Improving Your Distance Running: Lift More than Just Your Feet

Wondering how you could cut down the time in your next half marathon? Try resistance training! Now we know what you might be thinking “well I can’t lift weights because it will just make my time slower!” The truth is that research shows no evidence of resistance training having a negative effect on endurance performance. On the Contrary, many long-distance runners who add resistance training to their workout regimen have seen improved performance. Needless to say, if you are focused on improving your distance running, you have to be willing to lift more than just your feet.


The Science Behind it

When discussing the type of muscle recruitment involved in lifting weights versus running long distances, athletes should keep in mind that there are Type I muscle fibers and Type II muscle fibers. Type I muscle fibers are responsible for our slow-twitch endurance related capabilities while Type II muscle fibers are in charge of our fast-twitch explosive capabilities. So in short, endurance athletes have more Type I fibers and power lifters have more Type II fibers. When an endurance athlete starts lifting weights they increase their number of Type II fibers. This addition causes an increase in maximal strength, neuromuscular function, and overall force production. A literature review by Larson, Chiswell, and Callaghan (2005) shows where resistance training contributed to a 12 percent increase in lactate threshold. In other words, there was a significant improvement in the amount of exercise that the endurance athletes performed before “the burn” began taking its toll on the body. The effects of explosive-type strength training on the body primarily deals with neural recruitment rather than muscle hypertrophy. More simply put, resistance training will improve your muscular strength and coordination without your seeing any significant change in muscle size.   

Resistance training can also substantially contribute to preventing injury in endurance athletes because if implemented appropriately, endurance athletes can address muscle imbalances that may manifest themselves in the form of pain during a long run (i.e. hip, knee, or back pain). In addition, resistance training also strengthens connective tissues and improves bone density.


Applying the Science

Taking all of this information into consideration, keep in mind that the resistance training should supplement an athlete’s endurance training and certainly should not detract from any endurance workouts. The workout program that is made should be based on the muscles and motions that the given endurance athlete goes through. For instance, running focuses on use of the glutes, quadriceps, and hip flexors, so resistance workouts should target those areas. Just keep in mind that the resistance training also includes the antagonist muscles as well or there will be muscle imbalance and increased chance of injury.

With a resistance workout, athletes must warm up properly. There needs to be a good combination of myofascial release (like tennis balls or a roller), stability/mobility exercises (like glute bridges or supermans), and dynamic stretches (like body-weight squats or walking lunges) in the warm up. Then after the workout athletes must remember the equally important cool down which should include dynamic stretches (to gradually slow heart rate), myofascial release, and static stretches. Be sure that the static stretches last around thirty seconds.

Wrap Up

For all the marathoners, iron men, and women: running is probably the most enjoyable mode of exercise and while it may seem pointless or maybe even detrimental to add resistance training to their workout program, the truth is that resistance training will likely lower risk of injury and improve endurance performance !

Are you preparing for a half marathon or just looking for ways to incorporate endurance-oriented resistance training into your workouts? You should look into our new twice a week, small group, half-marathon training program! Follow this link and check it out! :


Laursen, P., Chiswell, S. and Callaghan, J. (2005). Should endurance athletes supplement their training program with resistance training to improve performance? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 27, 5, 50-56.



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