Lift Weights to Run FASTER

When you think of a distance runner, odds are big muscles and bench presses don’t come to mind. Weight training has had a cloudy stigma in the distance running community for quite some time, but as studies have shown, lifting weights may be the right ingredient to improve running times, reduce injury risk, and help lean up.

As a coach, the biggest question people ask is what they should do at the gym. Too often people go around and around the machine area until they get bored or dizzy. When strength training for distance running, a great place to start is looking at basic human movements: push, pull, stand up, and sit down. This may seem mundane or even too basic, but the importance of these movements will help develop a solid foundation to build on.

Studies have shown working out in a periodized weight-training regimen, instead of just doing a few exercises you feel comfortable with, improves 3k and 5k times in trained and untrained runners.1 Foundational movements like back squats, dumbbell lunges, pull ups, bench presses, and shoulder presses build strength. When structured in a periodized manner, you can expect to see a lot of changes.

Periodized workouts are basically separate yet sequenced training phases, or cycled and staged workouts.2 Studies have shown that runners who participate in a periodized weight-lifting plan can expect to see an increase in anaerobic power, force production, and improved force development rate with little to no negative change in VO2 Max. This means that your running economy and ground contact time will improve, as will road race times. These studies have used a high-load, low repetition model for their subjects3, breaking the misnomer that endurance athletes can’t or shouldn’t lift heavily or explosively.

A basic periodization model has four phases: foundational strength and endurance, hypertrophy (promoting muscle growth), strength, and a power phase (always followed by a week of active rest). Here is a sample of what a 14-20 week program would look like:


• 3-4 weeks in duration

• 3-4 sets per exercise with 30-60 seconds rest between sets

• 12-15 reps per exercise

• Weight should be light, with no chance of failure


• 4-6 weeks in duration

• 3-5 sets per exercise

• 8-12 reps per set

• 45-90 seconds rest between sets

• 50-75% of a calculated one rep maximum effort


• 4-6 weeks in duration

• 3-5 sets per exercise

• 5-8 reps per set

• 1.5-2 minutes rest between sets

• 80-90% of a calculated one rep maximum effort


• 3-4 weeks in duration

• 3-5 sets per exercise

• 1-4 reps per set

• A minimum of 2.5 minutes of rest per set

• 85-95% of a calculated one rep maximum effort

After discussing a plan with a certified professional, it would be wise to start out two days per week for the untrained runner, moving to a possible three day per week scenario outside of your competition cycle.

Besides improving your race time, strength training strengthens bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles to help withstand the impact of running.4 Strength training might just help you find the ability to channel your inner Rocky Balboa and sprint up a hill or dramatically shadowbox at the top of the stairs at Tom Lee Park.


1. Esteve-Lanao, J., Rhea, M. R., Fleck, S. J., & Lucia, A. (2008). Running-Specific, Periodized Strength Training Attenuates Loss of Stride Length During Intense Endurance Running. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(4), 1176-1183. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31816a861f

2. Frankel, C.C. & Kravitz, L. (2000). Periodization: Latest Studies and Practical Applications. IDEA Personal Trainer, 11(1), 15-16

3. Yamamoto, L. M., Lopez, R. M., Klau, J. F., Casa, D. J., Kraemer, W. J., & Maresh, C. M. (2008). The Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Distance Running Performance Among Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,22(6), 2036-2044. doi:10.1519/ jsc.0b013e318185f2f0

4. Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Taipale, R., Capostagno, B., Häkkinen, K., & Nummela, A. (2011). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(13), 1359-1371. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.589467

David Queck is a former assistant track and field coach for the University of Memphis. and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Performance from the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), and a Level 1 Track and Field Coach certified by United States Track and Field (USATF).

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