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Strength Training for Runners by Jerry Powell

November 11, 2016


Strength Training for Runners


Far too many ‘endurance athletes’ (including cyclists & swimmers) avoid the gym or any sort of heavy lifting programme. If they do any kind of strength training it’s usually of the low weight / high rep variety.

They’re trying to create soft tissue adaptations to high rep / endurance work, but when adding up their total weekly or monthly programmes of weights sessions plus their running, there’s a strong chance they could end up creating chronic overload.

I suspect that runners who engage in any form of strength training do it because they want to get stronger to prevent injuries or to climb hills more easily.

But to do this you need to train for ‘power’ & for the ability to resist forces acting on their joints (especially their knees). To do this you generally need to train heavier & you definitely need to [strength] train to fatigue.

A couple of definitions;

Strength in sports – is the maximum force an athlete can apply to a given load.

Power in sport – is proportional to the speed at which the force is applied.

So, to get you up that hideous hill near the end of your regular training route, you need to train for strength first & then progress the same exercises to higher speeds of movements.

What sort of repetition range to use?

For longer than anyone cares to remember we’ve applied 3 sets of 10-15 reps to all athletes, regardless of age, ability or sport. Rather than a dearth of research, there’s actually too much to trawl through on this subject!

As in so much concerning the human body’s capabilities, we are all individuals. This means you need to find what works for you…

In the gym, under excellent supervision, you can try to establish your ‘Rep Max’ or ‘RM.’ This is usually the ‘1RM’ or how much weight you can lift once. But it’s pretty obvious that this carrys a relatively high risk of injury. Instead, you can try a 3RM or 5RM.

Once that’s established, it’s a matter of a little trial & error to see which regime you respond to the best. For most of us that will probably be around the 10 rep mark. For others it might be sets of 5 reps or even 15-20 reps.


Intensity is the Key

Whichever number of reps you work with, the key ingredient is intensity.

No programme is going to give you the improvements if you don’t force the system (muscular system, neural, connective tissue, etc) to adapt!

Clearly, you can’t go straight to the gym & apply this ‘max load’ in the first session – unless you wish to learn a whole new version of post exercise soreness(!)


  • Go light at first
  • Learn the movement pattern
  • Exercise with intention & aim for ‘perfection’ in all your movements (picture how a gymnast performs)
    Now, starting adding weight/resistance
  • Reach fatigue at the end of the set
  • Then…REST.


Rest Recovery, Regeneration

As an endurance athlete who loves to run, you’re probably guilty of not taking enough rest. Even your slow runs for ‘active recovery’ are still hammering your knee joints & Achilles tendons.

‘Rest’ does not have to mean doing nothing. Think; ‘regeneration’ – what can you do to actively enhance your body’s chances of adapting to the stresses you’ve recently applied?

This will be different for each athlete & also day to day, week to week & month to month. It must also include any of the other ‘stressors’ in your life at that time – which might include your family life, work/life balance, even your financial situation – they can all have a bearing.

Therefore, any regeneration programme might include components of sleep, hydration, nutrition, cross-training, massage plus making time for relationships outside of sport & having fun!

Which Exercises?

If you’re completely new to the gym environment, get some instruction & learn how to squat. It really is the ‘king of all exercises’ & so, so relevant to runners & cyclists (swimmers might want to choose a torso based movement as 85% of swimmers’ propulsion is from the upper body).

Load Management

It is your overall load for that session, that week or that month that is important in determining how much recovery you need before you attempt the exercise [squat, say] again.

If you’re going to train with Squats properly, 3 x per week, you will have to reduce your other training sessions. This will be very hard to do at first. We get used to a certain programme & are always reluctant to change. But if you want to progress you must embrace change! 

Give it a trial for 12 weeks or more, I promise it will make a difference.

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