Weightlifting for Runners



by Nick Gallardo, BS, ACE-CPT

A popular and long-standing misconception about running is that strength training will negatively affect running performance. This is correct if you are trying to train for a marathon and a powerlifting competition simultaneously. The real truth is that resistance training can have many positive effects on running when done correctly.

Positive Effect #1: More Powerful Strides

Strength training doesn’t have to be just about growing bigger muscles.  When runners incorporate heavier strength training into their program, they will not only strengthen their muscles, but their “muscle-mind” connection as well (The nervous system will work with the muscles better.) What happens if we can strengthen both our muscles and the connection to our nervous system? Increased force production. In a nutshell, the more force a runner can put into the ground with every foot strike, the faster they will be (This doesn’t mean stomp around like King Kong when you run.) Increased force production = faster running.

Positive Effect #2: Injury Prevention

If you know anyone that has run long distance for more than five years, chances are that they’ve told you about their hip/knee/ankle/shin/foot issue. The reality of running is that a lot of injuries stem from chronic overuse of a weak lower body. Adding in a smart strength training to a runner’s program will help not only strengthen muscles, but bones as well. Think of strength training for runners as a good "prehabilitation" program; the goal is to prevent injuries, not cause them. A well thought out, full-body strength training program will go a long way in keeping runners health and doing the thing that they like to do, running.

Tips for proper resistance training for runners:

  • Make sure you warm up properly
  • Get strong. Three sets of 6-10 reps will provide the perfect stimulus for growth without going overboard
    • Rest 60 seconds to even 120 seconds when lifting heavier
  • Maintain. 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps of lighter weights will maintain endurance while providing the muscles with proper stimulus
    • Rest 30-45 seconds between exercises; or rounds if in a circuit
  • Make sure multi-joint exercises are being used (squat variations, chin-up variations, bench press, overhead presses, deadlift variations)
  • Resistance training can be done 2-3x/week in your “pre-season” or “off-season
  • Keep resistance training to 1-2x/week the closer you get to “in-season” or race day

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