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Strength and Conditioning for Running

The scientific and real world evidence is clear – strength and conditioning for running will make you a faster runner who can go further with fewer niggles and less frequent injuries!

Of all the types of athletes I speak to and work with, runners are the most injured! Running takes its toll on the body. Structured strength training will not only make a runner more robust and more injury resistant, but also able to run faster for longer. It might not make sense intuitively, but the best coaches and runners know that runners of all styles and abilities will benefit from strength and conditioning.

Read on to learn more, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you wish to explore things further.

Strength and Conditioning for Running — your questions answered

Everyone! It doesn’t matter whether you’ve just started Couch-to-5k, are targeting your first marathon, run middle-distance track or are eyeing up the Bob Graham – strength and conditioning will make you a better runner.

It is easy to think that to get better at running we only have to run. Of course, if you are a runner, running should form the majority of your training, but this isn’t the whole story. Strength forms the foundation of all athletic performance and running is no different.

A large body of scientific research1-4 has shown that making improvements in maximal strength by lifting weights can improve endurance and running performance, without increasing body weight.

How? Put simply, stronger muscles allow you to run with less effort, for longer, at any given pace. There are several reasons for this, and many complex mechanisms behind it, but we can broadly summarise as follows:

Strength training allows you to sustain sub-max and near-max pace for longer. Strength training reduces the percentage of your maximum oxygen uptake that you use at any given sub-max pace (known as improved fractional utilisation of VO2max).

Strength and conditioning training improves running economy – i.e. it reduces the amount of oxygen you use at any given running pace. This is largely achieved by improving your ability to generate force when your foot strikes the ground (which translates into a longer stride length), and by improving the elastic (i.e. springy) qualities of your muscles and tendons.

Strength training develops your anaerobic energy systems. Although running is predominantly an aerobic activity, having a more efficient, higher-capacity anaerobic system helps you when you need to run that little bit harder, in a sprint or uphill section for example.

Strength and conditioning improves your posture, improves control of the gluteal complex and increases the coordination and strength of the muscles that stabilise the foot, ankle, knee and hip. Collectively this means more comfortable and efficient running and reduced injury risk. Reduced injury risk means more running and happier people!

Together, all of these factors mean that a runner who trains strength can handle bigger progressions in the volume and intensity of their running, and can do so more consistently. Consistency and progression are the two most important factors in improving at any sport.

This is a widely held misconception that prevents many runners from even considering strength training.

The physiological reasons are a little complex, but the the real-world evidence is clear: strength training with the correct, scientifically-based protocols does not add significant amounts of muscle mass that are detrimental to endurance.2,5

In fact done correctly, strength training has the opposite effect: it improves endurance (see above). This is mainly because adaptations to strength training that is appropriate for running are not driven by muscle growth (hypertrophy), but by changes in neuromuscular systems (how your nerves and muscles communicate and coordinate), musculo-tendon stiffness (how much elastic energy is stored in your muscles) and energy systems (how your body produces energy).

Simply, strength gains suitable for runners can be made with just 1-3 short gym based sessions each week. Effective strength training is simple and efficient. In fact, depending your physiology, during spring and summer or your competitive running season we might only strength train for an hour or two every 7-10 days. If you’ve never strength trained before, the bottom line is that you’re missing out on a very easy way improve performance with relatively little time investment.

Like all good training plans, we periodise strength and conditioning based on the needs of the individual, for example by doing heavier more frequent lifting in the autumn & winter. Unlike endurance gains, which we lose relatively quickly, the wonderful thing about gaining strength is that done properly, consistently, over long periods, you don’t lose the gains when you reduce the lifting frequency. This is because the physiological mechanisms that determine strength and endurance are different.

I have spent my whole life juggling the demands of sport, outdoor adventures, training, work and life. I know just how tricky it is to fit everything in! Originally a scientist by trade, my approach to coaching is science-based, highly personalised and consultative – none of my athletes has exactly the same plan because we all have different physiology, different goals and different life situations.

I like to take my athletes on a journey in which we work together, not only to help you improve, but where you also learn about the skill, art and science of training and learn about how you personally respond physically and mentally to training.

After our first consultation session we build a plan from the appropriate starting point, ensuring that you’re sufficiently well conditioned for the programmes that we embark on. Over time we progress and regress exercises and programmes appropriately so that your strength and form is developed properly and sustainably for the long-term.

Training, coaching and programming will be a blend, according to your personal needs, of face-to-face coaching and/or virtual face-to-face coaching. Your personalised training plans are delivered and tracked using my web-app platform and we normally have contact every week, whether it be face-to-face, on the phone, or via email and messaging.

Every exercise I prescribe and session I programme is about giving you the biggest return for your time in the gym. You’d rather be running than in the gym, so lets make the gym sessions really effective and efficient.

So, if you would like to start getting strong for running drop me a line and we can make a start!

  1. Beattie, K., Carson, B.P., Lyons, M., Rossiter, A., Kenny, I.C., 2017. The Effect of Strength Training on Performance Indicators in Distance Runners. J Strength Cond Res 31, 9–23.
  2. Støren, O., Helgerud, J., Stoa, E.M., Hoff, J., 2008. Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Med Sci Sport Exer 40, 1087–92.
  3. Damasceno, M.V., Lima-Silva, A.E., Pasqua, L.A., Tricoli, V., Duarte, M., Bishop, D.J., Bertuzzi, R., 2015. Effects of resistance training on neuromuscular characteristics and pacing during 10-km running time trial [WWW Document]. URL
  4. Sedano, S., Marín, P.J., Cuadrado, G., Redondo, J.C., 2013. Concurrent Training in Elite Male Runners. J Strength Cond Res 27, 2433–2443.
  5. Rønnestad, B.R., Hansen, J., Nygaard, H., 2016. 10 weeks of heavy strength training improves performance-related measurements in elite cyclists. J Sport Sci 35, 1435–1441.