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Off Season Resistance Training for Runners

by | November 2, 2019

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Resistance training should be part of all runner’s off season plans.

By now, you have probably completed your races for the year and now that the off-season for running is upon us, it is the time to recover and to begin to prep for the next season. Now would be the right time to shake things up and stray from the rigid structure that you have had with running for the past several months. Because of the impact of training and racing, taking a break and changing your programming is physically and mentally beneficial. If you haven’t done it before now, it is time to structure your off-season so you can be the best runner you can be next year. It may also be advantageous to use a coach to help you with this plan.

Most runners want to push themselves, but you cannot sustain peak fitness levels over the long-term. Trying to do so will result in overtraining or injury. Maybe you have had some injuries in this past season. Or maybe you have plans on breaking some PRs next season. Either way, you need to dial it back and change gears to do something different if you want to rebuild. If you have been injured, now is the time to recover and start to strengthen your body to build resilience and prevent re-injury. If you had a good year and you plan on having an even better year in 2020, building strength and power will help you to increase your speed and improve your times. 


Obviously, getting PRs is about being able to increase the speed that you can comfortably race at. One way to increase this clearly involves speed work, like intervals, tempo runs, striders and Fartleks. But maintaining a fast pace also involves being able to have more power to tap into. Being able to effortlessly launch yourself further with each step will allow a runner to conserve effort. The only way to do this on a reliable basis is to strength train. Stronger endurance athletes can generally perform at a much higher level than those who have not trained for strength or power. It is important that the training stimulates increases in muscular strength without compromising the endurance of the runner. Improvements in performance are due to improving the athlete’s aerobic power and capacity, aerobic capabilities and neuromuscular function. Improving these factors can improve a runner’s lactate threshold, movement efficiency and ability to engage in high-intensity activities.

A runner does need to try to maintain some degree of their performance ability and aerobic conditioning during the off-season. The off-season is the time for a person to work on the area that has the greatest room for improvement and adaption. If a person is a triathlete, this could be a time to decrease time spent on the sidewalks and increase the time spent in the pool or on the bike. If you are an experienced marathon runner, how is your sprinting technique? The end of most races usually involves sprinting and if you have never properly trained to sprint, it may be helpful to get that skill down. All endurance athletes though have the tendency to skimp on developing their strength despite the fact that it usually is one of the aspects of their training that has the most room for improvement.

The initial segment of the post-season should be a transition which is used to induce recovery from training stress and injuries which may have occurred during the season. This typically involves a substantially reduced level of training so that one may maintain some general fitness but allow for recovery. This transitional phase can last between 2 to 6 weeks. Off-season training should be focused on developing strength, power and speed while maintaining a minimum level of condition. The emphasis at the beginning of the off-season should primarily be the weight room.


The initial part of preparation during the off-season starts with the preparation phase focusing on strength endurance development and will generally last around 1 to 4 weeks for an endurance athlete. This phase contains a high volume of resistance training with the lower intensity, meaning higher numbers of sets and reps with lower weight loads. This phase is designed to develop a training base, build physical capacity and allow the muscles and tendons to properly adapt to lifting heavy things. This is also an excellent time for a runner to work with the running coach to focus on technical aspects of the sport, like running technique, especially if the athlete has developed injuries in the past.

A high-volume load of resistance training can result in substantial amounts of fatigue. Runners need to take into account the relationship between fatigue, performance and the volume of training when integrating resistance training program into their preparation. Because the volume of running should be much lower during this phase, it is also an excellent time for a runner to work on technical aspects of the sport, like running technique or drills. Finding a running coach could also be extremely helpful, especially if the athlete has a history of injuries.

Strength Development

The next phase of the cycle should focus on strength development. The intensity ramps up during this part of the training phase where a person will lift heavier weights with lower reps (around five reps per set). The volume will also decrease during this phase where the volume is the number of sets times the number of repetitions. Basic strength is done for 1 to 4 weeks

Strength Power

The next phase ends up being a focus on strength and power. In this phase, there is a very high intensity of lifting, but the training volume is extremely low. This helps to continually increase strength and power output over a period of 1 to 4 weeks. The low-volume of training involved in this phase can be done while a runner is ramping up their mileage as they are getting closer to the race and the start of their season.


Type Sets Reps Rest
Strength 2-6 <6 2-5 min
Hypertrophy 3-6 6-12 0.5-1.5 min
Power 3-5 1-5 2-5 min
Endurance 2-3 >12 <30 sec




Depending on the time available before pre-season preparations begin for the first race, these cycles can be repeated where a person does a phase of strength endurance training followed by improving basic strength and then repeats a strength endurance phase which is then followed by a basic strength phase. Understandably, a person may have a limited period of time and may only decide to do one cycle.

Depending on the time available before pre-season preparations begin for the first race, these cycles can be repeated where a person does a phase of strength endurance training followed by improving basic strength and then repeats a strength endurance phase which is then followed by a basic strength phase. Understandably, a person may have a limited period of time and may only decide to do one cycle.

Note that each of these phases (strength endurance, basic strength and strength power) all can vary between 1 to 4 weeks of time. It should be noted that resistance training should not be attempted for multiple different categories of strength at the same time. It is important to do them in the right order because the adaptations achieved during each phase will facilitate development during the next phase of the training continuum. It will greatly benefit your health as a runner to engage in off-season resistance training.

We had talked previously about appropriate training and strength exercises for during the season and I have posted to my blog about appropriate exercises for endurance athletes. Go to my blog for more information on modes of resistance training like bands or free weights and to find out if doing core stability exercises hurts or helps endurance performance.

Take a look here for more examples of strength programming for endurance athletes.

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