Strength Training for Runners…Doesn’t Work?

More and more runners are embracing strength training, but is it really effective? A recent study questions its effectiveness, but we have our own doubts about the study design.

We all know that training for a sport itself is the most important part of conditioning. However, performing strength and conditioning work outside of your sport isn’t just a good idea, it’s often necessary. Nevertheless, in many endurance sports like running, this facet of exercise is often overlooked. With many hours of the week spent on the road or trail, additional training is often seen as unecessary or even counterproductive.

Fortunately, many runners have embraced the need for some strength training. Simply putting your miles in isn’t very good for developing strength, and since strength is an essential component of endurance, it shouldn’t be ignored by anyone interested in peak levels of performance. In a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers tested a program designed to develop both strength and explosiveness in endurance runners.

The participants in the study performed two different training protocols. The program the researchers were interested in was designed to develop strength and explosive power. This program used various jumps and heavy lifting to improve these values. The other group did a bodyweight circuit as a control group. Both groups performed their training routines alongside running and other aerobic activities.

The results were less than stellar. It seemed that in comparing the strength and explosive power program to a control of bodyweight exercises, the researchers expected the strength and power program to be a big hit, but ultimately it was only mildly better.

The actual purpose of the study was a little ambiguous, since the results studied and the purpose assumed seemed to run contrary to one another. Since both groups engaged in endurance exercise, especially running, it would seem that improvements to running were the topic of interest. However, the results the researchers focused on had more to do with whether or not there was an improvement in overall fitness. To what end is too elusive to tell.

The researchers noted “greater improvements in neuromuscular performance” resulting from the strength program. However, all this means is that doing a strength and power routine was better at developing strength and power than some other routine. What a shocker. Worse yet, the results in the strength and power group were barely significant when compared to the bodyweight group on only a few of the parameters studied. Additionally, both groups stopped making strength gains at all after twelve weeks.

But despite what looks like an iffy study at best, I think we can still learn something important. When you’re a recreational athlete and some facet of training like strength development is new to you, pretty much anything will work. If it’s hard and it’s pushing your muscles, it will boost your strength. We have a few terms for phenomena like this, including “beginner’s gains” and “general physical preparedness.” General gains in strength can be achieved from pretty much anything if you’re just getting started.

Focus on what’s fun for you first. Putting the work in is the most important part, and will provide the most benefit for strength and running. After you figure out what’s fun, the heavier the weight is, the better it will develop your strength. But in the beginning, it doesn’t make as much of a difference.


1. Ritva S. Taipale, et. al., “Mixed maximal and explosive strength training in recreational endurance runners,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a16d73.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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