Should runners lift?

Many endurance athletes mistakingly associate strength training with gaining muscle and therefore weight. But strength training and muscle building can be mutually inclusive or exclusive depending on your training goals.

Should runners lift?

Surely the notion of including weightlifting or resistance training in a programme for athletes where weight (or a lack thereof) is fundamental for maximising performance, is laughable.

Ironically the opposite is true. Strength training, when done properly doesn’t increase muscle size and weight but teaches your body to recruit (innervate) more muscle fibres and hence become stronger.

Let me use this analogy involving an eight-person rowing boat team where only two rowers are working. If you can recruit more rowers to work rather than making those two rowers bigger (and heavier) you will increase the pulling power of that team.

Where runners, especially endurance runners are concerned the stronger your body is the more physical stress your body can handle, the more economical your running becomes (you become faster) and the lower the chance of injury.

But a strength training programme needs to consider the following: 

  1. Exercise choice - exercises that specifically help running economy should be chosen, using correct technique focusing on heavy resistance and low reps (3 - 4 sets of around 5 reps max).
  2. Instability - unilateral movement (balancing on one leg) should also form a small part of your strength programme to help with your proprioception, coordination and balance.
  3. Progressive overload – move from bodyweight training to resistance training. Aim to barely complete 5 good quality movements and your body will get stronger. Avoid low resistance, high rep, cardio-based movements.
  4. Rest - allow 2-3 minutes for your neuro-muscular system to recover between sets.
  5. Plyometrics - power training increases tendon stiffness, which allows for greater storage and release of elastic energy and therefore less work from the muscles.

Food for thought: Mo Farrah used to squat with 90kg on his shoulders and he only weighed 60kg.