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Is there a best strength formula for middle and long-distance runners?

Strength training can significantly boost your performance as a middle or long-distance runner. Beyond making you more resilient to injuries and increasing your power, it can improve your muscle economy—how efficiently your muscles use oxygen. Better muscle economy means better endurance, which is crucial for competitive success.


Why Muscle Economy Matters?

Research shows that muscle economy is a key factor in endurance performance. For instance, a study on collegiate cross-country runners found that muscle economy and VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity) explained 92% of the differences in their race performances. Another study comparing elite Eritrean and Spanish runners found that the Eritreans' superior performance was due to better muscle economy, despite similar VO2max levels.

Benefits of Strength Training for Runners

Strength training can enhance your running by improving your VO2max, running economy, and endurance (how long you can run before getting exhausted). It can also help with sprint capacity, which is especially important for middle-distance races that often end with a sprint finish.

The Physio Movement training gym, strength training for runners


Designing an Effective Strength Program

To get the most out of your strength training without overexerting yourself, you need a smart plan. Balance is key—strength training should complement your running without causing excessive fatigue. Important factors to consider include the type of strength training (heavy loads, lighter loads, or plyometrics), intensity, volume, rest intervals, frequency, and exercise selection.


New Research Insights

A recent study (Llanos-Lagos et al., 2024) reviewed 38 different studies to compare the effectiveness of various strength training methods for runners. Here’s what they found:

- Using heavy weights (80% or more of your maximum lift) significantly improves race times and endurance.

- Combining different types of strength training (like heavy weights with plyometrics) produces better results than using just one method.

- Limited Impact on VO2max


Practical Tips for Runners

To maximize your running performance, consider a combined strength training program:

1. Heavy Lifting:

   - Focus on basic lower-body exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts with heavy weights.

   - Heavy lifting improves endurance and requires fewer reps, saving time.

2. Plyometrics:

   - Add jump-based exercises to your routine.

   - Plyometrics significantly boost performance, especially when combined with heavy lifting or lighter loads.


Getting Started

If you’re new to strength training, start with basic lower-body exercises to build strength. Incorporate heavy sets of squats, lunges, and deadlifts. As you progress, add plyometrics to enhance your performance. Useful resources include guides on strength programs and articles on plyometrics.



Strength training is a powerful tool for middle and long-distance runners. A combination of heavy lifting and plyometrics can improve your endurance, running economy, and overall performance. While the impact on VO2max and sprinting may be limited for non-elite runners, the benefits of better muscle economy and endurance are substantial. For those looking to boost their sprinting, incorporating regular sprint intervals can be beneficial. Make strength training a key part of your routine to achieve new levels of running performance.

Strength training for runners for increased running economy


Llanos-Lagos, C., Ramirez-Campillo, R., Moran, J., & Sáez de Villarreal, E. (2024). The Effect of Strength Training Methods on Middle-Distance and Long-Distance Runners' Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine (Auckland), 10.1007/s40279-024-02018-z


 Photo credit to The Physio Movement


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