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Training & advice

Weight training

How do you train for running? If it were a case of just putting one foot in front of the other over and over again we wouldn't need this huge section on Training!

Training for running is like baking a cake and your programme is like a recipe. You could just make a basic sponge cake, which will taste okay but doesn't necessarily have the wow factor! To make it stand out from the others the cook may add other ingredients and be careful to get the balance just right. The ingredients used for the basic sponge will possibly still make up a significant percentage of the mix but there will be other, special ingredients to go in to ensure that it fits the requirments of the occasion or party.

A runner needs to go out and put one foot in front of the other over and over but in order to improve should put in some special ingredients and one of those could or (maybe) should be weight training.

Why? Well, to answer this question we should look at the running action. To run efficiently we require a tall and upright posture with high hips. We drive the left knee up into the air whilst pushing down and back into the ground with the right foot, the right foot comes off the ground and moves underneath the buttock whilst the left foot heads back to the ground to land underneath the hips and then drives the right knee up and into the air and so the cycle continues.

This sequence that we repeat over and over again requires a good deal of power, particularly the bit where you have to drive the free leg up. During this part of the action the leg that is in contact with the ground moves into 'triple extension'. This is when the hip, knee and ankle are all extended upwards in a line. It is a very powerful movement that drives you from low to high. Weight lifting will increase your ability to perform the triple extension well as there is acceleration in the upward movement of lifts until extension is complete.

 If we accept that power is the product of force that can be exerted at a given velocity of movement we can consider a curved graph with velocity at one end of the spectrum and force at the other. We can then place a One Rep Max (1RM) squat at the force end and the vertical jump at the velocity end. To perform a squat a runner will use strength more than speed and to perform a vertical jump the runner will use speed more than strength.

When considering yourself as an endurance runner, where would you like to see yourself on that curve? Do you need more strength or more speed in order to run efficiently and injury free? You should also consider your personal strengths and weaknesses. How is your strength compared to your speed and vice versa? Maybe you could compare your vertical jump height with the weight you would feel comfortable squatting with. If your vertical jump height is good but your 1RM squat is low, you will need to work on strength and weight training can improve this. If speed is more important fo you then plyometric work should be included in your programme.

As well as improving your strength and speed through a strength and conditioning programme you need to perform efficient movement skills and these need to be trained. By inputting all three: velocity, strength (force) and efficient movement the output will be performance enhancement and injury prevention. The concern is that, all too often, the long term training programme is unbalanced with over emphasis on event specific training, not enough on strength training and inadequate work on movement skills. Movement skills are a key ingredient and should be put into your programme in the early training years. If this is done the capacity to tolerate strength training and event specific training is bigger. Movement skill train:

  • Stability of joints
  • Proprioception to maintain balance through one-foot contact.
  • Co-ordination and body awareness
  • Mobility to get into the required position


Consideration should be given to the muscles that work around the joints that need stabilising. Put simply the hips require training of the ‘posterior chain’ including gluteals and hamstrings, the knee will need stable quadriceps and the ankle needs the calf muscles to be strong and stable.


This is an area of great importance as runners are required to be strong and balanced on a single leg.


This is the ability of the brain to direct the muscles in the body. Co-ordination improves with fitness and practise of skill. You need to practise with weights that you can lift safely. This could be a wooden pole or a bar without weights to begin with.


Running can shorten hamstrings, calf muscles and hip flexors, resulting in decreased free movement in simple full-range exercises, such as bodyweight squats. This can be seen if you roll forwards whilst squatting. Your weight should be felt through the heels and mid-foot. If you roll onto you forefoot you should stretch the calves out. This should enable you to ‘sit down’ into the squat but if this doesn’t work a couple of weights could be put under your heels to make the movement easier.

Below are some of the exercises that you could introduce to your programme.

Back Squat

This must be performed with good technique and proper equipment must be used. If possible you should use a specially designed cage where the squat can be performed safely. The cage is designed so, if necessary, you can let the load go and step out in front. The bar is positioned on hooks that are just below shoulder height so you can step under the bar, lift it off the hooks and onto the shoulders with ease.

The coaching points are:


  • Parallel feet or turned slightly outwards.
  • Feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider. The Olympic stance is “close” with feet shoulder width apart but it may be better to use a ‘power stance’, which is wider, with ankles, knees and hips aligned, for a stronger position.
  • Pull the scapulae together.
  • Feet grip the floor. This could be tested by placing a piece of paper under the athlete’s feet and challenging them to hold it and prevent it from being taken away.

Downward phase

  • Knees aligned over feet
  • No rounding of the back
  • Flex knees and hips until thighs are parallel to the floor
  • No relaxation at the bottom

Upward phase

  • Extend hip and knees at the same rate
  • Chest up and back flat
  • Knees aligned over feet

The key muscles in a squat are:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors

Front squat

In the front squat the bar rests on the front shoulders and so concentrates on front rather than back alignment. There is more loading on the quads.

When performing squats someone should watch carefully to check  that technique is good. If any of the below are a problem you need to identify why it’s happening and plan to correct it or address the cause.

  • Knees flexing too far forwards
  • Weight shifting to the forefoot
  • Knee tracking/ overpronating
  • Back flexing
  • Feet moving during the lift
  • Heel off the floor
  • Knees extending too early
  • Sideways shift/dominance to one leg


In the deadlift the weight is out in front. This lift recruits more muscles than the squat

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings
  • Erector spinae
  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors


  • Position shoe-laces under the bar
  • Chest up
  • Pull the scapulae together
  • Look forward and keep back flat
  • Keep arms straight

Upward Phase

  • Push from the heels
  • Keep the bar in contact with the body. Roll the bar over the shins and thighs
  • Engage the gluteus muscles. Bring the hips forward by pushing from the heels

Downward Phase

This should be controlled but not slow.

Look forward and keep the chest up.

Keep the bar in contact with the thighs until it reaches knee level and then bend the knees to lower the bar to the floor.

When you are performing deadlifts, as for the squats, someone should watch carefully that technique is good and help or address any of the following problems:

  • Knees reaching terminal extension too early
  • Loss of lumbar curve and thoracic extension
  • Knees in the way
  • Knee tracking/over pronating
  • Trunk angle dropping
  • Anatomy not allowing for appropriate start position and lift execution
  • Driving through the forefoot rather than the heels
  • Trying to quadruple extend at the same time, that is, extending through the back by leaning backwards

Forward Lunge


Feet shoulder width apart

Trunk upright

Downward phase

  • Step forwards, absorb force slowly
  • Maintain ankle, knee and hip vertical alignment
  • Maintain pelvic horizontal alignment
  • Maintain upright trunk
  • Weight through the heel/mid-foot of front foot

Upward Phase

Push through heel of front foot

Return to start position

Variations can be performed by walking forwards and backwards, stepping up, using a swiss ball and performing single leg squats. It should be noted that walking backwards involves a single squat as you lower into the lunge.

Again, someone should watch carefully and address any faults such as:

  • Loss of straight back
  • Knee tracking/overpronating
  • Trunk angle dropping
  • Hyper extended lower back on return to standing
  • Weight through forefoot
  • Hips dropping forwards in the lunge
  • Pelvis 'hitching'

It is important to have someone a coach or instructor observing when you are learning these exercises to ensure good technique. It can be difficult to feel the correct position and you will need to be guided.