Q: Should distance runners lift weights?

This is a question I am asked quite often. For any distance runner, your first goal is to make sure you run the necessary mileage each and every week. There is no substitute for hitting the pavement or trails. Once you are able to manage your mileage and have time for a few more workouts, resistance training is a good addition to your weekly routine.

Why Lift?

The simple answer is to help you finish a race with the same form, leg turnover and ground contact time as you had at the beginning of your run or race. Weight training allows you to maintain your form throughout your run and avoid crumpling your core. You have probably seen a runner in the later stages of a race hunched over; once your core crumples, your form and leg turnover turn to mush.

With proper weight training, you can keep your core strong and you can call on your fast-twitch muscles in the later stages of your race to finish strong with good turnover and the same ground contact time that you had at the start of your race.

Heavy Lifting: More Weight, Less Reps

If time is a factor, consider one strength session per week that involves heavy lifting, 85-90 percent maximum reps, three sets of 4-6 with recovery time of 3-5 minutes per set.

Lighter Lifting: More Reps

If your schedule allows a few more weight training workouts, a ratio of two light weights to one heavy weight is the best ratio for distance runners. When I first started training in the 1970s, I was coached to lift light with a lot of reps, 70 percent maximum reps, three sets of 10- 15 reps with 2 minutes rest between sets. Coaches at the time thought if distance runners lifted heavy they would bulk up and decrease muscle endurance. Today I also consider workouts like yoga and Pilates a substitute for light lifting. These activities give you the added benefit of improved flexibility.

Facts About Weight Training

  • Technique, technique, technique. Proper technique is the most important factor in achieving the right results from your weight training. I recommend that before you start adding weight training to your routine, seek the guidance of a trainer or coach who has experience with proper technique for the exercise and understands the specifics of weight training for endurance athletes.
  • Have a spotter. Many endurance athletes like the freedom and independence that our sport offers. Heavy weight training is not the time to go it alone. Once you have the techniques and know the proper amount of weight to use, find a partner and hit the gym.
  • Recover between sets. To get the maximum benefit from your weight training, your recovery between sets is as important as the set itself.
  • Add your weight training to your hard workout or key workout days. This will allow your body to get the full benefit of your easy and recovery days.

iRunJohn Ruibal, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered dietitian and is board-certified in sports nutrition from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. He coordinates the distance running classes available at both iRun Texas locations in San Antonio. He has been running for more than 40 years and coaching for 25. To connect with John or learn more about his classes, visit

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