance performance, not make better weightlifters. Rather than training to exhaustion, it is wise to focus on improving maximum force production. This requires you to put all of your effort into moving weights fast rather than training to failure.

Again, I must emphasise that rest, here is important!

Performing circuit type training and reducing rest will:

  • Compromise the load that can be used

  • Result in a very high aerobic demand

  • Produce significant muscular fatigue and lactate build up

  • Potentially compromise technique because of the high metabolic demand / effort

  • Become a high-intensity aerobic session, not a strength session

  • Not increase strength

If after reading these posts you'd like help with your training and nutrition, take a look at our services. You can work with us in-person or online. If you are a coach yourself and would like to learn more about programming for your clients and athletes, check out our PT Mentorship Programme.

Regardless of your goals or experience, we can certainly help you improve your performance.

#circuittraining #endurance #running #cycling #swimming #rowing #triathlon #weightlifting #strength #strengthtraining


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