Top things I learned by strength training like a pro runner

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As a distance runner, you’ve probably heard that resistance training is crucial, but have you ever considered tailoring your weightlifting routine to maximize power and speed? These two often-overlooked factors can be game-changers, helping you develop explosive acceleration, blistering sprint speed, and a killer finishing kick. Imagine harnessing the ability to effortlessly shift gears during a race, leaving your competition in the dust with a seemingly limitless speed reserve. This is where the magic happens – at the intersection of science and sweat-drenched pavement, where resistance training for power and speed meets the quest for ultimate running performance.

I have the weirdest and craziest resistance training program that no one has ever heard of.

You only need to do it once per week, for ten minutes and it’s as easy as walking. But it will yield the results of what people did if they went to the gym five times per week for hours.

Naw.. I’m messing with you… this does not exist in our reality… that I know of?! 🤨

What’s In This For You?

In this article you’re going to find out what happens at the intersection where science meets the pavement – the quest for ultimate running performance. We’ll dissect the importance of power and speed in your resistance/weight training.

I’ll answer the question for runners; where do power, speed, strength, muscle endurance, and hypertrophy fit into an already crowded training plan? Especially for distance runners?!

I’ll even tell my personal story of how I switched gears in my training and embraced the fusion of lifting with speed and power. It wasn’t just a change in routine – it was a transformation in philosophy. This episode isn’t just about challenging how your muscles move; it’s about challenging your mindset.

By the end of this, you’ll not only rethink your 1% better training habits approach but you’ll also… (yes get ready for the laundry list) 

  • Become more resilient so you have less nagging injuries
  • Generally more bounce 
  • Develop that extra gear in your running
  • Become more efficient so your easy runs are close to the same speed as your more intense sessions 
  • Develop your secret weapon at the end of races — speed reserve (more on that later)
  • And overall take your training to the next level.
  • Yes, that’s a big promise so let’s see if I can deliver.

Have you ever stopped to think if your resistance training routine is ideal for your running goals? Like really thought about it.

Oh and while we are here, I’m going to label what most people say strength training or strength and conditioning as resistance/weight training and also say lifting at times – they are different and It’ll tell you why shortly

You’re most likely a distance runner (anything 5k or longer is considered distance) and I’m sure you’ve heard that runners need to resistance train. At the time of this recording – The evidence and science is clear on this.

Resistance training benefits range from;

  1. Injury Prevention:
  2. Improved Running Economy_ – and energy efficiency
  3. Enhanced Endurance
  4. Better Running Form and Technique:

But have you thought about if you’re lifting the most optimal way for your personal needs and running goals? Not form-wise. Not even the magical number of reps and set- wise. I’m talking about improving your running speed and POWER!

I know what you might be thinking… “Well, Daren.. I’m a middle-of-the-pack amateur age group runner, why in the hell do I need to improve my speed and POWER!”

I’m glad you asked because improving your power and speed will in return improve your ability to generate force and produce explosive movements. This can result in faster acceleration, improved sprinting speed, and strong finishing kicks. So how would someone go about doing this?

High reps low weight?


High weight low reps?


8-12 reps?

No sir/ ma’am/gender neutral proper pro noun.

Someone can improve their power and speed by lifting… FAST!

And no, not cross-fit lifting fast.

I mean in a controlled manner, moving the weight through space and time (aka the air) as fast and controlled as possible 3-5 times in a set. Then rest for 2-5 mins. It’s two cool things called speed-strength and strength-speed, and they’re different but both important for athletes.

A bit of a deep dive explanation about the two things as this was something new that I never heard of;

  • Speed-strength is about moving super fast with the heaviest weight you can. It’s like when Olympic weightlifters lift quickly or track and field athletes in the shot put throw super hard. To get better at this, you do exercises that help you jump higher or move faster with some weight, but not too heavy.
  • Strength-speed is a bit different. It’s like pushing hard with a heavyweight but also trying to move it quickly. Think of pushing a sled with a lot of weights loaded on it across the ground as fast as you can. You train for this by lifting heavy weights, but not the heaviest you can, and still trying to move them fast.

