Strength Training For Runners
Targeted strength training can improve a runner’s performance. However, there are many avid runners out there who don’t do any strength training at all, or if they do, they follow a modified body building type program, which isn’t going to help their running performance.
In this blog post I will explain the key benefits of strength training for runners, and the key requirements to making a successful strength program, which will get you running in the right direction.
1. Increased power output
Evidence suggests that strength training can improve neuromuscular/motor unit power characteristics. Motor units (consisting of nerves and muscles) are responsible for all movement, and increasing their power will allow them to be recruited more efficiently and effectively, providing greater mechanical efficiency and better muscle coordination.
Improved neuromuscular power will get your legs moving faster and generate more force during the running foot strike. if you have a powerful foot strike, it means you decrease the amount of contact time on the ground – improving your stride rate and length, making you a faster runner.
2. Improved running economy
Running economy is the amount of energy needed to run at a given pace. The better your running economy, the less energy you need to run faster. Strength training has been shown to improve running economy by between 4-8%. A study on maximal strength training demonstrated a 5% improvement in running economy. This improvement can also be attributed to the improvement in neuromuscular power.
3. Fatigue resistance
In endurance running events, fatigue is a key contributing factor to decreased running performance. Once fatigue sets in, your running stride shortens and your pace slows. However, you can improve your fatigue resistance with adding strength workouts to your programming. A study has found that strength training can minimise stride length loss – helping you run at any given pace for longer.
4. Limit injuries
Running is a heavy load bearing and repetitive activity, and can lead to numerous overuse injuries. If you increase your strength, you’ll also increase your joint stability, which will reduce your risk of repetitive stress injuries. Strength training can also limit injuries caused by muscular strength imbalances by strengthening the muscles running neglects, often the muscles around the hips and glutes.
Key strength training requirements
As you can see from the four points above, there are definitely benefits to incorporating strength workouts into your running programming. But it’s not about just doing whatever weights you feel like doing – to be a better runner you need a strength program that will aid running performance.
1. Lift heavy
As you have read in the above points, many improvements in running can be found by improved neuromuscular power characteristics. To do this, maximal recruitment of the largest and strongest force producing motor units (type II fast twitch motor units) needs to happen. This means you must lift heavy, keeping reps between 4-6 reps.
2. Lift fast
To recruit your type II fast twitch motor units, you don’t only just need to lift heavy, you also need to lift fast. Now, you can’t be fast and lose your technique, that will defeat the purpose of what you are trying to achieve. Your technique has to be maintained. If you’re unable to maintain your technique you will need to decrease the weight and/or your lifting speed.
A point to remember is that since the weight is heavy, your lifting speed won’t actually be very fast – you can’t make heavy weights move quickly. The key then, is to lift the weight as fast as you possibly can.
3. Use your whole body
Training your whole body, by mainly performing compound movements (where you use multiple joints at a time, like in a squat), allows you to recruit more muscles per exercise, which results in enhanced motor unit recruitment, trains your stabilisers, and provides the added benefit of burning more calories. Training your whole body will give you a better bang for your buck!
4. Work your forgotten muscles
As mentioned above in the benefits, strength training can help protect you against injuries. One way to do this is to strengthen the neglected muscles of running. The main muscles of running are the hip flexors (rectus femoris), knee extensors (vastus lateralis), knee flexors (hamstrings) and ankle flexors (gastrocnemius and soleus). Key muscles neglected by running are the glutes, vastus medialis, hip adductors, tibialis anterior, and core muscles. Working these muscles will help in keeping over use injuries at bay.
5. Short and simple
Strength training needs to compliment your running training – not hinder it. Excessively long or too many strength sessions will only generate more muscle soreness and fatigue, which will negatively impact on your running performance. Your strength training should be focused on the maximum results in the shortest possible time. I wouldn’t make sessions longer than 45 minutes, including the warm-up and cool-down.
In my next post, I will share with you a base level strength program that follows the key requirements I have outlined above.