Resistance Training for Runners
Physiotherapist Kevin Ly shares his thoughts.

In the past, resistance training has had a bad rap in the running community however recently more and more people are using this form of training to supplement their running and are recognising the benefits.

There are several benefits of resistance training such as improved muscle strength and size, increased bone density, tendon stiffness as well as loads of other positive structural changes that can occur in the body.  

More specifically, a 2007 study found that strength training improved the running economy which has been found to have a strong association with running performance. The researchers suggested that the running economy improved with resistance training due to greater muscle strength and tendon stiffness making running more efficient.

As you can tell there are many benefits of resistance training.

Common problems that occur with resistance training

Despite the countless benefits of resistance training sometimes people get the application of this style of training wrong and problems can occur as a consequence.

Here is a list of some of the common errors:

Overtraining. Some people who add resistance training to their programmes overtrain.

Remember that strength training should be used as a supplement to improve running. Therefore, you shouldn’t spend more time resistance training than running and it shouldn’t negatively impact your running training.

To avoid overtraining when incorporating resistance exercises into your programme it is best practice to 1) gradually sensibly increase load and frequency; 2) aim to complete 1-3 strength sessions weekly, and 3) aim to have 24-48 hour rest gaps between running and resistance training however in worse case scenarios 8 hours will be fine.

Your weekly schedule could look like this:

Monday – Easy run

TuesdayResistance training

Wednesday – Off

ThursdayTempo run

FridayResistance training

Saturday – Off

SundayLong run

These guidelines will allow you to get just enough muscle stimulation and recovery to reap the benefits of this sort of training without negatively affecting your muscles, nervous system, and subsequently running performance. 

1. Too many machine exercises

Machines at the gym are not inherently bad, they can be used successfully to improve strength and muscle size, also they do seem to be safer than free weight training for novice exercise goers. However, a mistake people make when programming resistance training is including too many machine exercises!

Most gym machines isolate single joints and as a result, are not functional. Very rarely in life do we use a single joint to perform a task or activity. For instance, to perform running successfully you would have to coordinate multiple joints and their relevant muscles appropriately.

Also, over-programming of machine exercises in its self can develop muscular imbalances if your programming is off. This in itself could cause pain, dysfunction or weakness in certain areas of your body.

One way you can avoid this mistake is by incorporating mostly multi-joint exercises in your programmes with 1-3 machine/isolation exercises as accessory lifts at the end of a session.

The main lower limb compound lifts include squats, deadlifts, and lunges or their derivatives.

2. Not lifting heavy enough 

All too often when runners incorporate resistance training into their programmes they use light loads (15-25 repetitions) and high volume (> 4 sets) intending to focus on muscular endurance as this is similar to running.

However, this should not always be the case. Your resistance training should aim for variability, where you would programme in strength, power, and hypertrophy work.

From current research, we know that there are certain physiological changes in the body from resistance training such as improved strength, muscle size, tendon stiffness as well as other things. However, you have to load the body appropriately with the right external load and volume to elicit these changes and for the most part, focusing on muscular endurance type training will not target all of these specific adaptations.

So, ideally, you should put the lightweights down and start to lift heavier!

When lifting heavier weight you can focus on building strength or hypertrophy (muscle size).

To focus on improving strength you would use moderate-to-heavy load with rep ranges of 1-5 whereas to focus on hypertrophy you would use moderate loads within a 6-12 rep range.

That being said, there is a crossover with these types of training as you are likely to get strength and hypertrophy benefits when training either.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to start implementing resistance training to supplement your running you should programme your training appropriately with adequate rest days, exercises, and loads to allow for the best performance outcomes.

If you’d like more advice or to book a physiotherapy appointment at any of our clinics, click here or find a physiotherapist near you.