Strength for Runners Who Hate the Gym

Is there an effective strength program for runners who hate the gym?

The long distance running community is not typically renowned for its love of gym sessions. Most runners just want to run and strength training is still commonly absent in training plans for the running season. The case for strength training may inadvertently not be helped by the overwhelming number of exercise protocols that bombard popular fitness publications and online sites. Many runners want to know if a simple beneficial strength program exists that minimizes time in the gym.

Strength Program

Recent research from the University of Limerick and the Irish Institute of Sport, investigating a 40-week training program, provides interesting insight on this topic. This study caught my eye due to its analysis of strength, running economy and body compositions metrics and its use of a pragmatic time efficient gym program. Here’s a summary.

Key Study Details

            No prior strength training experience

No significant difference between the groups at baseline

            Normal 1,500-10,000m endurance training plus strength/plyometric training

            Normal 1,500-10,000m endurance training only

Strength Protocol Details

Results

Key Takeaways

This study suggests that significant strength and running economy gains can be made with a time efficient maximal strength and low volume plyometric program. For runners keen on avoiding long gym sessions a well-designed strength program can be completed in around 30-45 minutes. Twice weekly sessions, tapering to 1 around competition periods, is a feasible time investment for most people. The data in this study demonstrates that a majority of the gains were achieved in the first 20 weeks and were maintained when the training program decreased to once per week.

Training Program

It is interesting that running on its own did not prevent a deterioration in reactive strength in the control group. This points toward a decline in the runners’ ability to rapidly absorb and produce muscle force- a key component of running. It is also worth noting that body composition markers did not change in the intervention group. This provides further evidence against the common misconception that high-load gym programs will result in unwanted weight gain from putting on muscle mass in runners.

Running

Strength and conditioning programs are not a one size fit all, however, this study is part of a growing body of research highlighting the benefits of high-load orientated strength protocols in the running population.

Study Limitations: (for the academically inclined)

The research design of this study places it in the category of lower level evidence due to its inability to control a number of variables that impact internal validity. Example of this include the low number of subjects, the absence of randomization, non-blinding of the examiners and the lack of control over variables such as mileage and running intensity.

References:

  1. Beattie K, Carson B, Lyons M, Rossiter A and Kenny I. 2017. The effects of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31: 9-23.

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