Research has shown
that even endurance distance runners can improve their race times with a
well-designed resistance training program in as little as 8 weeks.
Traditional wisdom would lead you to believe that distance or endurance runners need to be thin or streamlined, and therefore should avoid resistance training. This is simply not true!
First of all, we know that resistance training does not necessarily lead to an increase in body mass.
Secondly, a well-designed resistance training program (including plyometrics) can improve the strength and natural elasticity of the muscles and ligaments, improving what is known as "running economy".
Ideally, distance runners would benefit from 2 different training styles or repetition ranges. Resistance that targets a 6-12 rep range has been shown to be most beneficial in stimulating muscle hypertrophy (muscle cell growth) so you may want to bypass that rep range if you wish to keep your body slim.
Having said that, endurance runners, or any endurance athlete for that matter, would greatly benefit from a 12+ rep range. When training with higher repetition ranges, you are not only training your slow-twitch or "aerobic" muscle fibers, but you can actually cause your fast-twitch or "anaerobic" muscle fibers to transition to be more aerobic.
This can be beneficial to endurance athletes because your muscles become more suited to use oxygen as a preferential energy source. In other words, your muscles will increase their overall endurance!
Secondly, and the rep range that many endurance runners (or endurance athletes) may skip over, is the 5 and under rep range. For most endurance athletes, upper body training is not nearly as important as training for the legs, so when I speak of 5 and under rep training, I am mostly referring to heavy squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc.
Strength or power training (5 and under repetitions), combined with plyometric exercise can improve the strength, power, and overall natural elasticity of the muscles and ligaments in the lower body. When the muscles and ligaments retain more of their natural elasticity, your body will expend less energy traveling over comparable distances.
Also known as "running economy", by quickly collecting and releasing stored kinetic energy, your muscles expend less energy because they allow the elasticity to do most of the work for them.
Although a bit of a bad analogy, think of things this way: If you were to jump up and down in place, your legs would tire out fairly quickly. However, if you were to be jumping on a trampoline, you would not only be able to jump higher, but you would be able to jump up and down for a longer duration. This is because you are allowing the springs of the trampoline to do much of the work for you!
Distance runners, or endurance athletes in general can benefit just as much from resistance training as anyone else, just begin your strength and conditioning program as anyone else would - by focusing on your goals in mind!
Quote of the day:
"It is better to travel well than to arrive."