I’d like to highlight a “comment” that my friend and fellow Grad Student Matt Andre was going to post on the Strength Training post.  It’s a great supplementation to that post and adds some good references and insight from a different person, so I figured it would be useful for readers if it was a seperate post.  Matt is finishing up his thesis that focuses on Sprinting, and will be pursuing his PhD at Kansas next year.  Thanks for the great comment, and I’d just add that I agree with everything said.
Matt’s take on strength training:

“Great thread! On a side note, I will gladly put together some info on unstable surface training, since I used to be a believer in it, until I started reading the research and understanding how the body works. Over the past 2 years, I have spent over 60 solid hours reading both sides of this argument and all of the research I could find. I am 100% against unstable surface training, as I have seen that it causes many negative adaptations and none of the supposed benefits. I will add details in a post later with all of the references. In the meantime, if you need stronger “core”, squat heavy. A bodyweight squat (literally, without the bar) activates the trunk musculature to the same extent as exercises on a Swiss ball meant to target those same muscles (Hamlyn et el., 2009). A squat at 50% 1RM works the trunk musculature 10-15% more than a MAX EFFORT Swiss ball exercise meant to ISOLATE those same trunk muscles (Nuzzo et al., 2008). If you are squatting at least 80% 1RM, this difference in activation is generally between 40-60%. So, if you are squatting heavy (which you should be), swiss balls and bosu balls are a waste of your time (and also bad for you). To be continued…

As for the strength/power training, I can totally back up what Steve was saying. The reason that it is really difficult to get these points across is because we have each spent over 6 highly-intensive years learning the science of human physiology as it relates to sport performance, and it is hard to condense all of that info into a thread like this. For more info, read Brooks’ text “Exercise Physiology” – as far as I can tell, it’s the best text on the subject of how the body adapts to exercise.

To put it in simple terms, we train endurance during our sport training, so we don’t need to train it in the weight room. But what is “endurance”? Distance running requires a high level of power, but it is aerobic power, because we are repeating it over and over again for an extended period of time. So, each time we take a step, we are projecting ourself. This is a ballistic power movement. Because we have to do it so many times, it is a lower level of power than a sprinter or a shot-putter must produce (they use anaerobic power). Still, both types of athlete can benefit from the same training.

One of the keys to improving endurance is to improve our ability to produce force quickly (power) without hitting an intensity that is so high that we cannot maintain it. To make these improvements, we need to look at A.V. Hill’s Power Curve, which outlines the force-velocity (power) relationship.

To make a very gross oversimplification of the matter, we know that to improve power we must improve force. Even better, we would like to improve force without improving body mass (so, via neural improvements).

Let’s say that someone can only squat 100lbs for one rep. Now, at 50% of max effort (50 lbs), they can do 20 reps. If we increase that person’s 1RM squat to 150lbs, they can probably squat 50 lbs about 40-50 times. This huge improvement means that our former submaximal effort has become even easier. More importantly, the person who used to only be able to squat 100 lbs one time, can now squat it 10-15 times. So, what used to be a maximum and unsustainable effort for the person has now become a much easier effort. Instead of working at 50lbs (let’s say 8mph), we can now sustain faster paces (say, 9-10mph). These theories have been proven with beginner runners as well as elite runners. It is even more pronounced with cyclists (elite and non-elite).

What does this mean for a distance runner or any endurance athlete? Let’s say that the highest amount of power you could produce and maintain during a run was 1000 watts (not a real number, just hypothetical) and the max amount you could produce at a full sprint was 5000 watts. When we make you stronger (and include power training at the same time), we might move your sprint power from 5000 to 8000. In doing so, we move your max sustainable power during a distance event from 1000 to something higher.

This is about the most unscientific way I can think of to describe it, but basically, if we make someone stronger, we make their ability to move much easier. Additionally, staying in the 1-4 rep range is a great way to get stronger via neural adaptations(most modern powerlifters stay in this range to improve their squats) without building muscle.

So, while staying in a 1-4 rep range on squats may not APPEAR to be sport-specific since it is a completely different energy system, it is actually extremely specific, as it will help you to work at a higher capacity during a distance race without accumulating enough fatigue to stop your efforts. While this info is not accepted among the general population, it is common knowledge among most sports scientists and elite sport coaches. Time under tension (regarding resistance training) is increased when the goal is hypertrophy, not strength or power. As for endurance, we train those energy systems when we run 6-7 days/week…

Keep up the great work Steve – this website rocks!! I also really enjoyed reading everyone else’s comments – this is an environment where we can all learn from each other!”

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More on Strength Training for Runners, including core/stability…
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13 thoughts on “More on Strength Training for Runners, including core/stability…

  • May 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Good advice, I recommend for anyone wanting more easy to understand info on this topic they should check out the book; HEALTHY INTELLIGENT TRAINING by Keith Livingstone, chapter 9 'Strength Training for Athletes.
    He backs up everything your friend Matt is saying.

