Strength Workouts May Yield Significant Improvement in 5K Times

new study adds to existing evidence that strength training can improve your 5K time. This one, however, provides an important new wrinkle: You’d better keep at it. When the subjects stopped their strength training, their 5K efforts returned to the previous (and slower) times.

The paper concludes: “Coaches and athletes are therefore advised to integrate twice-weekly heavy resistance strength training for a minimum of six weeks when preparing for races.”The research team performed their experiment with 16 moderately-trained runners capable of approximately 21 minutes for 5K (based on their VO2 max times). The runners were split into two groups. One continued their normal run training of about 30 to 50 kilometres a week for the next six weeks.The other group likewise continued its normal run training, but added two strength-training sessions per week. During these workouts, the runners performed four exercises: Romanian deadlifts, parallel squats, calf raises, and lunges. They did four sets of four repetitions of each strength move, with a resistance set at 80 percent of their one-lift maximum.

The researchers picked these four exercises because they believed them very sport-specific for runners.

Both groups did an outdoor 5K time-trial (in dry, low-wind conditions) before and after the six weeks of training. The runners who continued their normal training ran similar times in both 5Ks. The strength-trained group ran 45 seconds faster in the second 5K. This amounts to a 3.62 percent improvement, considered very substantial in distance running.

The experiment continued for another six weeks, during which time the strength-trainers returned to their normal run-only training. In other words, they stopped strength training. After the additional six weeks, they performed another 5K time trial.

In this third 5K, the former strength-trainers lost 42 of the 45 seconds they had gained. Their performances basically returned to the level of the first time trial 12 weeks earlier. As a result, the researchers advise that athletes “maintain a lower volume resistance training through the competitive period.”

First author Bettina Karsten told Runner’s World that a similar strength-training program should work equally well for half marathoners and marathoners.

She also noted that strength training might lower injury risks. “We believe runners could get a double benefit from this type of training,” she said.

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