Strength training is an important tool for endurance athletes as it relates to longevity in sport and optimizing performance. Research points to strong correlations between increase in strength and decreased risk of injury in atheltes¹. Many endurance athletes suffer from overuse injuries due to the repetitive nature of their sport. Although temporarily decreasing training load may allow for tissue healing, re-exposing the relevant tissues to this repetitive load is likely to result in a similar outcome unless the body is trained to better withstand that load. Strength training improves muscle motor unit recruitment and efficiency, force development, and coordination². This may improve load distribution surrounding joints and tissues susceptible to injuries. With these benefits, injury cycles can be halted and prevented over time.
A systematic review by Blagrove et al. outlines the benefits of heavy resistance training in middle and long-distance runners. Based on 24 studies, they concluded that heavy resistance training is more likely to decrease injury risk and enhance training as compared to other forms of strength training alone. Periodized methods utilizing a mix of strength training regimens (including plyometric training) appear to be the most beneficial in order to consistently overload and challenge the neuromuscular system. It was found that running economy, or energy cost at a given running speed, increased by 2-8% when added to the training program of a distance runner for 6-20 weeks. Strength training also proved to have a direct positive effect on running performance based on time trials; one study showed the most significant difference in the later stages of a 10km race, demonstrating adaptations such as muscle resistance to fatigue. Furthermore, gains in strength came with no change in body mass in a majority of the studies, demonstrating the result of intramuscular adaptations rather than a significant increase in muscle mass.
It is important to systematically progress volume and intensity of strength training in order to allow for tissue adaptation. Building an effective and safe strength routine requires consideration of timing around runs. For runners, it may be beneficial to allow for at least 3 hours after high intensity workouts before performing a lift. Furthermore, athletes should allow for 24 hours of recovery after strength training before any high intensity running. For beginners, a 72 hour rest period between sessions is optimal for recovery. Strength training can be incorporated 2-3x per week for 6-14 weeks to see benefits. Once an athlete is within a high mileage training block, 1x per week may be sufficient to maintain benefits². It may be beneficial to seek guidance from a professional when beginning a strength training program to best suit an individual’s goals, with running and injury history in mind.
Lauresen JB, ANdersen TE, ANdersen LB. Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta- analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52:1557-1563.
Blagrove RC, Howatson G, Hayes PR. Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2018;48(5):1117-1149.