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.

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