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Strength training

strength trainingMy name is Adam Hearn and I am a certified strength and conditioning specialist, researcher and writer based in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Sports Science and a Masters Degree in Strength and Conditioning, among numerous fitness industry awards.

I use a scientific approach to prescribing exercise and apply it subjectively. From my research and experience working with endurance athletes of all levels, a well-planned strength programme has many benefits including improving your finishing time, reducing the risk of injury, and also helping decrease the muscle soreness following training/race.

The aim of strength training is to increase the efficiency of recruiting muscle fibers. The body sends a signal via the nervous to stimulate the muscle fibers however this signal may be weak in untrained athletes. Strength training increases the ability to be able to recruit more muscle fibers by creating a stronger signal. Simply, strength training does not increase muscle mass but it improves the athletes ability to use the muscle mass they already have.

I hope this strength training programme is useful and please do not hesitate to contact me for further information about half marathon training and nutrition. You can email me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or find me on Twitter

Benefits of Strength Training

Run Faster
The person who completes the race in the shortest time wins the race, obviously! The person who crosses the line first is generally one of the most powerful athletes on the course. Power is the product of force and velocity (speed) therefore if you improve strength you'll be able to generate and absorb more force each step, or if you improve speed you'll be able to apply the force faster - both resulting in increased power output and increased running speed.

More Efficient
Research suggests that strength & power training improves running economy in both untrained and trained runners. Improving your running economy means you'll become more efficient at utilising oxygen and therefore you'll be able to work at a higher percentage of your aerobic capability.

Improved Body Composition
Excess body fat has no function in endurance athletes and strength training will help you lose fat mass. Whether you gain lean muscle or decrease in bodyweight, the result is you'll become a stronger and leaner runner.

Strength training also increases metabolism and maintains muscle tissue. Without strength training, aging decreases muscle mass and increases fat storage (adipose tissue). This image shows a perfect example of this. Therefore you should see strength training as a lifelong investment.

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Reduce the Risk of Injury
The risk of injury in endurance running is high and is most commonly an overuse injury, which is caused from the constant repetitive stress placed upon the body. Add to that, poor running mechanics, imbalances and weaknesses, and it seems its just a matter of time until you get pain/injured. How many of you have been injured of suffered from pain from running? Let me guess, most of these injuries were either lower limb or back problems? Yes? I'm not surprised...

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An overuse injury can occur from a weakness, a structural imbalance within the body or just poor programming. For example, weak calves are thought to contribute to shin pain, a common issue within runners. From the images above, which one is more likely to become injured? The right image obviously! It shows more knee valgus (Q angle) and poor posture. The images were actually taken before and after 4 weeks of strength training where my client also knocked off 4 minutes on her 10km.

A well organised strength training programme will help alleviate pain, increase the rate of recovery from a current injury, and also decrease the risk of future injuries. Even for those recreational runners, a basic strength programme will increase the strength of the muscles and surrounding connective tissues, which can decrease joint pain.

My programmes include a postural & functional movement assessment to look for these weaknesses and imbalances so I can prescribe specific exercises to improve structural stability, correct the imbalances and focus on the weaknesses.

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In conclusion, if you want to lose fat, get stronger, get faster, decrease the risk of pain/injury, a well organised strength programme may be for you...

Programming for Strength Training

Circuit or muscular endurance training is not as effective as strength training due to the low intensity and high volume of the work performed. If you are following a suitable strength programme of high intensity, low volume where the emphasis is on skill and technical overload, gaining muscle mass will be minimal.

Most gains from an appropriate strength programme will be from learning and mastering new coordinative movement patterns specific to running. Base strength and flexibility levels are required before moving on to more advanced lifts.

Sets and reps will be determined by your level of competence however you must ensure long rest periods between sets (3-5 minutes) and 48-72 hours between workouts to allow the body and the nervous system to recover.

I have uploaded some basic exercise progressions for all athletes that can be performed anywhere, most involving no equipment. Use full range of motion in all of the prescribed exercises and ensure you are technically proficient before progressing on to the more intense, complex movements.

However, you don't run the same distance at the same pace every single session do you? If you do there are improvements to be made but that's another story. Anyway, the same principle applies to strength training, if you use the same sets, weight and the number of repetitions every session, you'll either plateau or decrease performance where you haven't given your body a chance to recover.

