All runners should do bodybuilding, here’s why


Bodybuilding is the enemy of many endurance athletes! Yet, science is unanimous: adding weight training to your workout program can improve performance. Let’s see how.

In endurance sports, the main determinants of performance are:

  • VO2max, the maximum oxygen consumption by the body;
  • the mechanical efficiency, that is to say what it costs you in energy to move at a certain speed,…
  • aerobic endurance, the ability to maintain a high percentage of your VO2max for a long time.

It is normal for an endurance athlete to devote the majority of his training time to improving his VO2max and stamina, through low and medium intensity continuous workouts and interval training.

Bodybuilding helps to perform

But do not forget the bodybuilding. It improves the endurance performance by playing mainly on a factor: the mechanical efficiency.

In other words, following a bodybuilding program, it takes less energy to run at the same speed as before.

This improvement in mechanical efficiency is achieved through various physiological adaptations. Here are a few :

  • The muscle is composed of type I fibers, enduring, but weaker and type II fibers, strong, but tiring. With bodybuilding, Type I fibers are gaining strength and so we can delay the time when we need to start using Type II fibers, which are more energy intensive.
  • When the muscle contracts intensely, it crushes the blood vessels that carry the oxygen to the muscle and limits the oxygen supply during muscle contraction. With bodybuilding, one generally increases the speed of generation of the force. If the muscle produces its strength more quickly, it contracts less, and therefore the length of time the muscle is deprived of oxygen is reduced. The muscle is better supplied with oxygen.
  • Strength training is accompanied by an increase in maximum strength. Thus, to produce the same force as before during a stride, the amount of muscle mass that must shrink is reduced, and the energy expenditure is also reduced.
  • Bodybuilding increases musculotendinous stiffness. In running, the muscles and tendons of the calf and foot stretch when the foot lands on the ground, thus storing energy, like a spring, then restitute this energy during the flight, while the “Spring” returns to its original length. It is “free” energy, which does not come from the effort that is made by contracting our muscles, and that moves us forward. Bodybuilding, increasing the stiffness of our muscles and tendons, would increase the amount of energy that can be stored and restored.

Strength training will also allow the endurance athlete to improve their anaerobic fitness (the ability to provide a brief and intense effort), which can be critical in certain portions of the race, such as steep climbs.

Different types of bodybuilding



But not all bodybuilding programs are equal, far from it!

Bodybuilding training can be divided into four main categories:

  • strength endurance training (when performing 13 repetitions and more than one exercise each series, so with moderate loads)
  • the training of the force-hypertrophy (when one carries out from 6 to 12 repetitions with each series, thus with heavy loads)
  • maximum strength training (when performing 1 to 6 repetitions, so with very heavy loads at maximum)
  • power training (which involves a high speed of movement, for example plyometric training involving jumps).

What is the best for the runner?

When comparing an endurance weight training program (3 sets of 20 repetitions) to a maximum strength training program (3 sets of 6 repetitions), only the maximum strength program improves gestural efficiency and performance. cross-country skiers.

When comparing a training in hypertrophy (3 sets of 10 repetitions) to a training in maximum strength (3 sets of 4-5 repetitions), it is still the maximum force which makes it possible to optimize the economy of movement and the performance this time in cycling.

This is because only the training of the maximum force makes it possible to generate the muscular and nervous adaptations described above.

The addition of power workouts would also be a good complement to the maximum strength exercises.

So, if you want to add weight training to your training to improve your trail running performance, you should bet on maximum strength.

How to start



Fall and winter are good times to start a bodybuilding program, as running volume is usually reduced. Here are some recommendations:

  • Go step by step! The ultimate goal will be to develop maximum strength, but if you have never lifted such loads, you will have to slowly progress to these heavy loads. Start with light loads and lots of repetitions (eg 3 x 12 repetitions per exercise) for 3 to 4 weeks, then gradually decrease the number of repetitions, increasing the loads, until working in the zone of maximum strength. If you have little experience in bodybuilding, strength training hypertrophy (between 6 and 12 repetitions) will already be very effective to improve your maximum strength.
  • Choose exercises that appeal to the specific muscles of trail running, such as squats (on one leg or two legs), lunges, bench rides, deadlifts, and so on.
  • The priority should be to improve your maximum strength, but you could add some power development exercises, such as skipped squats, one- or two-legged box jumps, jumped lunges, and so on.
  • Allow at least 12 weeks to develop your muscle skills, then maintain these qualities with one or two short weight training sessions per week.
  • Take advantage of the weight training sessions to add stabilization exercises (ankles, knees, hips, trunk). It’s also time to include the exercises that your physiotherapist has prescribed for you, and you tend to forget when your knee, back, or ankle pain fades!


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