    I would also add that using light weights and high reps [12 reps]can as I found out increase body weight over time, I increased from 10.10 lb to 12.5 lb in the space of 5 years using reps of 12 with moderate weights.
    And this is also the conclusion of the book, heavy weights low rep produce increased strength without adding much muscle bulk.
    On the over hand High reps increase bulk with only moderate strengh gains!

  • May 30, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Man Im confused. Im in high school and usually when I hit the gym I do light weight high rep, should I switch?

  • May 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    What would be the preferable weekly workload for a middle distance runner who wants to incorporate these squats into their training?

  • May 30, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    1) Is there research that show that strength training improve performance in 10K or longer runs?
    The only paper I found was Hickson et al, in which the performance improvement was not statistically significant.

    2) Would doing sprinting/hill sprinting give similar benefits
    as strength training?
    How are the adaptations of strength training different than those of sprinting/hill sprinting?

  • May 31, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Steve and Matt,

    can you comment a bit more on why exercises on unstable surfaces actually have negative consequences? I am currently in physiotherapy because of an Achilles tendinopathy and the therapist lets me do different balance exercises on bosu balls, balance boards etc. to improve proprioception. Thx


  • May 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Yeah Steve,Matt, i take it you did not mean to include using a wobble board for weak ankles and spains, cause they work really well, plus I think one legged balances work not only ankles, tendons but also muscles around the knee and hip really well.

  • May 31, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    The following presentation was posted by Steve on the last strength training thread – it should answer most people's questions about strength training for endurance athletes:

    As for unstable surface training, it is a very long story. I'll ask Steve if he wants to post my updated 20-page paper on the topic. If not, I will try to condense it somewhat. For now:

    Peter – even therapists are split right down the middle about whether or not to use unstable surfaces. "Proprioception" is task-specific. In other words, doing something on a BOSU ball makes you better at using a BOSU ball. Doing something on a stable surface makes you do better on a stable surface. Hence, the proprioception argument isn't very solid.

    Rick – you're right. There's some data showing that wobble boards help rehabilitate ankle injuries. HOWEVER, there has never been a comparison between wobble board exercises and stable ground exercises (SL squats, etc.) on recovery. I am going to test this theory during my PhD process, b/c I think that we might see as good (or better) results with the stable ground training.

    This is important because unstable training has several maladaptations (decreased agonist muscle activation, increased antagonistic coactivation, decreased force output, decreased power output, decreased rate of force development, improper recruitment patterns, slower sprint times, decreased jumping ability, to name a few…).

    Keep your eyes peeled for a large post on this topic…

  • June 1, 2010 at 2:14 am

    Great info. guys. Thanks for sharing.

  • June 6, 2010 at 1:42 am

    would you reccommend doing sets of 1-4 reps or just 1-4 reps total?

  • June 7, 2010 at 3:18 am

    I would say it depends on the day. You should always be varying your volume. If it is off-season, you might do as many as 5-8 sets of 1-4 reps for squats, power cleans, etc.

    During the heaviest part of your competitive season, you would probably want to do fewer sets, but still at a high intensity.

    Whenever I am in season for any sport, I prefer to do 1-2 heavy singles (around 90% 1 RM) per exercise to simply maintain strength & power. That's just my opinion, though – I'm sure others would do differently…

  • June 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Steve, what is your view on the AIS stretching that Phil Wharton is a proponent of?

  • April 7, 2011 at 5:50 am

    This has been a revelation in my training. I'm 6'2" and 240. Lean body weight is 185. I have to lose some weight, but I don't have a typical distance runner's build. Done lots of weight lifting. Before I started running my thighs each measured 31 inches. They've now slimmed down to 27. So I've avoided any weight lifting because my legs explode in size when I lift.

    The result has been some niggling injuries that ironically are the result of muscle weakness and imbalances that landed me back in the gym doing weights. Since I didn't want my legs to bulk up again I followed your guidelines: high weights, low reps. The results have been pretty amazing. My legs have quickly gotten nearly as strong as they were before when they were much larger, but they aren't getting bigger. Plus the workouts are much shorter and less fatiguing.

    The payoff however is in the running. As you describe in the article, my easy runs feel much more effortless. In particular it is much easier to maintain my pace going up hills. This is a particular issue for a large guy like me. We'll see in my next 5k, but the addition of weight lifting to my running program seems to be paying dividends.

    Wonder what people at the gym think when they see the guy with the marathon finisher shirt doing 770 pound leg presses.

  • September 4, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Don't you think that squatting with heavy weight puts too much stress on the knees? as a runner, we need our knees, but if we squat for too heavy, we re worsening the condition of our knees..
    this is what i've been doing for my legs training: legs extension, squats with knees behind the toes, cycling with high intensity with stationary bike, and running up stairs.


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