17 May Run to the Weights Room: Why Distance Runners should be Strength Training
Despite a growing amount of research to support strength training for distance runners, the weights room still appears to be a no-go zone for a percentage of the running community. In reality, there are many ways that strength training can assist runners in taking the next step in their performance.
Maximal strength has been shown to improve performance for endurance athletes, including runners. There are a number of reasons to support this, several of which are discussed below:
- Improved running economy
A sound running economy is one of the cornerstones of running performance. In a nutshell, this means using as little energy as possible with as much output as possible. Think about driving a car. If you are heavy on the accelerator you will use more fuel, but travel less distance before the tank is empty.
However, if you roll in and out of the throttle gently, you will use less fuel over a longer distance. One way to improve your economy is through strengthening. The stronger a runner is, the more muscle and tendon (elastic energy) you have to work with, and the more work the musculoskeletal system can do with each step. This takes some pressure off the body’s energy systems, allowing you to bank this energy for later in the race. You are using less fuel for a longer period of time.
- Increased power output
Just as economy is a cornerstone of performance, strength is a cornerstone of developing muscular power. While power may not be so important in distance running at first glance, it can be helpful for race situations such as jostling for position early, closing gaps between yourself and another competitor, making a pass, and making a sprint to the finish line at the end. The stronger you are, the more capacity you have to develop your power to assist you in moments like these.
- Reduced risk of injury
This is a simple yet important point. A strong, robust body has a reduced risk of injury. The impact of running on the body can be softened if the body is supported by a strong musculoskeletal system. Being injury-free will help you train, and compete, more effectively for longer periods of time.
- Maintaining good form under fatigue
We know that late in a race or training session, fatigue can set in. For some people, this can derail technique. Two features of poor technique under fatigue are excessive rotation of the trunk, and losing coordination of your arms – both of which are crucial energy-wasters. There are a number of effective strengthening exercises that can assist runners with their upper-body strength, which can in turn help provide some added control of technique in a state of fatigue.
What sort of strength training should I be doing?
An Accredited Exercise Physiologist(AEP) can assess your technique with a running assessment, and based on the findings, can provide you with a set of strengthening exercises that are specific to your needs. There are also some general exercises that are beneficial for all runners.
Some basic recommendations include:
– 2-3 strength sessions per week
– Heavy resistance (rep ranges and specific exercises to be discussed with your AEP)
– Explosive concentric (push/lift) phase
– Slow, controlled eccentric (return) phase
– Maximal strength training has an important place in a runner’s training plan
– A stronger runner will conserve energy while their muscles take more of the load
– Strength is a cornerstone of developing power
– Strength training is effective at reducing your risk of injury
– A strong upper-body will resist fatigue in the late stages of a race
– Consult your AEP for a running assessment and strength program
JOYCE, D. & LEWINDON, D. (2014) HIGH PERFORMANCE TRAINING FOR SPORTS. CHAMPAIGN, IL: HUMAN KINETICS.
Ronnestad, B. R., & Mujika, I. (2014). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 24. 603-612.