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Runners and Weight Training

Running-Specific, Periodized Strength Training Attenuates Loss of Stride Length During Intense Endurance Running.

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 22(4):1176-1183, July 2008.
Esteve-Lanao, Jonathan 1; Rhea, Matthew R 2; Fleck, Steven J 3; Lucia, Alejandro 1

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a running-specific, periodized strength training program (performed over the specific period [8 weeks] of a 16-week macrocycle) on endurance-trained runners' capacity to maintain stride length during running bouts at competitive speeds.
Subjects: Eighteen well-trained middle-distance runners completed the study (personal bests for 1500 and 5000 m of 3 minutes 57 seconds +/- 12 seconds and 15 minutes 24 seconds +/- 36 seconds).

Methods: They were randomly assigned to each of the following groups (6 per group): periodized strength group, performing a periodized strength training program over the 8-week specific (intervention) period (2 sessions per week); nonperiodized strength group, performing the same strength training exercises as the periodized group over the specific period but with no week-to-week variations; and a control group, performing no strength training at all during the specific period. The percentage of loss in the stride length (cm)/speed (m[middle dot]s-1) (SLS) ratio was measured by comparing the mean SLS during the first and third (last) group of the total repetitions, respectively, included in each of the interval training sessions performed at race speeds during the competition period that followed the specific period.

Results: Significant differences (p < 0.05) were found in mean percentage of SLS loss between the 3 study groups, with the periodized strength group showing no significant SLS change (0.36 +/- 0.95%) and the 2 other groups showing a moderate or high SLS loss (-1.22 +/- 1.5% and -3.05 +/- 1.2% for the nonperiodized strength and control groups, respectively).

Conclusion: In conclusion, periodized, running-specific strength training minimizes the loss of stride length that typically occurs in endurance runners during fatiguing running bouts.

Some of my thoughts and how we can use this information:

I have written about and posted some research regarding strength training for runners in the past, but this is the first study to look at a running specific program and its potential effects on the runners’ ability to maintain stride length (a marker for fatigue) during training sessions which were at competition speed.

Runners’ are notorious for destroying their bodies with...MORE RUNNING! They typically feel that if they just run and do nothing else, their problems will just magically go away! Not only that, but they also feel that running is the only thing they need to do. Occasionally, you will see a runner who justifies their well-rounded training program by stating that they do yoga or pilates. Nothing against yoga or pilates, but they are not strength training! You are not loading your body and, in the case of yoga, things are performed slowly and in a static position (often times lying down), which has little specificity to runners or anyone that pretty much stands up and moves. Similarly, a lot of the pilates core exercises are performed lying down. While lying down and trying to activate the ‘core’ musculature is helpful, you eventually need to get up and try and integrate that into some real movement, as things that fire in isolation need to re-learn how to fire during actual movement. The other issue I have with runners and yoga is that, in a yoga class you go in and just stretch out everything. The entire body! Realistically, it would be more beneficial to stretch the muscles that need to be lengthened and leave the muscles that are currently at a normal length alone. Not that these disciplines are bad. I think they can have their place in a well-rounded program. However, they are only a small part of that program and that is all you are doing, then you really need to re-evaluate and plan out something that focused and specific to you.

That basically brings us to this study which looked at a periodized running program and its potential benefits to runners. One thing that I did like was that they looked at a group who performed a periodized program and a group who performed a non-periodized program.

The non-periodized approach seems to be a common mistake that runners who venture into the gym make. Oftentimes, they may feel that just being in the gym and doing something is okay. While doing something; is better than nothing, it would be optimal if we made that “something” more specific.

All subjects began with the same 4-week preparatory period and then broke into two groups (periodized and non-periodized) for their 8-week specific (intervention) training period and then finished with their 4 week competition period (which was the same training for all groups).

The program for the periodized group looked like a typically linear type of periodization. Basically, the subjects started with a 2-week block of circuit training (base training or work capacity training). They followed that with a 3-week block of plyometrics, hills runs, more lifting (they even used snatches, cleans and squats!) and circuit based stuff (so that was more like their strength phase of training or intensification phase). They finished with a 3-week block of specific resisted speed work (this would be their power or peaking phase of training).

The non-periodized group performed the same workout, except the workouts weren’t performed in any sort of sequential week-to-week order (hence the reason they are non-periodized).

Obviously the group that performed the periodized program saw the greatest gains from the training as they saw a lower loss of stride length during the re-test portion of the study when compared to the non-periodized and control group.

So, what does this conclusion mean for runners?

1)Those who do nothing have a harder time maintaining their stride during a fatigued state, which can potentially lead to injury

2)Those who did something, but weren’t specific about it saw some improvements, but those improvements could be better if they had planned more.

3)Those who had the best plan saw the greatest improvements as the plan was specific to their goals and the sport they train in.

Runners need to:

1)Be evaluated

2)Have a concrete plan of what they need to do in order to perform better and prevent injury.


Patrick, thank you for this. For those of you out there in TV land, I've been dogging Patrick for information on how best to integrate lifting into a runner's training. This user-friendly commentary on a very timely scientific study does much to address my specific concerns.

Importantly, this writeup serves to explain - to runners - why a well-planned and sport-specific resistance training programme will help runners run better.

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