Research on Strength Training in Endurance Running and Cycling

A review article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports provided the most up to date summary on the impact of strength training on endurance running and cycling.  This article was a review of the current research, not an individual study.  The aim of a review article is to synthesize the published work on a particular topic and to draw conclusions from that body of work.

The Real Advantage of Strength Training for the Distance Runner: Training During the Competitive Race Season

Strength training provides a “use-it-or lose it” adaptation.  If strength training is discontinued, muscle strength and the many benefits of strength training are lost rapidly (muscle endurance, power, enhanced metabolic rate, running economy, etc.).  For this reason, strength training must be performed on a consistent basis all year round; runners should aim for a minimum of one workout every seven to fourteen days.  Many well-intentioned runners assume that strength training is an important component of the “base” building phase of a runner’s training.  As racing season nears and the intensity and volume of running workouts increase, the runner will discontinue strength training with the intent to recover from intense running workouts.  For example, many runners strength train throughout the winter months and then discontinue strength training when the racing season of April through August arrives.  Another example includes a well intentioned runner who strength trains consistently throughout the spring and summer but then discontinues strength training in August to spend the months of August, September, and October on running workouts leading up to a fall marathon.  The benefits of strength training will disappear by the time the race has arrived.  This is analogous to studying in May, June, and July for a test that will be taken in October.  Strength training produces a separate list of adaptations when compared to running.  Both running adaptations and strength training adaptations are extremely important for performance and injury prevention.  A runner should not discontinue strength training in attempt to focus on running just as a runner should not discontinue eating protein completely to focus on eating carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are important macronutrients that are necessities in a healthful diet.  In the same way, speed work, tempo work, long runs, strength training, and rest/recovery are important components of a comprehensive running training program.  During periods of high volume and high intensity running, the frequency and intensity of the strength-training workout can be slightly reduced, but should never be discontinued.

I'm going to sign up for a marathon to help me lose weight

This is the intention of many first time marathoners.  The assumption is something like this: Training for a marathon involves a heck of a lot of running; if I sign up for a marathon really get serious about running, I'll lose a heck of a lot of weight in the process.  The reality is far different from this.  A 2010 research study indicated that of novice marathoners completing a 3-month training program (a time period in which they ran literally hundreds of miles and expended tens of thousands of calories), some people lost weight, some stayed the same, and many gained weight.  Here is a breakdown of what happened:

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