Strength And Conditioning For Ultra Runners: Introduction

Written By Brad Welch

Brad Welch is a former Royal Marines Commando turned strength and conditioning coach. He specialises in strength training for endurance athletes and is a keen ultra runner himself.

15 May 2020

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Brad Welch is a strength and conditioning coach specialising in training for endurance athletes. Alongside Twice the Health, he operates the #RunStrong team, a running programme that incorporates run sessions and strength workouts to enable clients to run strong and race hard.

In this four week series, Brad highlights the importance of strength training for ultra runners and shares some of the most effective strategies for avoiding injury and getting stronger. He has also made videos to correspond with each exercise, so if you’re unsure, give the videos a watch.

In this introductory week, Brad gives an overview of strength and conditioning and shares his screening process for identifying weaknesses.

What is strength and conditioning?

It wasn’t long ago (7-10 years) that the phrase ‘strength training’ was near enough frowned upon in the endurance world. The association of resistance work was irreconcilably linked with large muscle mass – a world apart from what an endurance athlete would potentially want.

Strength, in simple terms, is defined as the maximal amount of force a muscle can produce under specific conditions. Regardless of whether you partake in sport, we all need a base level of strength to function in our day-to-day life. If you add in the demands of a sport like running, then strength becomes a necessity.

If you are looking to become a faster and more efficient runner, then your running speed is directly linked to the amount of force you are able to produce against the ground and your ability to absorb forces to reproduce and maintain your running speed.

The below shows the several different types of strength that play a huge role in a runner’s development. In this series we will look at the importance of each and how to implement them into your training:

  • Maximum strength
  • Relative strength
  • Explosive strength
  • Reactive strength

Assessing strength and weaknesses

Before you jump into a strength and conditioning training block, there is a necessary component in building the correct structure and specifics directly linked to your end goal. This is called a movement assessment.

Ultimately, the process of an assessment, or screening, is to identify an athlete’s strengths and, more importantly, weaknesses, which could lead to injury down the line or could currently be restricting progress.

Over the past six years of coaching strength and conditioning to endurance athletes, I have been able to build a screening process that is time efficient and simple, whilst allowing me to identify an athlete’s specific flaws.

If you are thinking of jumping into a new phase of strength training, try the below screening exercises, film all movements and assess yourself (if possible), or reach out to a recognised strength and conditioning professional who can help you identify potential issues.

  • Base screening/fundamental patterns – overhead squats, single limb loading, isolated mobility
  • Specific performance – time trials
  • Strength performance – max weight/rep maxes, box jumps, hop and sticks
  • Capacity function/muscle tissue resilience – nordic curls, glute bridges, calf raises, plank variations all for maximal reps or maximal time

Proper screenings are the most common missing link when athletes begin new strength plans. You wouldn’t start a race and purposely take the wrong route would you? So why ignore the stage that is ultimately setting you on the right path to reaching your personal performance goal.

Movement assessment exercises

There are two exercises in each category, which should be done back-to-back (ie 6-10 overhead squats followed by 6-10 internal rotations). Check out the videos below for a demonstration.

Base screening/fundamental patterns
Overhead squat (6-10)
Bear sit internal rotations (6-10)
Strength performance
Max rep ¼ bodyweight split squat (1 ES)
Pogo hop and single leg stick (3-5 ES)
Capacity function
Bodyweight calf raise (max reps)
Single leg glute bridge hold (max hold)

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