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Strength Training For Endurance Athletes Part 2

This is the 2nd article of 3, which explains why strength training is critical for long distance runners. Last week we discussed joint stability and core training, specifically how you can improve your economy by developing a stable platform. I said last week that joint stability comes first, before you start adding resistance to the major muscles, so if you missed the blog, you can read it HERE. This week we are going to give an overview of the exercises and how to periodise your schedule.

For those doing longer distances and ultra running, strength & stability will be critical. If you are running a 50/100 mile race, your aerobic fitness and fueling will only get you so far. The reality is that most people running ultra races are simply not 'conditioned' enough and their bodies are completely broken by the half way point. To hold your form and function for 100 miles, you must be completely 'robust' and strength training can go a long way to help you achieve this. We advise runners to follow a 3 step process:


Initially you should focus on technique and joint stability. Always choose free weights, kettle bell and body weight exercises and avoid 'machines'. This should be mixed with a series of 'core' exercises. Stability is critical before you progress to strength, without a solid chassis you will collapse as soon as you add resistance. If possible, selection exercises which involve a large number of muscles groups and the whole kinetic chain. Try to avoid 'isolation exercises' such as 'bicep curl'. When you're running, your whole body working at the same time, nothing works in isolation.


Basic exercises such as squats and deadlift are very useful exercises for runners, these can be done in the stability phase. As you enter the strength phase, you need to start adding resistance. Long distance running is catabolic in the sense that it 'breaks down' tissues. Conversely strength training is anabolic and help tissues to grow and perform optimally. I've rarely seen a distance runner 'bulk up' by doing strength work, but lots of runners are needlessly scared of weight gain.

Strength training by nature involves high resistance for a short period of time, it's important that you don't rush your routine, you must provide adequate rest between exercises. Don't turn this routine into a 'cuircuit training session' moving quickly from one exercise to the next. I'm not questioning the benefits of circuit type training, but to develop strength, there must be adequate recovery between exercises for maximal lifting.

Speed, Power & Economy

For running, the most effective form of strength training is 'plyometrics'. In it's most simple form, this is jumping, hopping and bouncing exercises. These 'bouncing' exercises teach the muscles and tendons to store elastic energy and act as if they were springs. The reality is that 'great runners bounce'.

Plyometric exercises have been show to improve economy (remember last week we said economy is how much oxygen you need to exercise). In simple terms, if your tendons and muscles use elastic energy, allowing you to bounce, your effort is reduced. Elastic energy is FREE energy. If you can't bounce, you have to rely on the muscles to work more, so oxygen and heart rate go up. Tendons and tissues which bounce don't need to use oxygen, it's free, so it feels easy.

Key things:

1. You can't go straight into plyometrics and skip general strength, you will get injured.

2. As you get older, stored elastic energy becomes a major issue so you bounce less. Strength is therefore of much greater importance, the older you are.

A general core and upper body routine is critical for runners. You need to have a solid chassis which will not collapse as your foot strikes the ground. Sitting down and collapsing into your stride will mean you have no chance at all of bouncing back off the road or trail, all energy will be lost. The pelvis and torso should be rock solid and hold posture at point of impact.

Periodisation Made Simple

Periodisation is simply breaking your training into blocks. You probably do this already, winter being your base phase. In a similar way, you should periodise your strength training. If you were to start your strength training at the beginning of November, that gives you 6 months to reach the end of April which for most is the beginning of the summer season. Here's the simple guide to the exercise routine and your periodisation plan:

Stability Phase, Weeks 1-8

The objectives for the base phase are:

1. Learn the exercises so technique is perfect
2. Reduce risk of injury by improved joint stability
3. Develop basic conditioning as a platform to progress from

1. The routine should be completed twice per week and repetitions for all free weights exercises should be 12-15. For core stability exercises such as plank etc, the 'time' should be whatever you can manage whilst holding perfect form.

2. Learning the technique is critical for all of the exercises. If you have never done free weight exercises, the basic technique will be challenging. For weeks 1-4, minimise the weight and learn the exercises to perfection. Don't simply start adding weight / resistance, learning the movement is a critical part of your development. Weeks 1-4 is ALL ABOUT TECHNIQUE AND MOVEMENT.

3. During weeks 5-8 increase the load / weight for the exercises gradually, repetitions should stay at 12-15. It's impossible to predict the actual 'weight/kg' you should be lifting, this is something that you will have to work out for yourself. Don't overload during weeks 5-8, your technique must remain perfect.

Strength Phase, Weeks 9-16

 1. You need to increase resistance during this phase, without losing technique. To develop strength you need to reduce the repetitions and use a heavier weight. Weeks 9-12, complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions should be 12/9/6, increasing the weight slightly each set. Weeks 13-16m complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions should be 10/6/4, increasing the weight each set.

2. Over this period you aim is to increase resistance, you should do this when you feel ready. Some people will increase every week, others may need a couple of weeks before progressing.

3. You should change exercises slightly in strength phase to focus on larger muscle groups.

Power and Plyometric Phase, Week 17-24

1. The strength work will continue with an emphasis on explosive power. You should continue to progress the exercises and increase the resistance, using lower repetitions. By completing the exercises more quickly, in an 'explosive manner' you will switch focus to 'power'. Use a moderate weight to warm up then complete 3 sets for each exercise and your repetitions can drop as low as 6/4/2 increasing the weight each set.

2. Plyometrics will be introduced, this is particularly important for running performance. Plyometric activities will include jumping, hopping etc. Introduce the plyometrics gently and build over 8 weeks. Complete 3 sets of each plyometric exercise, building the intensity (e.g. jumping higher / harder) throughout each set.

What happens after week 24?

When the season starts, you shouldn't stop doing strength training. Your focus however, will shift from trying to progress to simply maintaining your strength gains.

What's next week?

We'll outline the exercise routine and tell you exactly which exercises should be done in each of the phases. Stay tuned! If you found this article useful, please do the decent thing and share. Any comments or questions, feel free to add them below the article on The Endurance Store Facebook Page.

If you'd like more information about our coaching services, we offer sports science testing, a structured schedule and online support for only £40 per month. Follow the link to read more about our ULTRA RUNNING package or TRIATHLON package.

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