Both of these help you become powerful, which is super important in distance running. If you only train to be strong (like lifting the heaviest weights you can), you won’t be fast – runners need this. And if you only train to be super fast, you won’t be very strong.  But if you train both, you’ll be strong AND fast which will give you all those benefits I talked about earlier and that bonus which is speed reserve. We’ll get into that later.

Up until about a few months ago, I had never really knew how to resistance train and improve my power. To me “changing up my resistance training routine” meant doing some plyos and lateral side-to-side lunges. Or if I was feeling spicy I’d do complex and contrast stuff like squat jumps right after squatting.

It wasn’t bad but I felt like I was missing the mark.

What do you think I was missing?

Well, I had a fortunate meeting with a physiotherapist therapist during a weird ankle twist incident and through it, I was able to link with Axis Performance Lab. Axis is Sydney Australia’s leading performance lab. They strive to elevate your athletic performance with tailored programs just like pro athletes.

I was able to work with Exercise Sports scientists/physiotherapists David Guest and Mike Dale to show me exactly how to become a more powerful distance runner who uses speed to help them get those 1% variables that will, in turn, help me perform better as I age. All of us are getting older, and I run everything I do through the “Will this help me in 10-20 years and can I sustain this?” Filter. If it’s a yes, then I sign up ASAP.

Please note – this is just a personalized documentation of what I’ve done to help my specific situation. This is not prescriptive advice for you – consult a medical professional for your own needs and get a training plan specific to your goals from a certified and local physio/physical therapist or personal trainer.

What this won’t be about

At the top I told you about what you will learn – let’s talk about what this won’t be about

Convincing you to resistance train if you don’t already

This isn’t a guilt trip into why silly runners don’t resistance train and why you’re missing out. I’m sure you already do enough of that to yourself (if you care about resistance training) so I’m assuming you already have a set-in-stone weight training routine. And to that…

This also won’t be a general “how to resistance train guide for runners”

There is enough out there on this and I’ll be doing a bunch of deep dives in the future on this topic – so stay subscribed. This is very specific for improving power and speed in the gym which translates to fast times out on the road/trail/track.

This won’t be about choosing exactly what workouts you need to do for your personal goals

While I love you… I’m sorry but I don’t know you. I also don’t know what your weaknesses are.

This is why you need to see a professional to assess you, and your goals and get you the exact training plan that matches this. If you’re in Sydney Australia – Definetly go down to beautiful Surry Hills and see Axis Performance Lab. I’ve already spent hours there nerding out with the team and learning a shit tonne.

My background in particular as an athlete is probably different than most amateur distance and endurance athletes. I came from the track and basketball space when I was young. I was focused on running fast for short periods of time (10 seconds to 2 minutes max) and doing explosive things like jumping and changing direction.

This has been a great thing to use as I get older and do more longer slower stuff because the power and speed can be a great foundation for endurance sports. It also allows me to enjoy this new type of training. You are most likely not like me and may not enjoy it, but you can – it just takes time. And I’ll tell you how later on.

What is Power and Speed?

So before I show you all the crazy testing protocols and new workouts that I’ve done – Let’s define a few things so it all makes sense to you and make sure we are speaking the same language.

Power and speed – two sides of the same coin, yet each with its unique flair. Let’s unravel these terms.”

  • Power – Imagine the explosive start of a sprinter or that powerful push-up a steep hill. That’s power – your muscles’ ability to exert maximum force in minimal time.”
  • Speed – Now, speed is all about velocity. How fast can you sprint that 100 meters? It’s about maintaining a swift pace, stride after stride.”
  • Fun bonus third term – Speed Reserve Improving your maximal output with this type of resistance training also improves your submaximal output since you are now working at a lower intensity. 
  • Speed reserve, in a scientific sense, is the difference between a runner’s maximum sprinting speed and the speed they maintain during a longer-distance race. Imagine you’re a runner who can sprint super fast for a short time, let’s say your top speed is 100%. But in a long race, like a 5K or a marathon, you run at a lower speed, maybe around 70% of your top speed.

    This way, you can keep going without getting too tired too quickly. The gap between your all-out sprint speed (100%) and your long-distance running speed (70%) is your speed reserve. It’s like having extra speed you can use when you need it, such as sprinting to the finish line or overtaking another runner. The bigger your speed reserve, the more powerful and versatile you are as a runner. It means you can run comfortably at a good pace in a long race, but you also can suddenly go much faster when the situation calls for it.

