As the summer and fall race seasons wind down this is a great time to be thinking about what you can do in the off-season to improve your running performance. Runners who run the same volume at the same intensity all year round with no periodization are more likely to develop injuries or at the very least experience some kind of staleness to their training. Implementing a strength training program in the offseason is a great way to develop tissue resiliency, as well as add variety, to your annual training plan.
Improving your running performance doesn't necessarily mean improving your running speed, it can also mean improving your tissue capacity to develop resiliency over time. This is theoretically achieved through heavy and slow strength training. While running you're putting anywhere from 3 to 6 times your body weight per step as you jump from one leg to another. That’s a lot of load. This places a cumulative stress on your bones, tendons, joints and ligaments over time. There are several promising studies that suggest strength training provides a growth stimulus to both bone1,2 and muscle3–6 tissue; thus increasing tissue capacity to stress over time.
The jury is still out on whether resistance training is truly preventative in long distance runners. We know that there is preliminary evidence that resistance training can reduce the risk of injury in certain athletic populations3,4,7–9, but it is unclear of the carry over effect in long distance runners. At Golden Endurance we tend to assume there is a carry over effect due to what we see anecdotally- people who regularly strength train have fewer injuries and are better able to mitigate injuries when they do occur. While strength training is not a magic bullet in preventing injuries, it can make your bones, tendons, and ligaments more accustomed to load over time so that they are better able to respond to injuries when they do occur.
For a lot of runners barbell lifting is a scary unfamiliar place. There are several misconceptions surrounding heavy and slow lifting. Foremost, runners feel that they do not need to be lifting heavy to run well. There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that lifting can positively affect running performance10–12. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that lifting heavy slows you down if you don’t intentionally try to gain muscle mass.
Runners are also scared they will turn into the hulk! These are largely unfounded perceptions. In practice, we find that runners develop more muscle strength but do not necessarily see an increase in total body weight. This ultimately means that as a runner you're able to generate more muscle force and better motor unit recruitment with the muscle cells you already have while running.
So how do you get started? Any strength training is better than no strength training. Using what you’ve got at home, especially if you're new to lifting, is a good place to start. That generally means performing body weight, banded, or smaller dumbbells/kettlebell type workouts. If this is what you've got at home then use it!
However, at Golden Endurance we tend to prefer loading your muscles, joints, and soft tissues in ways that more represent the forces of running. This means building to the point where you are constantly loading with one or two times your body weight overtime. For instance, doing a bodyweight squat when you are first starting a strength training program is a good initial stimulus, however; it is not a good way to develop actual strength overtime. A better way to strengthen overtime would be to start with bodyweight type exercises and then after several weeks to months progress to more fundamental barbell strengthening exercises that truly load your tissues at a capacity similar to running.
Implementing a strength training routine in the offseason is a great way to continue to work productively towards running goals while also recognizing the importance of periodization and taking an offseason during the year. We would encourage runners to work with a strength and conditioning specialist to progress to a point where they are more comfortable performing heavier barbell lifts. This is a great return on investment in terms of developing tissue resiliency. At Golden Endurance we offer strength programming services to meet you wherever you are at in your lifting journey. Schedule a consult call to learn more.
1. Kobayashi T, Seki S, Hwang I. Effects of resistance training on bone mineral density and resting serum hormones in female collegiate distance runners: a randomized controlled pilot trial. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2023;63(6):765-772. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.23.14571-3
2. Duplanty AA, Levitt DE, Hill DW, McFarlin BK, DiMarco NM, Vingren JL. Resistance Training Is Associated With Higher Bone Mineral Density Among Young Adult Male Distance Runners Independent of Physiological Factors. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(6):1594-1600. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002504
3. Charlton PC, Drew MK, Mentiplay BF, Grimaldi A, Clark RA. Exercise Interventions for the Prevention and Treatment of Groin Pain and Injury in Athletes: A Critical and Systematic Review. Sports Med Auckl NZ. 2017;47(10):2011-2026. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0742-y
4. Rudisill SS, Varady NH, Kucharik MP, Eberlin CT, Martin SD. Evidence-Based Hamstring Injury Prevention and Risk Factor Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Am J Sports Med. 2023;51(7):1927-1942. doi:10.1177/03635465221083998
5. Bayer ML, Hoegberget-Kalisz M, Svensson RB, et al. Chronic Sequelae After Muscle Strain Injuries: Influence of Heavy Resistance Training on Functional and Structural Characteristics in a Randomized Controlled Trial. Am J Sports Med. 2021;49(10):2783-2794. doi:10.1177/03635465211026623
6. Coppack RJ, Etherington J, Wills AK. The Effects of Exercise for the Prevention of Overuse Anterior Knee Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(5):940-948. doi:10.1177/0363546510393269
7. Lauersen J, Andersen T, Andersen L. Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis | British Journal of Sports Medicine. Accessed October 10, 2023. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/24/1557
8. Olivares-Jabalera J, Fílter-Ruger A, Dos’Santos T, et al. Exercise-Based Training Strategies to Reduce the Incidence or Mitigate the Risk Factors of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Adult Football (Soccer) Players: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(24):13351. doi:10.3390/ijerph182413351
9. Dijksma I, Arslan IG, van Etten‐Jamaludin FS, Elbers RG, Lucas C, Stuiver MM. Exercise Programs to Reduce the Risk of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Military Personnel: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis. Pm R. 2020;12(10):1028-1037. doi:10.1002/pmrj.12360
10.Trowell D, Fox A, Saunders N, Vicenzino B, Bonacci J. Effect of concurrent strength and endurance training on run performance and biomechanics: A randomized controlled trial. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2022;32(3):543-558. doi:10.1111/sms.14092
11.Vorup J, Tybirk J, Gunnarsson TP, Ravnholt T, Dalsgaard S, Bangsbo J. Effect of speed endurance and strength training on performance, running economy and muscular adaptations in endurance-trained runners. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2016;116(7):1331-1341. doi:10.1007/s00421-016-3356-4
12.Eihara Y, Takao K, Sugiyama T, et al. Heavy Resistance Training Versus Plyometric Training for Improving Running Economy and Running Time Trial Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Med - Open. 2022;8(1):138. doi:10.1186/s40798-022-00511-1