My recommendation would be to hire a strength coach to develop a periodised programme that allows you to peak at the Perkins Great Eastern Run. The image below shows how you may wish to split up your strength training to allow for constant progression.

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Example Strength Training Programmes

Before following a strength training programme, you are required to warm-up appropriately to prepare for exercise, just like running. I use a foam roller for self myofascial release to work on my muscle tissue quality and then follow a RAMP protocol (Raise, Activate, Mobilise, Potentiate). A good warm-up can last up to half an hour and the exercises gradually progress into the workout.

This example is for athletes new to strength training and is more about educating the system into these movement patterns. Ensure you are recovered after each set before trying the exercise again.




Bodyweight Squat



Glute Bridge



Split Squat


8 each leg



15-45 seconds

Some people like to stretch following a workout. If so I would recommend you stretch your calves/soleus, and your hip flexors/quads unless you know where your problem areas are.

Once you are technically competent at all of the progressions, a more advanced programme may look like this: 





Squat Jump




Hip Thrust




Bulgarian Split Squat



6 each leg

Pallof Press




Notice that this programme is more detailed where the athlete will be working from their repetition maximums, which would have been tested. Don't add a load until you are competent at each exercise. If you feel you are competent, try the exercise slower. After all it's not about how fast you can lift the weight, it's about how well you can do it slowly.

Example Strength Training Exercise Progressions

Knee Dominant Exercises
Knee dominant exercises target the muscles in the front of the upper leg (the quadriceps) and are specific to running, jumping and nearly every other type of athletic movement. Because of the sport-specific character, training this movement pattern has been shown to improve athletic ability.

1. Bodyweight Squat
Reps: 12
The bodyweight squat is a fundamental exercise and should be included in most exercise programmes. It is pretty much a full body exercises that is required for everyday function (sitting and standing).
Coaching tips:
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart with the toes pointing out slightly.
  • Push your elbows back and stick your chest out.
  • Keep your head and eyes looking forwards.
  • Initiate movement from bending at the knees and hips simultaneously.
  • Lower yourself slowly under control and stand up more explosively from the bottom position.
  • The bottom position is when the top of your thighs break parallel and the weight should be through your heels (you should be able to wiggle your toes in the bottom position).
  • Push your knees out during the movement.

Bodyweight Squat

2. Overhead Squat
Reps: 12
Once you have mastered the bodyweight squat, I like to progress to the overhead squat. This move is very similar except the arms are extended over the head. Follow all of the previous coaching tips for the back squat. Do not interlock you fingers above your head and try to keep your arms up without letting them fall forwards.

Overhead Squat

3. Squat Jump
Reps: 8
The squat jump is a form of jump training that is more explosive and helps to develop lower limb power. For this exercise, squat down into a quarter squat position (first image) before rapidly extended upwards with the intent to jump as high as you can. To focus on the lower limb, you can place your hands on your hips which will remove the momentum created from the arm drive. It is important that you land correctly with this exercise where the knees must remain in line with the toes and you land in that quarter squat position. Try to land with stiffness without letting your butt drop too low! Pause for ≈5 seconds between each jump and have your rest after the prescribed repetitions.

Squat Jump

Further Progressions
Once you are competent at the knee dominant exercises, you may require an overload to bring about an adaptation. The best way of doing this is to add a load to one of the above exercises or perform a variation, which will create a new stimulus. Examples of the next few progressions are:
• Goblet Squat
• Back Squat

Hip Dominant Exercises

Research suggests that the greater the Q angle (see benefits of training section), the higher the risk of injury (mentioned in Strength Training for Endurance Athletes). It is commonly caused from weaknesses that occur around the hip so the exercise progression that I have listed are specifically to get those glutes and hamstring firing through a hinge motion at the hip!

1. Glute Bridge
Reps: 12
Coaching tips:
• Lie on your back with your heels pulled in tight towards your butt.
• Start with your feet flat on the ground but progress to heel only contact (seen in the image).
• Have your by your side with your palms facing up to stop you pushing into the ground.
• Lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line between your hips to your shoulders.
• Pause in the top position before lowering your hips back down.
• Maintain alignment between the hips, knees and ankles.

Glute Bridge

2. Hip Thrust
Reps: 12
This exercise is very similar to the glute bridge except you now have your shoulders elevated and resting on a bench (or bed/sofa) rather than the floor, which increases the range of movement and intensity. Follow the previous coaching tips for the glute bridge.