Difference between Power, Speed, Strength hypertrophy and muscle endurance in the weight room

This confused me until I finally dug in and asked a few people wtf are the differences. I just defined power and speed so let’s move on to the others.

What is Hypertrophy?

Hypertrophy is the growth of muscle cells from challenging exercises like weightlifting or intense activities. 

Side note – This is what most people want from lifting weights, but as distance runners, we don’t really need or want the bulk. Fat loss is a plus, but too much muscle gain isn’t ideal. The type of training we will get to later on in this episode won’t make you bulky but in fact, has many many direct benefits to your endurance running. 

What is Strength and how do we improve it?

Increasing strength focuses on improving your muscle’s ability to exert force, mainly through neural adaptations and muscle coordination. Hypertrophy is about enlarging your muscle fibers, making them bigger and bulkier through repeated, intense workouts. While strength gains can occur without significant muscle size increase, hypertrophy always involves larger muscles.

What is Muscular Endurance and how do we improve this?

Increasing muscle endurance scientifically means enhancing your muscles’ ability to perform repeated actions over a longer period without getting tired, often achieved through activities like running, cycling, or high-repetition weight training. This training improves the efficiency of oxygen use in muscles and increases the capacity of energy-producing mitochondria within muscle cells.

Muscle endurance differs from strength and hypertrophy, as it’s more about lasting longer rather than lifting heavier or increasing muscle size. Endurance training contrasts with power/speed training, which focuses on quick, explosive movements and maximizing force in a short time.

As distance runners we want to have it all… kinda. I’d say mainly we want muscle endurance, power/speed, strength and if hypertrophy (muscle growth) is a byproduct, but it’s not the main objective. Fat loss would be more ideal as the more muscle we have the more efficient we will be overall systemically.

Typically with your resistance training/gym/weight training, you will end up getting some hypertrophy. This is good. This means you’ll be more efficient when you run (muscle is way better than fat at everything especially being fat-adapted/aerobic.

But trying to gain a lot of muscle mass (hypertrophy) and strength and power and speed are close to impossible and this is why you need to be specific and this is why I needed this focus instead of going into the gym and doing what I’ve been doing for years.

If that is what you do (ie: go to the gym to get big) that is better than nothing – but there comes a time when you gotta sit down, get a strategy, work your plan and get 1% better every day.

So how do you go about making a laser-focused strategy? A 3rd party objective sports professional!

Why you need an objective 3rd party sports professional

Who are they and why is it important?

They are physio/physical therapists, personal trainers, and folks who live and breathe this stuff. They can assess your needs, prescribe the right program, and guide you every step of the way. Sure, it’s easy to stick to what you know, but sometimes, stepping outside of your comfort zone can lead to incredible results.

For starters, you need to remember it’s not about getting that pump but about training smarter, not harder.

I thought my routine was solid until I went in for an assessment and a minor adjustment completely changed my workout game. It was harder and different, yes, but it was much more effective.

What happened first in my assessment? Baseline Testing

As with any experiment… I started with baseline tests to see where my fitness was. At Axis Performance Lab I used GymAware’s equipment and Vald Performance ForceDecks to measure the power I was putting out and to be honest this was weird AF.

We tested the below to name a few;

  • CMJ – counter movement jump – aka standing vertical jump – which was weird – because I had to jump with hands on my hips

    To control the testing protocols and keep everything constant, I had to do different jumps with my hands on my hips. This is weird. But, like anything can be trained and I’ve already started training
  • Hop Test – RSI – This is pogos but with your hands on your hips AND you have to jump in the same spot landing on the force plates AND time in the air is NOT the objective, it’s how much force you can make by having less time on the ground – again… weird AF
  • Isometric mid-thigh pull – I pulled up as hard as possible in a deadlift position and it measured the force, not weight… WEIRD but accurate. I love exercise sports science
  • A few other trap/hex/Olympic bar lifts for speed strength (not testing for weight) to calculate my speed – the goal is to lift between .75 and 1 meter per second
  • And a few bodyweight muscular endurance failure tests for single-leg hamstring, hip thrust and single-legged calf raise. This was about the only thing that I did that felt “normal”.
  • A quick note on muscular endurance testing from Dave – These link to your muscular endurance and give us an idea of what the ability of an isolated muscle group can tolerate. So for endurance runners in particular we need resilient calf muscles to deal with the demands of high running volumes.

