2009 Update

Strength training is important for all athletes. We have reviewed this in the previous article in this series. It is important to remember that much of strength training has the general goal of increasing overall musculo-skeletal fitness and strength, as opposed to meeting specific strength requirements of one single sport. Although, among the best trainers, strength training is becoming increasingly refined to be more sport specific. Quite often, the benefits are general and the training is general rather Leonardo's Manthan specific. Remember, that no strength training exercise is identical to any other athletic endeavor. But you can, with certain exercises, mimic the motions of a specific sport in a limited fashion. We perform strength training not to specifically enhance a particular running skill, but to gain overall strength, balance, endurance, make our tissues stronger, and to increase our resistance to the stresses of running. We will specifically apply our newly developed general strength to our sport's specific needs. As we mentioned in the last article in this series, increasing our lean body mass also increases the calorie burning ability of our body. This is accomplished since muscle cells require more energy (and also burn more calories) than fat cells.

Prerequisites:If you have any known serious medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or if you are over 40 see your doctor before beginning strength training. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome or any other upper extremity physical problem you should also consult your physician prior to beginning a strength training program.



  • Warm up carefully and completely, as we lay out in this article series.

  • Don't hold your breath while lifting weights. Breathe in on the relaxation phase and out while performing the hard part of the exercise.

  • Move your body through the entire range of motion of the exercise. Don't "lock" your joints while performing the exercise.

  • Wear "Weight Lifting Gloves".

  • Try to work the larger muscle groups first. Chest, back, biceps, triceps, deltoids.

  • Don't forget to work your abdominal muscles.

  • Runners: Don't work your legs too hard! Focus more on your upper body and carefully choose the lower extremity exercises that work for you, while making sure not to overdo them. Use only lower weights on your legs

  • Get adequate rest between sessions. Don't forget to get enough sleep.

Basic Definitions:


Muscular Endurance: The capacity of muscles to sustain work over a period of time.

Muscular Strength: The maximum amount of power that a muscle group can produce in a single contraction.

Reps: Repetitions of a specific movement within a group of exercises called a set.

Set: A series of repetitions of a specific movement or exercise.

Overload: Performing more exercise than you are accustomed to. For example, if you were to curl the latest Runner's World 30 times you probably would not be stressed. Curling a 20 pound dumbbell 20 times would probably be more than you are accustomed to. Overload results in the muscle's adaptation to the stress by a gain in strength and cross sectional diameter.

Progression: To continue your progress the overload must be progressive. You must increase the number of repetitions from 8 to 12 and then start increasing the amount of weight used. To maintain strength, you may just stay with your current weight and number of repetitions.

Duration: The duration is how long an exercise routine is performed for. You should not spend more than 45 minutes to an hour in the gym doing strength training.

Concentric: The part of the exercise in which the muscle contracts and becomes shorter. When you "curl" a barbell you are performing the concentric part of the "curl" exercise.

Eccentric: The part of the exercise in which the muscle lengthens. Lowering the barbell during a curl is the eccentric (or negative) phase of the exercise.


Runners Vs. The Rest Of The World: Contrary opinions on some widely held views.

Upper Body vs. Lower Body

While many athletes train the entire body with equal intensity and will use heavy weights for their legs, I don't believe that heavy strength training for the legs is vital or helpful for the long distance runner. All of the best runners at all distances have used strength training. Most of them, particularly the longer distance runners, during their prime years have emphasized the upper body during their training. As some of them have aged, they have found that more lower extremity exercises are helpful. Some of them have then generalized that if it is good for the aging athlete, it is good for the younger one too. That is not necessarily so. An aging athlete has a few other things to deal with. There is a tendency for a decrease in lean body weight and muscle strength as one ages. This can be minimized by strength training. But, the younger athlete does not find their muscle disappearing by 5% - 20% or more from his prime. They are still in their prime. My opinion is that they would be better off performing only a light lower extremity workout and use a variety of different running techniques to enhance their running speed, form, and strength. These techniques would include the use of fartlak, strides, hills, fast continuous (now called pace) runs, and intervals. Unless you want to go heavy on the calf machines and then have cramps in your legs when you try hill running the next day, I would only recommend doing this lightly if at all.

Of course there is value to gentle leg strength training. Go easy on leg curls, leg presses, and leg extension. Body weight straight leg lifts can be helpful to those with peripatellar pain syndrome. And for the rest of us body weight exercises, or light dumbell exercises, such as walking lunges, forward lunges, reverse lunges, swiss ball roll ups, planks, bridges, side planks, one legged bridges, and bird dogs can all help with core strength and lower extremity strength. But let's not go overboard on the muscles that we as runners exercise the most.

Circuit Training vs. Strength Training

Circuit training has recently been touted as a great way to improve your running. I'm not sure this is so, despite a few anecdotal reports. The studies I've seen on circuit training improving cardiovascular fitness show a statistically significant improvement, but not what I would call a dramatic improvement particularly for what a runner would want. I think however that it might help me carry grocery bags into the house from the car quicker and perhaps that might be a good circuit workout in and of itself. Circuit traingin will give you something between good strength training and a cardiovascular workout. But the better designed circuits will be a good workout indeed. Full body workouts appear to be quite helpful in body composition change and fat loss. Certainly a sprinter will need to do more strength training than circuit workouts. But those among you looking for a quick workout for all of your muscles and those in need of weight loss and fat loss will find the circuit workout and/or full body strength workout sessions to be helpful.

