I recently read an article on training for a marathon which did not advocate weight training for runners. What are other experts saying about weight training for distant runners? If they do recommend weight training, what kind of program is it?
I firmly believe that strength training is not incorporated into many distance runners training programs because the benefits and methods are not fully understood. Properly periodized strength training for runners is a necessary component that should never be overlooked. The key is to recognize the athletes' sport demands along with their specific sports' periodization program in order to properly plan appropriate strength training to improve performance.
The emphasis for most endurance athletes should be on developing muscular endurance, which is a combination of strength and endurance, and some low level sub maximal strength. Power training can be incorporated in short intervals throughout the year in order to develop explosive force, depending on the athletes' abilities, needs and distances, but it is usually not necessary for long distance runners. Core stabilization is crucial for all athletes at all times of the year.
Strength training programs developed for long distance runners should focus on the five laws of strength training:
- Develop joint flexibility
- Develop tendon strength
- Develop core strength
- Develop stabilizers
- Train movements, not muscles
Of course the next piece of information to note is the athletes' training cycle. Strength training should be periodized just as physical training and nutrition throughout the year. The goal of strength training for these athletes should be to support their run training; therefore, it is important to have knowledge of the frequency, intensity, type and time of their runs throughout the year so that the strength training does not hinder run training.
Besides core strengthening year-round, the preparatory (base) cycle should focus on more endurance-type strength training (higher repetitions, moderate weight) in the beginning and progress to more of a submaximal strength (not as we typically refer to it with power athletes but a moderate to heavy weight for less repetitions for the endurance athlete) with the objective of improving strength and any muscular imbalances that could affect gait and performance towards the end of this cycle. The pre-competition (build or intensity) cycle should focus more on functional strength training movements that support the sport biomechanics without heavy loads since long distance runners will be engaged in higher intensity run intervals and hill sessions and will need to be "fresh" for those training sessions. The competition (race) cycle should focus again on the functional training of movements with a further reduction in load and quite possibly only with body weight as the load generator. The transition (off-season) cycle should focus on either a complete recovery from strength training from one to two weeks after the last competition or a similar program to their competition cycle with progression into the endurance and sub maximal strength programs so that they improve muscle mechanics before they begin logging significant base miles again in the preparatory cycle.
That said, it is very important to train movements not muscles, but you must evaluate the athletes' current muscular fitness and imbalances before implementing functional strength training. Traditional strength training as we know it (training muscles, not so much movements) may be a necessary first step in order to provide the athletes with baseline strength so they can progress to the functional training.
Overall, as you can see, strength training should be implemented year-round for any endurance athlete, but it must support their sport training rather than hamper it. By knowing their specific sport periodization cycles, it is easy to develop a strength training program that will make your clients successful.