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Home |  Blog |  Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: By Emily Sluis, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS

Strength Training for Endurance Athletes: By Emily Sluis, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS

Despite the advancements in our understanding of the role strength training plays in the development and performance of endurance athletes, there are still some myths about the best way to approach improving running-specific strength. Like most longstanding myths, the misunderstandings about strength training come from outdated information that has been passed down throughout the years. One common misconception amongst endurance athletes is that resistance training will cause increased weight gain, resulting in a decrease in running performance. Running – and the optimal balance of volume, intensity, and pace-specific work – will always be the primary focus of a distance runner’s training program. Strength training, however, presents a different physiological stimulus, one that includes a host of distinct benefits that running doesn’t provide, but which are crucial to health and optimal performance. Research suggests that total body mass does not increase when resistance training is added to an endurance running program.1 And, further, runners that added resistance training to their routines improved their running economy (the amount of oxygen consumed at a given pace).1

Once we get endurance athletes lifting weights, we always have to deal with the contention that because they’re endurance athletes, they should only do higher-rep sets because they just need to train muscular endurance. The thought is that matching the set and rep scheme to the regular demands of their competition is more “sport specific.” However, runners that participated in heavy and explosive strength training were found to have improved neuromuscular characteristics, improved max running speed, and improved max endurance running performance as compared to those that participated in a light-resistance, high repetition resistance training program.2 Thus, endurance runners should include heavy resistance training in their training programs to enhance endurance performance, such as improving sprinting ability at the end of a race. A comprehensive resistance program for endurance athletes should target the calf, thigh, and hip muscles. The calf musculature is often overlooked in a runner’s training program, but the calf musculature provides about 50% of the torque that supports our body during endurance-paced running.3 Additionally, the Achilles tendon, which transmits muscle forces from the calf musculature, can experience forces as high as 6-8 times a runner’s body weight during running.4 Therefore, a runner’s resistance training program should consist of a mix of multi-joint and single-joint exercises to ensure that their muscles and tendons are loaded adequately. Key exercises to consider are dead lifts, squats, lunges, and calf raises with additional exercises as needed to target an area of the body injured in the past.

Consider how these common myths play into your current perception and approach to strength training. Hopefully, you will commit to making positive changes to your strength training routine!


  • 1. Ronnestad, B.R., Mujika, I. (2014) Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance
    Performance: A Review. Scandinvian Journal of Medicine and Scence in Sports. Aug; 24(4):
  • 2. Jussi Mikkola, et al. (2011). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and
    neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. Journal of Sports Sciences. 29
    (13): 1359-1371.
  • 3. Almonroeder, T., Willson, J.D. & Kernozek, T.W. Ann Biomed Eng. (2013) The Effect of Foot Strike
    Pattern on Achilles Tendon Load During Running. Annals of Biomedical Engineering. 41(8): 1758–
  • 4. Willy, R.W., Bigelow, M.A., Kolesar, A. et al. (2017) Knee Contact Forces and Lower Extremity
    Support Moments During Running in Young Individuals Post-partial Meniscectomy. Knee Surg
    Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 25: 115.

Emily Sluis has worked for the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute since 2012 at the Health Performance Institute (HPI) in Highland Park, IL. She received her undergraduate degree in Athletic Training in 2010 and her doctoral degree in Physical Therapy in 2012 from Marquette University. Emily has a passion for sports-related orthopedics and serves as the leader of the IBJI Rehabilitation Sports Medicine Special Interest Group (SIG).