Cardiovascular workouts are now quite refined and readily measured. Lactic Threshold, V02 Max, and 60 - 70% recovery runs can all be tracked using a Heart Rate Monitor. If you use one while performing a circuit workout or while doing strength training, you'll see that you must be performing your exercises fairly quickly and moving from one to the next quite fast without adequate or appropriate intervals between sets to allow for recovery to perform the next set. You also might find that calisthenics, skipping rope, or jogging will be needed to get your heart rate up to the aerobic training zone. This will certainly defeat the purpose of a good strength workout. In that case make certain to evaluate your program and get coaching to change it. Jumping jacks, prisoner squats, lunges, moutain climbers, and pushups are all going to help rev up your heart beat. Circuit training doing single muscle exercises such as curls and triceps extensions are not going to cut it.

Assess your specific needs as you decide if you require a pure strength workout and what your goal is. If you are attempting to lose weight while maintaining overall body lean mass, you will need to have a dietary component to your program. And, it is important to know that your overall results will depend on your caloric balance. Increase calories burned, while maintaining caloric intake will result in a loss. Increasing both, and increasing caloric intake more will result in a weight gain. The "hard gainer" will need to increase caloric intake, and may use some (whey and sometimes cassein) protein mixes, if the goal is to add bulk. But then again, most of us here are runners, and we are not usually out to gain. Working for specific goals at each workout will allow you to achieve the maximal benefit of each workout.

Being well fueled before your workout will assist you in getting optimal results. A protein/carb mix is good. For me, I find the low carb version of Metabolic Drive works well and tastes fine.

Strength Training: Warmup

Warmup Benefits

  • Raises core body temperature
  • Increases elasticity
  • Prepares your nervous system for work
  • Improves muscle contractility
  • Prepares cardiovascular system for a workout
  • Improves coordination
  • Increases awareness, arousal and improves reaction time
  • Increases work capacity

What comes first?

Body builders will want to perform the strength training workout first. Runners will optimally perform their running first and the strength training workout second. Ideally the two will not be back to back. You should have several hours between the run and your strength workout. You may run in the morning and then do your strength routine lunch time or in the evening. If you are forced to perform the two routines together, do your run first and then your strength training. If you must do them together, don't follow a long run or speed workout with your strength training. You'll be too tired to perform it properly. Some have recommended that you can perform your hard running and strength training on the same day (but separate the two) since with an easier day following, you'll have time to recover. I'm not against this, but you'll have to experiment. You might find that it is easier to do your strength training on a light running day or a cross training day or even on a "rest" day.

How much?

When first beginning a strength training program you should only perform one set of each exercise for the first one or two weeks. For the first few weeks set the number of repetitions to be approximately 12 - 15. After this you may increase to 2 - 3 sets after one warm up set. After the first two weeks of acclimation to the new exercises you should perform the exercises for the upper body using proper form and reach a point that you cannot perform a "strict" or proper repetition within 8 to 14 repetitions. If you feel as if you could go on forever or at least beyond 15 - 20 repetitions increase the weight on your next set or at your next session.

The Warm Up

A warm up is considered vital for all performing speedwork. The more speedwork is a part of your routine, or if short distance events are your main event, you know how long it takes and how important it is to warm up properly. Warming up is a process. It is a series of things that are done to prepare your body for the stresses of training or competing.

Your warm up for strength training should begin with a few minutes of a gentle aerobic activity. This could be 5 to 10 minutes of using an elliptical trainer, exercise bicycle, or walking or jogging slowly on a treadmill. Next should come gentle stretching of the muscle groups you will use. Then you have a choice of using light dumbbells to gently warm up each upper extremity muscle group you'll use or to go directly to your exercise routine. When you perform your exercises make sure that you do one lighter weight set of 10 to 15 repetitions before doing your regular heavier sets.

You would not do intervals or sprint without a thorough warm up so why put these fast twitch fibers through heavy exercise without an adequate warm up. It just would not make sense to jump right in and start your routine without a warm up and at least one warm up set.

Coming Next: Strength Training Programs For Runners:Recommended Exercises

“... the fear that you will bulk up is not grounded in reality. It takes a special genetic makeup, lots of work, and a considerably different muscle structure than most long distance runners have to "get big"...” Pribut on Strength training for runners

Preliminary Look:

Strength training should cover all the major muscle groups: Chest, shoulders, back, arms, abdominal muscles and legs. Specifics will come next, but here is one potential routine. These should ultimately be performed with one warm up set at light weight, 2 to 3 sets of 6 - 12 reps and done 2 - 3 times per week. Rest 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets or perform an exercise for another muscle group during the rest period.

Bench Press (BB) Wide Grip (Chest - Pectorals - primary, Triceps - secondary)
Flies (Chest-Pectorals primary, Anterior Deltoid secondary)

Bent Over Rows (Back - lats)
Pullover Machine or Lat Pulldown
Low Row

Arms & Shoulders

DB Arm Curl
Overhead Press (BB) or Arnold Press (DB)
Optional: lateral raises or front raises
Optional: DB Curls or Preacher Curls (DB or BB)
Triceps Extension or Cable Pressdown
Optional: French Curl or Skull Crusher

Legs and Abdomen

Leg Extensions or Leg Press or (cautiously) Squat
Leg Curls
Calf Raise (optional)
Abdominal Crunches

More Options For Variety:

Pull-ups (Back - Lats, Biceps), Dips (Chest, Triceps), Pushups (Triceps, Pectorals, Deltoids)

Body Weight Sessions

Circuit Training

...begin any exercise program with caution...




Recommended References:

McArdle, W.D., and Katch, F.I., and Katch, V.L., Exercise Physiology,
fourth edition, Williams and Wilkins, 1996.

Additional Information:
Strength Training Programs For Runners: Principles
Strength Training Programs For Runners: Recommended Exercises
Blog entry: The Three Pillars of Fitness