Large numbers of runners feel that the only way to improve running performance is to up the mileage and do more running.
Although this method will work in the short term, you will almost definitely reach the point of diminishing returns. At this point, any, if not all running brings no benefit in terms of improving performance – just more niggles and a much higher injury risk.
Every step and foot contact produce impact forces known as ground reaction forces. These travel through your body and are absorbed by your soft tissue such as muscles and tendons – great! However, if your muscles are not strong enough to absorb this load, it will cause havoc to connective tissues like tendons and bones, and may eventually lead to many of the most feared and common overuse injuries amongst runners such as stress fractures, IT band and tendon problems.
The most effective and simple way to improve muscle strength and avoid many of the previously mentioned issues is to incorporate strength training into your routine. A high number of distance runners often fear weight training will make them bulky, tight and slow, as carrying the extra muscle mass and bodyweight equals more work on every stride.
However, A 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that, “40 weeks of strength training can significantly improve maximal- and reactive-strength qualities, (running economy) and velocity (at maximal oxygen uptake), without concomitant hypertrophy in competitive distance runners.”
Basically, this means that the runners became stronger, more efficient runners without experiencing significant changes in body composition.
However, joining a gym and performing hours of biceps curls isn’t going to get distance runners the results they want. Strength programmes for runners need to consider their running training, address any specific weaknesses and focus on particular physical qualities that will have a high transfer to running.
With that in mind, here are three benefits that well-implemented strength training offers distance runners:
1. Better Running Efficiency
The less energy and oxygen used at a certain pace, the longer you can run at that specific speed. In the case of distance runners, this means you can maintain higher speeds during your runs, which translates to better times. In addition to the study discussed above, a 2013 study found that runners who incorporated strength training as a part of their overall training improved running economy by more than 6 percent! And as in the study above, this increase in running economy came about without any increase in body weight or muscle size.
2. Increase in Running Speed
Incorporate training methods such as hill running, tempo running, sprint and interval running, to your programme. If you truly want to fully develop and optimise your speed potential, strength training is a must. Developing muscle strength will provide a strong base for power training which relies on that strength base to transfer it to speed.
Greater relative muscle strength = greater potential to further develop running speed.
3. Injury Prevention
Stronger muscles = a stronger, more robust body which is better able to absorb impact forces and resist injuries. By incorporating basic progressive overload with strength training, we can make improvements not only in muscle strength, but also tendons and ligaments, and bones become thicker and stronger.
Having adequate muscle strength translates to muscles that can properly stabilise joints and allow expression of proper running form. This aids in the reduction or prevention of pelvic drop, crossover, or even the heel strike pattern.
As a result of the repetitive nature of running, runners tend to develop asymmetries and weaknesses at specific points along the kinetic chain. This leads to an over-reliance on one side, which can cause overuse injuries on that side. Properly designed strength training will reduce or eliminate these asymmetries and weak points, and thereby reduce the risk of injuries.
Aside from all the previously mentioned benefits to running, strength training has many other benefits that make it worth investing extra time, effort and/or energy in making it part of your exercise routine. The great news is that you don’t have to do much straight away to experience these benefits. Start slow, make it a habit, and over time, as you get more advanced, start increasing volume and intensity of your strength training.
Head of performance at The Athlete Factory
The Athlete Factory is a world-class gym in chester
Offering a different approach to training to everyone who is serious about their health, fitness or sport, from the first-time gym goer to the elite sportsperson. We offer expert programming, coaching and care, in an exciting environment, by bringing our elite sport experience to everyone – to transform you and help you to achieve your goals.