As with sprinting and plyometrics, a little weightlifting goes a long way for runners. If you select your exercises well and really get after them, you can gain significant performance benefits from just three, 15-minute weightlifting sessions per week.
The mistake that many runners make is going too light with their loads. There is a common misconception among runners that they should use lighter loads and greater numbers of repetitions than others do because, after all, they are endurance athletes. But the point of going to the gym is not to get more of what you are already getting from your endurance training. Distance running does not build strength. Building strength enhances running performance in a way that distance running cannot match. The most effective way to build strength is with heavy loads. Runners should lift heavy loads!
Studies prove it. For example, in a recent study by Norwegian researchers, a group of 17 runners experienced a 21-percent increase in aerobic endurance after doing heavy barbell half-squats for eight weeks. How heavy? The runners did four sets of just four repetitions with their 4RM max load—that is, with the greatest amount of weight that each runner could lift four times.
Here’s an effective total-body strength workout for runners that includes just four exercises and takes no more than 15 minutes to complete.
Heavy Barbell Squat – 3 sets
Cable Low-High Pull* – 1 set pulling left to right, 1 set pulling right to left
*Stand with your left side facing a cable pulley station with the handle fixed at ankle height and pull the handle upward and across your body with both arms in a movement that somewhat resembles shoveling snow.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Snatch – 1 set with each arm
Cable Low-High Pull** – 1 set pulling left to right, 1 set pulling right to left
** Stand with your left side facing a cable pulley station with the handle fixed at head height and pull the handle downward and across your body with both arms in a movement that somewhat resembles chopping wood.