The idea of strength training for the average runner seems quiet alien and a waste of time. Many long distance runners actually believe strength training will have a negative affect on their running performance. Nothing could be further from the truth!
If you like to run and/or you are training for a 5k, 10k, marathon or even a triathlon, strength training, specific to runners, will boost performance in multiple ways.
The goal of resistance training for runners is rarely to add muscle mass and size. The most beneficial strength training adaptations for runners are improved muscular strength, improved local muscular endurance, maintaining current muscle mass, reducing body fat, pre-hab for injury prevention and post-injury rehabilitation.
When you become fatigued during your run, your form breaks down (poor running economy). This isn’t just caused by tired legs, but also due to tired arms, back and abdominals. Having all round stronger muscles means you can maintain good form in the latter stages of the race. Improved running economy would also increase a runner’s time to exhaustion. It has been shown that a well designed strength training programme can increase running economy by 5-10 percent.
Force production (final kick):
As a result of strength training, your ability to generate rapid force increases. A higher rate of force development in lower body actions is generally correlated with faster running times. When the foot is on the ground, being able to generate rapid force production reduces contact time thereby ensuring a faster running time. If a runner has poor strength in the hamstrings, glutes and calves, they will need to stay on the ground longer to maintain stability.
The stronger the runner the more force they can apply into the ground, which enables them to propel themselves further with every step. This means they are now running faster via an increased stride length. Also, it’s not widely known that it is actually the arms that set the pace during a run. The legs just follow. Thereby, increasing upper body strength will actually allow for a faster running time.
Injuries are all to common with endurance runners and the same nagging injuries seem to crop up time and time again. Ask any runner and they will tell you that their shin, knee and lower back do, or have in the past, caused them problems. What people do not realise is that strength training will help prevent injury as most recreational and elite level runners get injured due to weak muscles. For example, having weak calve muscles contributes to shin pain, weak quads leads to improper knee tracking/pain and weak abdominals can lead to lower back pain.
Strength training eliminates muscular imbalances within a muscle group, limb and between opposing muscles groups. For example, both the quadriceps muscles (thigh) and hamstrings muscles (back of the upper leg) are involved in stabilising and maintaining the integrity of the knee joint. Having a strength imbalance between these two muscle groups will cause faulty motor patterns and running mechanics, which put you at a greater risk of injuries.
A common misconception about strength training is that it has no aerobic component. Therefore, people believe if you only perform strength training you won’t build sufficient cardiorespiratory fitness. (Cardiorespiratory fitness is measured by V02max, which stands for maximal oxygen uptake and refers to the amount of oxygen your body is capable of utilising in one minute). However, this is not the case as strength training actually improves the bodies efficiency to use energy and oxygen. Why is this beneficial for a long distance runner? Because the primary goal of endurance training is to increase the bodies ability to use oxygen efficiently. This means that over time, as your fitness improves, your body will actually use less oxygen to complete the same amount of work. If you decrease the amount of oxygen needed to run at a particular speed, you will be able to sustain a fast pace for longer, which will correlate with faster running times. Time spent at maximal aerobic speed can increase by as much as 20 percent.
Another way strength training improves oxygen transportation is through increasing the amount of capillaries within a muscle. Concurrent strength and endurance training increases the ratio of capillaries to muscle fiber areas, which improves oxygen transportation and free fatty acid uptake. If one has a improved free fatty acid uptake, it should result in a reduced rate of glycogen breakdown. This means that the endurance athlete is now using energy more efficiently and is sparing their glycogen stores for the latter stages of the race, which improves performance and helps prevents the endurance athlete from hitting the dreaded “runners wall”.
Preventing muscle loss:
One of the major overlooked benefits of strength training for recreational and elite level runners is the affect it has on preventing muscle mass loss. Long distance running creates a catabolic environment that degrades muscle and bone. You have probably noticed the type of physiques marathon runners have? “Thin” would be the best word to describe how they look. Strength training will help runners maintain their current level of muscle mass and only lose body fat. Why is maintaining muscle mass important? Well, Apart from being stronger and healthier the bulk of your daily energy expenditure comes from your resting metabolic rate, which is a function of the proportion of lean muscle to body fat. If you lose too much muscle mass you will actually decrease your metabolic rate, which will hurt your running performance.
Muscle fiber ratio:
Strength training will increase the proportion of type 11A muscle fibres. These specific type of muscle fibres fatigue slowly and are able to produce speed and power. This is the perfect combination for endurance sports! Solely performing endurance activities will increase the ratio of type 1 muscle fibres only. Concurrent strength and endurance training will increase the ratio of both types of muscle fibres.
At the running coaches our strength and conditioning coach will conduct an in-depth assessment process measuring posture, movement patterns/running mechanics, muscular imbalances, body fat percentage and the amount of lean muscle mass you have. The information gathered form the initial assessment will be used when designing your unique periodised strength training programme.
Initial compositional assessment using the cutting edge BioSignature method:
A BioSignature analysis allows you to measure and ascertain a persons body fat percentage, amount of lean muscle mass and where on the body a person is storing large amounts of body fat, which can be contributed to certain hormonal profiles and/or imbalances. This information can then be used when designing your training, nutrition and supplementation protocols.
Initial movement screening:
This is where we find out your muscular strengths and weaknesses along with how efficiently your body moves. This information will allow us to really individualise and add the bespoke touch to your training programme, ensuring faster and injury free progress.
Taking into account the physical assessment process, the training programme will be designed specifically to increase your running performance. The training programme will outline exactly what exercises you need to perform in the gym, along with repetition ranges, total number or sets, tempo and rest times. For our busy clients who travel regularly, we will provide detailed videos demonstrating and explaining exactly how to perform and execute each exercise on your training programme correctly.
Strength training sessions:
A commitment of 1-4 one to one personal training sessions per week is required. All personal training sessions will be conducted at the address found on the contact page.