Maximum Strength Training Improves Running Economy


My freshman year in college I met Doug Hobbes. He was the Arizona two mile and cross country champion (much faster than me). Doug and I would sit in the hot tub after practice and at times the football players would still be lingering around. Doug was 5'8” and weighed 98 pounds. The football players would joke about how many Hobbes units they had bench pressed or squatted that day. At the time Doug didn't seem to let this bother him - after all, he could certainly out run these mammoths.


As Doug and I became better friends he shared with me that when he came to college he had promised himself that he would never date a girl that weighed less than him. At 98 pounds the pickings were pretty slim. Doug consulted an endocrinologist who suggested he try exercising (clearly not recognizing that Doug ran 80 miles per week). So Doug embarked on a strengthening program. He cut back his running, consumed large quantities of ice cream and protein powders, and started aggressively lifting weights. Doug did manage to gain thirty pounds; he met a girl that weighed less than him (whom he married) and still ran faster than me.


A recent study has demonstrated that maximal strength training can improve running economy. There are essentially two factors in improving running performance – aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and running economy. An athlete can have an exceptional aerobic capacity and finish behind a runner with greater economy. In this particular study the participants performed four sets of four half squats three days per week. Each set was performed at a 4 rep max (a weight they could only lift 4 times) with a three minute rest between sets. After eight weeks the runners had improved their running economy 5% and their time to exhaustion at pre-testing maximum aerobic speed by 21.3%. These runners maintained their previous run training program.


You may not be in search of a mate or need to put on thirty pounds, but if you are interested in improving your race times strength training could be your ticket. The participants in this study were “well trained” athletes so use caution as you embark on a strength training program.



Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist

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