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By Aurélien Apport

So you want to improve your endurance running. You’re putting in the hard yards with longer runs yet aren’t getting the results you’re looking for and don’t quite know how to get the edge. One of the less obvious training to improve endurance performance is resistance training, and while some may think it’s counterproductive for distance running, it all depends on how you do it.

If we look closely at different studies, it’s evident that the benefit of weight training depends specifically on the length of the running. A run under 15 minutes, for example, will greatly benefit from resistance training; however, as the distance increases, strength training can become less effective – but don’t dismiss it just yet! In 2003 a study conducted by an Australian team of 3000m runners over a six-week period showed that a quick plyometric session two or three times each week post-warm-up improved participants’ time by up to 15 seconds(1). It’s important to note that no significant improvement had been noticed in the group that followed the same program without plyometric training. The interesting part is this style of training also works with long distance efforts, such as professional cross country skiing. Adding a heavy resistance session to training over a two-month period saw outstanding improvements in the skiers’ performance(2). The skiers’ ability to hold their VO2 max rose by one third, moving from six minutes and 30 seconds to 10 minutes and 12 seconds. The progression was two times better than the group without weight training. When you know how hard it is to scrape a few seconds off an elite athlete’s time, you can understand the significance of that research.

During winter, sports enthusiasts and athletes would probably happily spend less time running, cycling or swimming in the cold weather and compensate with some HIIT sessions and strength training in a dry and warm gym. You can abolish your fear of seeing your performance drop when the weather turns and your motivation subsides by making the gym your new training ground – even as a distance runner. Get advice from a professional who can devise a specific program to meet your needs, which should include specific muscle tests. This will not only demonstrate your strengths and weaknesses but also highlight imbalances and give you the opportunity to correct them if required, which will ultimately benefit your chosen sport. Once this testing is established, it’s time to get serious! It’s crucial that each session is short and high in intensity – but not pushed to complete exhaustion or failure – to optimise performance gain(3).

Now, I know the first concern from endurance athletes conscious of every gram of their weight will be the consequence of muscle weight on their performance, so I’ve got a few tips for you:

-      Distance athletes should only implement plyometric training or heavy weight sessions. Strength gain doesn’t necessarily mean volume gain if you focus on neural adaptations.

-      Weight sessions might be planned two or three months prior to competitions before tapering. The sets should be short and the reps low to keep the adaptation neural. Gaining weight and hypertrophy require longer periods of training.

-      Strength training activates the enzyme mTor that is absolutely primary for muscle hypertrophy; in the meantime, endurance training increases an enzyme called AMPK that inhabits mTor(4). Combine the two and hypertrophy should not be of concern.

Weight training will never replace endurance sessions or directly impact the VO2 max, so these studies have to be read with care. The main idea is ECONOMY! I know I sound like a politician but here is the key: working with weights increases the body’s capacity to utilise energy efficiently during endurance efforts.

The reality is that VO2 max and performance are linked, but this relation isn’t linear. The gestural expenditure, for example, is really important in endurance sports. Some runners are more efficient than others when it comes to long distance, and while some years ago your coach might have made you run another lap for not running fast enough while telling you how lazy you are, today other explanations and solutions would be implemented.

Your running fluidity depends on your neuromuscular qualities and can be improved by technical sessions (see page 34 for tips on improving running technique) and weight training. Runners, for example, can reduce their energetic cost by half with a plyometric and weight training program. The objective is to shorten the ground contact time and increase oxygen efficiency(5). This kind of program permits a better pre-activation of the quadriceps and calf during the millisecond that precedes ground contact. You can certainly see the impact plyometrics and strength training can have on runners; some give the impression of flying compared to others who can tread quite heavily.

Strength training also improves the ability to restore the elastic energy in muscles and tendons. In long distance, when the type I muscle fibre – the slow-twitch muscle – is exhausted, the body calls on the type II (fast-twitch) to help. (Learn more about muscle types on page 57.) The fast-twitch muscles are strong and powerful but are also greedy for energy and highly oxidative. The result will be deterioration of running fluidity, and an increase in heart rate and respiratory frequency; the cyclist starts to move his head, the swimmer doesn’t stay in line, and the runner’s feet hit the ground heavily. A smart strength training program improves the strength of the type I fibre and delays the type II from intervening. By delaying the muscle fatigue, you have more chance of staying efficient until the finish line(6).

Yes, strength training permits efficient energy use and helps you snatch victory at the finish line with an epic sprint but – sorry there is a but – only if your training program is correctly implemented. A lot of endurance athletes introduce weight training at the beginning of the season or 2-3 months before competition, which is perfect! But most stop during the tapering phase(7) – this is the mistake. Improvement comes quickly with weight training due to the neural adaptations, but you lose those benefits as soon as you hang up your dumbbells. Completely stopping weight sessions one month before a competition means you won’t have the entire benefits you acquired. Of course, I would not advise keeping three strength sessions in the tapering phase, that’s why you have to find an efficient compromise. Reducing your strength training to one session per week will ensure you conserve your level of strength and keep all the benefits of your past heavy training(8). The secret is to keep going! Don’t be too worried about heavy or sore legs on the day of your race. After the first few weeks of strength training, you shouldn’t feel soreness anymore and the strength recall session will be a piece of cake.

Aurélien Apport is a French elite athlete and international judo competitor with over 25 years of practice. He has a black belt in Judo and Jujitsu and is a certified personal trainer and coach. Aurélientrains both general fitness and high level athletes, and has been doing so in various countries around the world for 15 years.

Now located in Bondi, Aurélien trains clients outside, at their homes or in the gym, specialising in martial arts, kickboxing, judo, ju-jitsu, weight loss, strength and conditioning, Olympic lifting, power lifting and tailored nutritional programs. 


1. Spurrs, RW, Murphy, AJ and Watsford, ML 2003, The effect of plyometric training on distance running performance, University of Technology, Sydney, <>

2. Hoff, J, Gran, A and Helgerud, J 2002, Maximal strength training improves endurance performance. Scandinavian journal of medicine and science in sports,


3. Izquierdo-Gabbarren, M, Gonzalez De Txabarri Exposito, R, Garcia-Pallares, J, Sanches-medina, L, De Villarreal, ES and Izquierdo, M 2010, Concurrent endurance and strength training not to failure optimizes performance gains, Research Centre of Rowing Club Orio, Orio, Spain, <>

4. Bolster, DR, Crozier, SJ, Kimball, SR and Jefferson, LS 2002, AMP-activated protein kinase suppresses protein synthesis, The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, <>

5. Paavolainen, L, Hakkinen, K, Hamalainen, I, Nummela, A and Rusko, H 1999, Explosive strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power, Journal of Applied Physiology, <>

6. Hausswirth, C, Argentin, S, Bieuzen, F, Le Meur, Y, Couturier, A and Brisswalter, J 2009, Endurance and strength training effects on physiological and muscular parameters during prolonged cycling, National Institute of the Sport and Physical Education (INSEP), Paris, <>

7. Wells, G, Tapering is a special training period immediately preceding the major competition during which the training stimulus is reduced in a systematic non-linear fashion to achieve a peak in performance, Australian Government, <>

8. Ronnestad, BR, Hansen, EA and Raastad, T 2010, In-season strength maintenance training increases well-trained cyclists' performance, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway, <>

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