How Off-Season Weight Training Can Improve Your Running
Ryan Sandes lifts in the off-season. So should you.

April 29, 2015

Ryan Sandes has been running full time since 2008. Back in the earlier part of his career the ‘off-season’meant completely taking time off from training –a well-deserved rest after a long season of high mileage. It entailed roasting the South African summer away on the beach, enjoying his food and the odd drink or two and, forgetting about running as much as he could.


The past three summers have been significantly different, however. As Ryan has evolved as athlete, that traditional thinking (of forgetting about training) has changed and he’s realised just how important a proper off-season is. “It is not just a time to chill and do nothing, rather it’s time to improve,”he says. “Resting and recovering after a race as well as having complete down time once or twice a year for a few weeks is really important to recharge your batteries both physically and mentally. However, I think it’s also important to have a period of no racing where you can work on strength and speed work –the type of things you often can’t do when doing high volumes of training for a race. At least that’s what I’ve found.”

In particular this summer off-season Ryan has been doing serious weight training under the guidance of conditioning training guru Michael ‘Gunshow’Watson. “In the past I was always a bit scared of doing weight training because I didn’t want to bulk up,”Ryan admits. “But, after working with Michael for the past three years I have seen the benefits. The biggest thing for an athlete is to stay injury free and have consistency in your training, if you can get this right you will automatically improve,”explains Ryan.


“Doing strength training and having good mobility allows you to bulletproof yourself as much as possible or the upcoming season and prevent any of the typical imbalance and overuse injuries.”Ryan does put on a bit of bulk during this training block, but he believes it’s good for his body and hormones and, that extra weight is quickly lost when he gets back into big-volume running training. “Getting stronger also allows me to move and run more efficiently which had a positive effect on my overall running performance,”he says.

“Injury prevention is one of the most important reasons for endurance athletes to do strength training,”agrees Michael, who’s client list ranges from professional runners and cyclists to big wave surfers and rugby players. “Durability and being allowed to train without disruption in one of the keys to an athlete’s success,”he explains.

Michael believes running economy is one of the key physiological variables which determines running performance. “Research has shown that running economy is improved with strength training. This could be further enhanced with power training, such as hill sprints,”he says.

According to Michael, strength training also leads to an increase in the rate of force development and maximal strength of the muscles, which in turn leads to the enhancement of both long term and short term capacity of endurance athletes.


Ryan usually does a strength training block of six to eight weeks, which includes three, one hour gym sessions a week. “I spend the first 15 to 20 minutes warming up doing some basic mobility drills to make sure I am moving correctly and then I will go into some heavier weight training.”

And by ‘heavy’he means real lifting:

“Roughly 10/12 sets of 5-1 reps were done,”Michael explains the sessions. “These were ramped up slowly to 85-90% of his max effort. Endurance athletes often confuse strength training with moving a light barbell around for reps. No adaptation will occur unless you start working past 70% of your capacity,”he says.

“After this we moved into some power work. Maximum strength is the base for power work and should always precede it otherwise you increase your risk of being injured,”Michael says. Here they included more explosive lifting exercises and sprint training.


According to Michael, runners of any level will benefit from strength training. “It will make you more efficient, economical and reduce your risk to injury,”he says reiterating that that is the real key to allow you to run without interruption.

Michael suggests working on blocks no shorter than six weeks. “Here you would focus on the compound lifts (squat/deadlift) working up to lifting up to 90% of your max effort. Reps are kept low which leads to minimal gains in muscle mass but improved neuromuscular efficiency. Very small gains in lean muscle mass might occur but this would be offset by a decrease in overall body fat.”

As the running season starts, he suggests moving more towards single leg work. “This generally adds less load but allows the athlete to maintain his strength gains and keep their body symmetrical,”he says.

Inspired to get running? Why not enter the unique Wings For Life World Run. It’s a fun event rather than a race and all proceeds go to spinal cord injury research and treatment. Ryan Sandes will be there.