What happened next?

I was given a training plan based on my test scores to improve my fitness and ultimately perform better as I age. 

It was specifically designed to work on my goals, improve areas that need more focus and then to also maintain areas in which you’re naturally good at. The program looked at what type of runner I was and for example, if I was a quad dominant runner, kept exercises like that in the program. As I’ve been lifting for about 25+ years I was cocky and thought I woud know everything. I was wrong as about 70% of workouts and exercises I had never heard about or done.

It was a 2 day per week training plan as they stressed getting in high quality and fast lifts with overall low volume/load (again focusing on speed strength and strength speed). With about a 70/15/15 spits of legs/arms/core they had me doing trap bar deadlifts, trap bar jumps, dumbbell rows, double booms, vertical jumps + broad jumps, pogos, calf raises, and a few other exercises that made me feel uncomfortable… but I leaned into it.

After a few weeks of probably doing some drills wrong, I went back to Axis Performance, David and Mike so they could show me what to do and how to do it

And after you get a training plan, what’s the next logical step?

Executing an almost 10-week training block, of course!! This was fun. I was excited to just do something different as I’ve been doing the same familiar workouts over the last 5 years and these workouts seem drastically different to what I was used to.

Then what happened? Testing After 10 Weeks To See if these worked

This was similar to the first time I got tested but I’d say even better as I was not only more fit I was better as the test (yes it’s a thing).

And after my first 10 weeks, I have to say some huge gains here. I went up 5% for a few tests which is great. I’ll take 5% every 10 weeks for sure. What about my running? Well in the last few weeks leading up to the test, my running has been feeling quite strong and I’m lifting the most amount I’ve ever lifted in my life. Not only did I improve my power I improved my top speed, my v02max (70-85%), my tempo runs and my strength.

I’m about to go into the section of what happens next and I forgot something really important – I now have a new tool in my toolkit of workouts and phases that I never had before. This is a great pre-season kind of workout for me to build up my speed and power and then endurance. I used to do it the other way (endurance then speed and power) and this new sequencing could help me play to my strengths.

What happens after this? Conclusion

What now and did this help my running? Like everything in life, the rest is up to me.

I didn’t have an objective run test (1 mile or 5k time trial) to compare my before and after too as it was just all too complicated and I was in between fitness and seasons making it more complex. At the beginning of my training, I did do my fav workout which is 400 repeats at vo2max pacing or current 5k fitness. Because I haven’t increased my specific running load it’s a great test to see. And I have to say, I’ve seen a slight increase in power and speed at relatively same heart rate compared to 10 weeks before. I’ll take that. 

While I am taking off from competitive type training and racing this year, I’m still running, lifting and training similar to how I do most of the year. I won’t be able to put this new-found speed and power into play for a bit but that’s fine. I want to focus on running 200s and 400 time trials soon so this will definetly help with that.

Remember: think about what your goals are and make a plan that’s specific to this. This is the difference between something that is generic and you staying at a plateau and something that is tailored to you where you start to make those consistent improvements you’ve been trying for so long to achieve.

You have to run close to how you want to race to see gains. Running without lifting fast and just lifting teh way I was lifting, isn’t the end of the world. It’s better than nothing but I’m not optimising for speed and force. Doing both is like super-charging your effort of doing one.

Interested in seeing how you can improve your power and speed and if you’re in Sydney Australia – Def head down to Axis Performance Labs in Surry Hills. If not in Sydney – Google or ask around to see who does this type of force plate testing and training in your city or town. If you’re stuck just hit me in the comments below, message me on Instagram, or email and I’ll try to help you out.

Train smart – race and live easy.

Links & Learnings

The difference between speed strength and strength speed

Testing tools: GymAware & Vald Performance ForceDecks

Huberman Labs Guest Series with Dr. Andy Galpin

NCBI Study on strength training and running

Axis Performance Labs in Sydney

DLake on Instagram

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