Resistance Training for Runners: Part One – Principles

By on September 30, 2015

Resistance training and running: Should I, shouldn’t I? I don’t have time? I don’t want big muscles? I’ve tried it before but I got injured! All the top runners do it! With information overload from magazines, internet experts, strength & conditioning coaches, personal trainers and an abundance of running friends, it’s hardly surprising that resistance training and running seem to enjoy a love-hate relationship!

The ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ resistance train debate has no simple answer other than – it depends. For some people, running is done simply for pleasure and is all they need. For others, particularly those running to lose weight or running to compete (against others or themselves) then resistance training is certainly worth the effort. But where do you start?

There is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to resistance training but there are some simple steps I recommend you follow: Principles – Strategies – Exercises. This three step approach is a simple hierarchy that helps ensure you maximise your training by first of all considering a few key principles to underpin your training, then looking at the optimal strategiesto follow for your goals before finally selecting the exercises that best fit your needs. This blog post will introduce the three key training principles to follow. Strategies, Exercises and an example training plan will then be discussed in Parts Two and Three of Resistance Training for Runners.


  1. Specificity. In order to maximise the return on the time and effort invested in resistance training, you’ve got to make sure the strategies you follow match your specific needs. This means using load, sets and reps variations that meet your training goals, and which will vary according to where you are in your training calendar and whether you are training for size, strength, power or weight loss. You also need to focus on exercises that more specifically fit your needs as a runner by selecting ground-based (ie where your feet are in contact with the ground) open-chain exercises which demand balance and stability (as opposed to closed chain exercises where you are stuck in a machine or in a fixed plane of motion).
  2. Progressive overload. Improvements in strength, power or endurance are the direct result of the body adapting to cope with the stress of the loads you impose upon it. Failure to continually and progressively increase the load means that the stress imposed, and therefore your adaptation and improvement, will be greatly reduced. It is commonly suggested to work in four-week cycles, increasing the load each week for three consecutive weeks before lowering the load in the fourth week to allow full recovery and adaptation to take place.
  3. Recovery. As has already been implied, gains in training occur whilst you are recovering between training sessions not during the actual training itself. Therefore, it is imperative that you plan your resistance training carefully around your running to allow for optimal recovery and utilise nutrition and exercise strategies to support the recovery process.

So, when planning and evaluating your resistance training, make sure you can answer yes to the following questions:

Have I selected training strategies and exercises that meet my specific needs?

Have I planned to progressively increase the training load in four week cycles and do I have a system in place to monitor this?

Have I allowed sufficient recovery time between resistance and running sessions and have I got a recovery plan to follow?

For further information and advice on optimal recovery strategies, ask the experts at GoNutrition who can help you build a solid nutritional foundation to support your recovery and help you reach your training goals whatever they may be.

Richard Whall

About Richard Whall

Since 1st September 2014 I have been running at least 1 mile every day (regardless of weather, illness, minor injury, holidays, lack of time or general daily stress!) and will continue to do so for an entire year, all in aid of my local children's hospice. To make this even more of a challenge, I aim to cover 1500 miles in the year, during which time I will complete my first ever marathon and, towards the end of my run streak, on Day 363, complete an ultra-marathon in the Lake District! As a devoted husband, father of two young children and full-time teacher I understand the difficulties of modern life, but also appreciate that some have it much more difficult than others. Completing this challenge helps me to remember the struggles many children and their families face on a daily basis, as well as being an opportunity to prove that there is always time to exercise, it is just a matter of planning and priorities!