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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