Why Runners Should Get Strong(er)

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Yankees vs. RedSox

Republicans vs. Democrats

Autobots vs. Decepticons


What do all of the above examples have in common? As you might have guessed, all are seemingly sworn enemies. While there’s no doubting the animosity between the first three examples; there are times where I want to add another “couple” to the mix. Strength coach vs. endurance athlete.

I mean lets be honest, trying to get an endurance athletes to lift weights is like trying to get me to watch American Idol. Not gonna happen.**

It still amazes me that there are a plethora of endurance athletes out there who feel that strength training has no place in their programming. Despite research (and real world evidence) which states otherwise, many endurance athletes are still missing the boat and failing to realize the full benefits of spending more time in the squat rack and just a liiiiiittle less time in their running shoes.

In a new study published by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researches investigated the effect of maximal strength training on running economy (RE) at 70% of maximal oxygen consumption (V O2max) and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed (MAS).

Seventeen well-trained (nine male and eight female) runners were randomly assigned into either an intervention or a control group. The intervention group (four males and four females) performed half-squats, four sets of four repetitions maximum, three times per week for 8 wk, as a supplement to their normal endurance training. The control group continued their normal endurance training during the same period.

Results: The intervention group had vast improvements in their one repetition maximum in the half squat (33.2%), rate of force development (26%), running economy (5%), and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed (21.3%). The control group saw no changes between pre and post training parameters.

For those who aren’t familiar with fancy words like VO2 max or rate of force development, fear not! As luck would have it, I submitted my own study which takes the above study and simplifies everything — aptly titled, “HA! I told you so.” Published in the Journal of Pink Dumbbells Aren’t Gonna Cut It. (18) 537-45. I even used construction paper and a He-Man stamp. You know, to make it look all “science-y.”

So what do all these results mean?

1. For starters, I have no clue why the researches chose to test the half squat. Shrugs.

2. The intervention group all had increases in strength, without adding any mass (body-weight). This is an important distinction and something that endurance athletes need to hear. Getting stronger, doesn’t necessarily mean getting bigger. Furthermore, outside of the obvious (improved performance), increasing strength also has an often overlooked side benefit. As muscles (active restraints) get stronger, it’s less perceived stress by the passive restraints (bone, ligaments, etc). This goes a long ways as far as keeping you healthy and preventing all of those nagging injuries in the first place.

3. Improvements in force development will undoubtedly equate to improvement in performance. The more force an athlete can generate into the ground, the more force said athlete will generate to propel him/her forward. To do this, one needs to lift heavy stuff. Last time I checked, the objective of a race is to see who can finish the fastest, not who can go the longest.

4. As the study noted, the intervention group improved their running economy by 5%. To put this into perspective, that’s roughly twelve minutes shaved off of a four hour marathon; all of this without having to log more mileage on the road.

And while many endurance athletes will complain that they just don’t have the time to participate in any strength training, I like to counteract that statement by pointing to Cressey Performance client Dede Griesbauer.

As an elite tri-athlete (2nd at Ironman Brazil, 7th in the 2007 World Championships), Dede trains an average of 10-13 times per week. Yet, she still makes it a point to get her butt into the gym twice per week. In her words, “Strength training has clearly improved my power on the bike. It has also been beneficial in terms of injury prevention. Finally, I feel that my strength training better enables me to handle the volumes required for my Ironman triathlon training.”

**except for every god damn day!

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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