There is a wealth of data that shows weight training has a wide-range of positive effects on distance running performance, with Running Economy at the top of the list of running-related improvements. But before I get into the nuts and bolts of a weight-training program for distance runners, I need you to be able to wrap your minds around the concept of Running Economy, and that it can be improved as a result of neural and muscular adaptations. Additionally, any of you who work with a personal trainer or strength/performance coach should make sure to discuss the ramifications involved with concurrent strength and endurance training (CSET) due to the contradictory nature of these methods training.
Whether or not you consider yourself to be a runner, you need to strike the proper balance between endurance and strength training to ensure that you get the most out of each of these methods. A qualified personal trainer or strength/performance coach should be able to design a program that is not counter-productive and/or potentially injurious. Now, back to Running Economy.
Here’s a fancy take on Running Economy provided courtesy of Paul Jones and Theodore Bampouras of Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom. “Running economy (RE) is typically defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of sub-maximal running, and is determined by measuring the steady state consumption of oxygen and the respiratory exchange ratio. RE is one of the most important physiological determinants of endurance performance, in addition to maximum oxygen consumption and lactate threshold.” Whew!
As a matter of fact, there is such a strong relationship between RE and performance that among elite runners RE may in fact be the best predictor of performance than oxygen uptake. Oxygen uptake (VO2) is the amount of oxygen (liters or milliliters) an athlete uses in a minute. Really this all makes a lot of sense; the person who runs with better RE uses less energy – less oxygen – than the person with poor RE who runs at the same velocity. With a weight training improved RE, performance is improved by running a given distance at a faster speed or being able to run for a longer period of time at a faster speed.
If you look at the data that deals with resistance training and distance running you’ll find that there’s a lot of ambiguity with regard to other markers of endurance running ability. There is not a consensus as to whether weight training can improve oxygen uptake – aka Vo2 max – but weight training doesn’t appear to have a negative effect on Vo2 max either. And there is certainly enough of a reason to believe runners that weight train can reduce the risk of some kinds of injury.
But rather than argue about – or wonder as to – why weight training is beneficial to runners, let’s all agree that runners need to engage in weight training, both strength training and explosive training. Since there is no way to make a blanket program for all runners – or any athletes for that matter – people need to seek out expert advice, opinions and evaluation from a qualified personal trainer or strength/performance coach.