Large numbers of runners feel that the only way to improve running performance is to up the mileage and just do more running.
Although this method will work for a short time, you will almost defiantly reach a point of diminishing returns. Once you’ve hit that any if not all running will not bring any benefits in terms of improving performance, but just more niggles and much higher injury risk.
Every step and foot contact produces impact forces known as ground reaction forces.
That travel through your body and are absorbed by your soft tissue such as muscles, tendons, sounds great. However, if your muscles are not strong enough to absorb this load, this will cause havoc to connective tissues like tendons and bones. This may eventually lead to many of the most feared and common overuse injuries amongst runners. Such examples would be stress fractures, IT band, and tendon problems.
The most effective and simplest 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 meaning 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 programs for runners need to take into account their running training, address specific weaknesses. It should focus on specific physical qualities that will have a high transfer to running.
With that in mind, here are three benefits 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 training improved running economy by more than 6 percent! And as in the study above, this increase in running economy came about without any increases in body weight or muscle size.
2. Increase in Running Speed
Incorporating training methods such as hill running, tempo running, sprint, and interval running, to your program if you truly want to fully develop and optimize your speed potential, strength training is a must. Developing muscle strength will provide a strong base for power training. That 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 that is better able to absorb impact forces and resist injuries. By incorporating basic progressive overload with strength training, we can make improvements in muscle strength. Also, tendons, ligaments, and bones become thicker and stronger.
Having adequate muscle strength translates to muscles that can properly stabilize 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 the sport 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 right away to experience these benefits. Start slow, make it a habit. Over time, as you get more advanced, start increasing the volume and intensity of your strength training.