Running Resistance Training

Do you use running resistance training as a way to help yourself run better?  Runners are often confused about the role of strength training in running, with many concerned that running resistance training might make them 'bulk up'.

However, the benefits or running resistance training have been clearly demonstrated by research – studies show that effective weight training can significantly improve race performance, with one study finding that strength training routines can improve running economy by about 3 per cent, enough to trim a minute from your 10K time.

However, the key to this is effective running resistance training – you can't simply go to the gym, do some weight training, and expect great results.  The secret is a properly designed leg workout targeted at runners.

There are several different ways of using strength training to support and complement your running.  The first is using general strength and conditioning exercises, such as presses, squats, pull-ups, push-ups, crunches, dips and so on to improve your overall strength and conditioning.  A general strength building program will improve your posture and carriage, helping you to run better (especially when fatigue sets in) and protecting your muscles and connective tissues from the repetitive impact of running.

Beyond that, you should consider a strength training program designed specifically for runners.  A strength building program for runners is designed to imitate the biomechanics and motor patterns of running, strengthening the specific muscles involved in running.  Exercises that will build strength in running-specific muscles include:

• Step-ups
• Speed squats
• One-leg squats
• Jumping lunges
• Hill running
• Weighted running (wearing a weight vest)
• Resistance runs

In addition to these types of exercises, many runners are now adding plyometrics to their training program.  Plyometric exercises involve a variety of jumping, hopping, and bounding exercises, and are designed to help your muscles to generate more force, more quickly – exactly what you need to run faster.

Regularly doing plyometrics will help to build strength in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, while also stretching muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  However, this is a very intense form of training, and should only be done after you have built a base level of strength, and under the supervision of an experienced coach.

Strength training has to be built into your training program so that it complements and supports your running – ultimately, your running training is the most important part of what you do.  You therefore need to use periodization to balance out the different parts of your training program. 

Periodization is what professional athletes use to ensure that their training delivers them to a peak of fitness in time for a particular race.  A six month runners' strength training programme might look like this:

Months 1 & 2:  General strength training

Months 3 & 4:  Running specific strength training, gradually increasing difficulty levels.

Month 5:  Plyometrics – by this time you should have enough base strength to withstand the demands of plyometrics.

Month 6:  Continue Plyometrics; Taper for race

By adding a carefully designed strength training program to your running, you can maximize the benefits of your training.