Endurance Running Tips: The Surprising Ways How Lifting Weights Can Help Improve Your Running Econom

A no-nonsense guide to why all endurance runners should be lifting!

The rise in popularity of the charity race run has been steady over the past few years, with distances ranging from 5k up to a full marathon. Competitive endurance running remains a popular sport also; clubs nationwide offer training both on and off track for a range of distances.

Research has suggested success in endurance running to be around 80% due to aerobic capacity. Other factor influencing running success include maximal oxygen consumption, lactate threshold and running economy.

So as a runner, why should I be lifting weights? Is there any point?

Strength training, when combined with endurance running has been shown to improve running economy. Simply put, being stronger helps you to move more efficiently, thus expending less energy.

Strength training has been shown to enhance muscle-tendon stiffness. This increased stiffness allows a greater degree of elastic energy, which again is useful for improving running economy.

If you put a certain amount of force into the group of muscles, you want to maximise the amount you can get back as they recoil, rather than expending any further energy. If you can become stronger, each step expends less energy as the forces can be absorbed much easier. When you think how many steps are taken in any endurance race, this becomes vital for running economy!

A common misconception by many endurance runners is that strength training may affect their body composition negatively. When we think of sprinters, immediately to mind comes the large powerful muscles working explosively to power down the track. The very nature of sprinting as a sport increases testosterone in the body, which is the main anabolic hormone, responsible for building muscle. The nature of endurance running however does not elicit that same effect.

Strength training to increase muscle size requires high amounts of volume. The strength training used by an endurance runner simply won’t hit the level of volume required to increase hypertrophy, so strength train happily with that reassurance. Research by Storen et al. (2008) found heavy resistance training endurance runners for 8 weeks resulted in an increase in running economy without any concurrent alterations in body mass.

Sounds great, but what exercises should I be doing?

Try this example programme below and combined with your usual endurance training, watch those times improve!

  • Usual warm up

  • Back squat 3 sets x 6 reps

  • Bench press 3 sets x 6 reps

  • Barbell lunges 3 sets x 6 reps

  • Romanian Deadlift 3 sets x 6 reps

  • Dumbbell row 3 sets x 6 reps

  • Plank marches 3 sets x 1 min​

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