There are a lot of runners and endurance athletes that understand the value of including strength training into their programs. One reason that they have this understanding is that they have been injured and either a physical therapist or another runner have suggested ways to improve their muscle balance, thus decreasing the possibility of furthur injury.
But what about performance? Can lifting weights, doing plyometrics or adding core exercises improve a marathon runners time? And what should a runners weight training routine look like?
These are all questions that I hope to answer over the next month, by reviewing the literature and research with you, and filtering those ideas through my own experience and the experiences of runners I know.
Running Economy and Performance
Running economy is often a forgotten aspect related to improved running performance. But it is a very important variable that any runner should consider when faced with a plateau in their performance and a continued desire to improve. For a more complete understanding of why running economy is importantant to performance, I will refer you to “The Lore of Running” by Timothy Noakes and “Daniels’ Running Formula” by Jack Daniels.
Strength Training and Running Economy
In a review of “Factors Affecting Running Economy in Trained Distance Runners”, several interventions used to improve running economy were analyzed, strength training being one intervetion.
A few highlights found in this literature review:
1. Heavy resistance training (HRT) improves endurance performance in untrained subjects.
2. HRT improves running economy of moderately trained female distance runners, without changes in VO2 max.
3. HRT and endurance training improved running performance and running economy in well trained triathletes. (14 week intervention)
4. Explosive strength training improved running economy and 5km performance with no changes in VO2 max in moderately trained runners. (9 week intervention)
5. Plyometric training improved running economy and performance in moderately trained subjects without changes in VO2 max. (6 week intervention)
source: Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Telford, R. D. and Hawley, J. A. Factors Affecting Running Economy in Trained Distance Runners. Sports Med 2004;34(7):465-485
How does this apply to your program?
One thing that a person should notice about the findings is that they all included either “heavy resistance” or “explosive” / “plyometric” exercises. This type of training isn’t for every person all the time. Novices that are new to strength training or experienced athletes that haven’t strength trained for an extended period of time would benefit by choosing a period of less stressful exercises to allow the body to get used to strength training.
Another interesting point is that the periods of intervention used ranged from 6 weeks to 14 weeks. A runner should consider how a heavy resistance or plyometic program would fit into their racing schedule.
The last point I would like to make relates to Lydiard’s training ideas. One concept that Lydiard had during his presentation was that a runner should include exercises such as “hill bounding” into their program once they have developed their base and are ready to sharpen their skills. He had other suggestions for exercises to include that would be classified as “plyometics”, but I don’t remember the specifics right now. (I guess I’ll have to look for his book once again.)
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