Strength and Conditioning for Runners

Learn from those in the know! Here we have a quick Q and A with not only a leading Exercise Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach, but also a guy that is an athlete himslef….not a runner, but a futsal player. Miles Downie works at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness and has 15 years experience working with Olympians and World Champions as well as first time gym users. Miles is one of only a few Australian Futsal players to have played professionally overseas. He is the only Australian player to have played professionally in either the Portuguese First Division, or the Japanese F-League, and has also played in Brazil. He has also worked with numerous elite runners, so know a heck of a lot!

Should I run less and lift more? It depends. The main factors that come into play are – training age, running economy, time available to train and how much running you are currently doing and what sort of running volume you can handle without breaking down. Unquestionably the key thing that will make you a better runner is running! However in most cases consistent progressive periodised resistance training will increase your running performance. This occurs principally via an increase in running economy (running at the same speed for a lower energy cost or running at a faster speed for the same energy cost). On the other hand if a training program is a poorly designed and managed it will interfere negatively with your running.

What’s the biggest mistake you see runners making in their strength training? Often it is their loading progression. They try and lift too much load (both volume and weight) too soon, and if they manage to stay with the training after making themselves very sore they usually will not add enough load in the later stages.

A program should start out low volume low weight and progressively build to consistent application of lifting heavy, you don’t need big volume. If you want positive adaptations that will help your running you need to lift heavy but you don’t see many runners getting to the point where they can lift heavy if they aren’t trained well by someone.

What’s the best advice you have for a runner to stay injury free? The body can go anywhere with small consistent steps. With big steps up in training volume or intensity injury risk increases dramatically. Essentially it’s all about smart progressive loading.

What does a sample strength training plan look like?

There is no cookie cutter program, everyone is different. However there are general principles that do not change from person to person. Put simply it is about progressing the athlete from their current physical state to where they aim to be at a rate at which their running training is not inferred with.

A sample might be:

Romanian deadlifts


Hip thrusts

+ Accessory work depending on the athletes’ weaknesses

Single leg exercises are great but bilateral compound exercises will get you the best bang for your buck.

How many times a week should I do strength work? Does that change throughout the year?

2 x week outside of the competition phase and 1-2 x week during competition season.

What’s the best recovery tool to help runners adapt and recover from training? Sleep and nutrition. Nothing else comes remotely close to these 2 factors. I would suggest that if you do not consider getting enough sleep as one of your most important parts of your training you are probably not as serious about your training as you think.