Hip Thrust

3. Single Leg Deadlift
Reps: 6 each leg
This exercise is still a hip hinge and is more complex than the previous exercises because it is now on one leg and adds an element of balance.
Coaching tips:
  • The standing leg should be slightly bent at the knee.
  • Initiate the movement by bending your torso forwards and extending one leg behind you.
  • Either have your arms out (arabesque) or allow them to slide down your planted leg.
  • In the finish position you should feel tension in your hamstring and there should be a straight line between your ankle and your shoulders/neck. This may take time to get to this position.
  • Return to start position without losing balance.
  • Try alternating legs to start with.

Single Leg Deadlift

Further Progressions
Simple progressions for the hip hinge could be to perform the first two exercises I listed on one leg (6 reps each leg). Other examples are:
  • Deadlift
  • Glute Ham Raise

Unilateral Exercises

Running is a unilateral movement pattern where your body needs to able to withstand up to 5 times your bodyweight with each footfall. These unilateral exercises will help develop lower limb strength and stability whilst decreasing potential imbalances.

1. Split Squat
Reps: 8 each leg
Coaching tips:
  • Push your elbows back and stick your chest out.
  • Keep your head and eyes looking forwards.
  • With both feet facing forwards, keep your front foot flat, and rear foot on your toes.
  • Lower your rear knee down towards the ground (the knee may touch but not rest on the ground) and extend up to the finish/start position.
  • Complete one leg before moving onto the next leg.
  • The knees should be aligned with the ankles and hips.

Split Squat

2. Lunge
Reps: 8 each leg
Similar to the split squat, the lunge is just a more dynamic effort where you step into the split position rather than start with the feet apart. Follow the previous coaching tips for the split squat.


3. Bulgarian Split Squat
Reps: 8 each leg
The Bulgarian split squat is the same movement as the split squat except the rear foot is elevated, which increases the range of movement and intensity. When you first try this, use a small elevation and you can progress up to about ≈45cm. Follow the previous coaching tips for the split squat.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Further Progressions
There are a number of progressions for the unilateral lunge position. You can either perform the exercises listen above with your hands over your head (like the overhead squat) or you can hold dumbbells to increase the intensity. Other progressions could be:
  • Walking Lunge
  • Single Leg Squat
  • Power Lunge

Trunk Stability

The trunk is located between the upper & lower limbs. Think of box where it has the diaphragm on the top, the pelvic floor on the bottom, the abdominals on the front, the back muscles on the back, and the lateral stabilizers on the sides. A strong trunk allows for better posture, balance and stability, which decreases the risk of injury and increases performance.

1. Plank
Hold for 15-45 seconds
The plank is a static based strength exercise that can be easily modified. If you perform this properly, you should be shaking/vibrating almost instantly.
Coaching tips:
  • Lie face down resting the forearms and toes on the ground (you can start on the knees if it's too tough).
  • Your elbows should be underneath your shoulders.
  • Keep your back parallel to the ground with a straight line between your shoulders and hips.
  • Brace your abs and maintain a regular breathing pattern.
  • Avoid arching the lower back or sticking your butt up in the air.
  • Hold this position for 15 to 45 seconds.


2. Superman
Reps: 6 on each side
The superman exercise is a dynamic trunk exercise that requires balance and stability through the trunk. It is also known as the Bird-dog.
Coaching tips:
  • Starting on your hands and knees, extend your right arm and your left leg simultaneously out away from you.
  • It's not about height! Try to reach out as far as possible with the toes and fingers without losing balance.
  • Keep a straight line between your shoulders and hips and avoid arching the lower back.
  • Brace your abs and maintain a regular breathing pattern.
  • Alternate sides.


Further Progressions
Progressions for training the trunk follow a rule where you're actively resisting movement of the lumbar spine. Examples are:
  • Advanced Planks (2-3 point contact with the ground)
  • Rollouts
  • Pallof Press

This is really just scratching the surface in terms of preparation for endurance sports. I didn't get a chance to explain movement preparation (foam rolling, warm-up) or nutritional guideline for running. The main purpose of these exercises are to improve your performance and decrease your chances of getting an injury. For further information regarding nutrition or further training, please contact me.