Endurance athletes have typically shied away from performing heavy resistance training exercises or weight training. This is often due to time restraints associated with the high volume and time associated with their training schedules, or due to the belief that there are no associated performance benefits from this method of training.
Maximal strength training with weights (resistance training) typically uses high loads (+80% of an athlete’s 1 Repetition Maximum value, or the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted in one repetition) with a low (1-6) number of repetitions are performed per set (3-5 or even greater), as there is an obvious inverse relationship with how much weight you can lift and how many times you can lift it. For the purpose of this article, strength training shall be used when describing high intensity/load resistance training.
Hence the question of can high load strength training aid in improved performance for endurance events, specifically long distance running.
The answer is YES!
Strength training programs have demonstrated improvements in running speed and economy (Taiple et al., 2010; Storen et al., 2008) in trained and untrained adults in the absence of improvements in maximal oxygen consumption (Grieco et al, 2012). Running economy can be described as the energy cost to maintain a sub-maximal running velocity (Roschel, 2015). However results within the scientific literature are equivocal (Tanaka & Swensen, 1998).
A 2013 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Piacentini and colleagues reported a statistically significant performance improvement in running economy and 1RM strength following a maximal strength training program in experienced marathon runners. This was in comparison to a traditional resistance training program and a control group (who performed no resistance training). The reasoning for the improved running economy was attributed to the potential muscular rate of force development increases or power within the maximal strength training group. There were also no changes in body composition, specifically body weight, which is advantageous for a long distance runner.
An earlier study in 2010 investigated the effects of concurrent strength and endurance events in recreational marathon runners. Ferrauti et al., found that there was actually no significant improvements in VO2max treadmill testing data when comparing a concurrent strength and endurance training program and an endurance training program only. This is despite an improvement in isometric leg strength in the strength training group. A potential limitation of this studies protocol was the duration of the training protocol was 8 weeks only.
Another study found that running economy did in fact improve (Johnson et al, 1997) in female distance runners when comparing a concurrent strength training with endurance training program to an endurance training program only. The concurrent training method did not negatively affect body composition or VO2max levels.
It is important to note that within every research study that there are responders and non-responders to exercise protocols, and varied results will consistently present between studies. Variations between training methodologies and the training history of participants also vary greatly hence caution is needed when reading research summaries. But in summary, it has been shown that strength training can consistently improve running economy and performance for endurance athletes.
Strength training can also assist to prevent tendon over use type injuries such as Achilles tendinopathy and patella tendinopathy etc. Heavy strength training is a method used to combat tendinopathy ailments due the tendons positive responsive to high constant loads (Gaida & Cook, 2011; Rodriguez, 2013).
So should all endurance athletes perform strength training? I personally believe yes, provided they have the time in their life schedules to practically perform the required training load. This is the obvious negative of strength training for endurance athletes. The increased training volume may result in a greater overall level of fatigue. This in itself may be physically impractical to the athlete, depending on life/work commitments of the individual. It does then come down to the individual needs of the endurance athlete. If an athlete is prone to tendon overuse type injuries, or if hill surges or kicks during race events are a weakness then the supplementation of strength training could be advantageous.
In summary the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes include;
- Improved tendon health, as tendons respond to ‘load’ and the reduce likely-hood of overuse tendon injuries.
- Maintenance of bodyweight, specifically lean muscle mass which is advantageous for endurance athletes.
- Improved movement economy, or working at a lesser percentage of maximum contraction effort during a submaximal exercise effort, resulting in improved performance.
- Maintenance of positive anabolic hormone profiles, such as the testosterone/cortisol ratio that could reduce the likelihood of illness, fatigue and over-training symptoms.
So keep running, but start lifting!
Lucky for you Revolution Personal Training runs cardiovascular and strength group exercise classes. Our pure strength and strong man classes look to develop your maximal strength levels, improve body composition, and also improve your endurance performance for running events. Team RevoPT is participating in the RUN Melbourne and Melbourne Marathon events as well as the Eureka Stair climb event. These events can provide you with training goals to work towards within a team environment. Enquire at Revolution Personal Training today!
Ferrauti, A, Bergermann, M, and Fernandez-Fernandez, J. Effects of a concurrent strength and endurance training on running performance and running economy in recreational marathon runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 24(10): 2770-2778, 2010
Grieco, CR, Cortes, N, Greska, EK, Lucci, S, and Onate, JA. Effects of a combined resistance-plyometric training program on muscular strength, running economy, and VO2peak in division I female soccer players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(9): 2570–2576, 2012
Johnson, Ronald E, Quinn, Timothy J, Kertzer, Robert. Strength Training in Female Distance Runners: Impact on Running Economy. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 11(4):224-229, 1997
Piacentini, MF, De Ioannon, G, Comotto, S, Spedicato, A, Vernillo, G, and La Torre, A. Concurrent strength and endurance training effects on running economy in master endurance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(8): 2295–2303, 2013
Roschel, Hamilton, Barroso, Renato, Tricoli, Valmor, Batista, Mauro Alexandre Benites, Acquesta, Fernanda Michelone; Serrão, Júlio Cerca, Ugrinowitsch, Carlos. Effects of strength training associated with whole body vibration training on running economy and vertical stiffness. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research., Post Acceptance: January 26, 2015
Dr Hirofumi Tanaka, Thomas Swensen. Impact of Resistance Training on Endurance Performance. Sports Medicine. 25(3),191-200, 1998,
Gaida J.E, and Cook J. Treatment options for patellar tendinopathy: critical review. Curr Sports Med Rep. 10(5):255-70, 2011
Rodriguez, M. The treatment of patellar tendinopathy. Journal of Orthopedic Traumatology. 14(2), 77-81. 2013