Should endurance athletes do weights? A guest article by Andrew McDonough

So today I am very pleased to give you a guest blog by Andrew McDonough, an excellent physiotherapist with heaps of qualifications and much more importantly loads of front line experience in professional sports as the Head of Medicine at Widnes Vikings RLC. I’m even more pleased he has agreed to do this guest blog as we didn’t quiet ‘get off on the right foot’ when we first came across each other via twitter due to some strong comments I made, but we live and learn and thats old water under the bridge, for now I definitely owe him a pint or two for his excellent work for us today on should long distance runners do weights.


Follow Andy on twitter here @andymcdonough1 Take it away Andy….


A recent debate on twitter led me to revisit some previous work I’d done on performance training in endurance athletes. I like a good debate on twitter and its actually how Adam and I started talking. By talking I mean arguing on twitter and we have never actually spoken or met. I do however agree and like an awful lot of what Adam posts on line in various forms. His no nonsense, practical and common sense approaches to our profession is refreshing. It is said the average research paper is read by one person in its life. If Adams 6000+ followers on twitter are anything to go by blogs and twitter may be the future of CPD and professional discussion. I’d like to thank him for allowing me to write this blog and hope to do it justice.


Should endurance athletes do weights?




We have all heard weights make you slow; weights make you too big; too heavy; inflexible and don’t help runners improve. Runners don’t need to lift weights to run so why bother? Indeed there is evidence to show weight training does not improve endurance performance (Mikkola et al 2007).

Furthermore there are people who say that weight training and endurance training together can be detrimental to performance. As with any subject you can find supporting literature if you look; Hickson 1980; Dudley and Djamilj1985; Hunter et al 1987 and Glowacki et al 2004.These papers are often trotted out in defence of old training regimes with various examples of famous athletes given to back them up.




Numerous papers support weight training, plyometrics and maximal velocity lifting amongst other training techniques (Hamilton et al 2006; Paavolainen et al 1997; Guglielmo et al 2009). All these studies used a variety of the previously mentioned methods with improvements in both anaerobic and aerobic testing measures. Importantly they all found an improvement in their athlete’s race times! If there is one study to try and find and read of those I’ve mentioned I would recommend Paavolainen et al (1997; Journal of Applied Physiology, 86, 1527-1533) for an excellent and comprehensive training program.

runners plyos



As with many things the answer is not yes or no to weight training (it is yes* really but keep reading). What a cursory review of literature can give you is easily five papers (many more i’m sure) to support the evidence based argument against weight training. These can be spoken of as “research shows weights don’t work” and some clever people can remember authors by heart and sound even more clever when arguing this point. However if you really READ these studies; not just abstracts, there is a common factor…..


When looked at as a percentage of total volume Mikkola et al’s study swapped 19% of endurance training for explosive strength training. They improved the athletes lactate threshold and sprint time but not endurance performance. These other improvements are often left out by those defaming weight training. The type of training is also poorly defined but I’ll try not to bore you with too much research.


In the other studies mentioned stating a detrimental case against weight training there is equal time spent on weights and endurance training, so 50% of training volume. Those studies mentioned in the case for, use a program based around approximately 33% of training being weight training. From these studies plus a little bit of not so common, common sense we find a possible answer…. The AMOUNT of weight training.


Could it be that 19% weight training would not develop enough changes to produce results? After all this is less than one day a week. Also it seems sensible that 50% of time for an endurance athlete spent on weights is too high and would have a detrimental effect due to a lack of time training the aerobic system.


An inclusive training programme incorporating maximal sprints, plyometrics and explosive strength training at 1/3 of training volume sounds sensible and gives improved results. Areas such as running economy, sprint times, lactate threshold and most importantly race times all improved in these runners. Feel free to remember some of the articles above and sound equally clever when replying to those decreeing weight training.


*As with most subjects it is not a yes or no answer.


If done correctly weight training in conjunction with plyometrics, sprint work and good endurance training will improve your runner’s performance. The type of weight training is also probably important. High velocity lifting gives the best results and this requires a fair bit of technique in the gym. Interestingly it is the INTENTION to lift quickly rather than the actual speed of the lift that matters. By trying to lift as quickly as possible you will recruit fast twitch fibres and get the desired neural and muscular responses.


Which exercises to do is far too detailed a subject to cover in a blog. If I had to name three easily achievable exercises for an amateur runner I would suggest a dead lift, squat and single leg box squat but this could be argued all day. For gym novices maybe a leg press, hack squat and smith machine squat?


runner muscles

As a last point lifting weights will obviously make your runner stronger. As one of the greatest predictors of injury is muscle weakness then as well as improving performance weight training will reduce your runner’s injury risk. If there is something so simple that will make you run faster, for longer and stay fit then why not do it

Andrew McDonough

Head of Sports Medicine

Widnes Vikings Rugby league Club



  1. Adopting reasonably heavy squats (failure occurring at 8-10 reps) or hill sprints in a weighted vest once a week saw my 10K and Half Marathon times come down by good margins. My knees feel stronger and more stable from it too.

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