Becoming a successful runner is not only about the hard work devoted to cardiovascular training, aerobic capacity or speed training and endurance. Many runners fail to include strength training within their training programmes, unaware that during peak impact our body can put anywhere between 1.5 to 3 times our body weight through each leg whilst running, causing stress to the joints, tendons and ligaments. Strength training is crucial to the prevention of injury, aids in performance, and helps you run faster by boosting neuromuscular coordination and power; thus improving your running efficiency by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.
It is important to note that it is not only leg strength that is important to developing a well-rounded athlete, as each part of the runner’s structure has an important role to play when it comes to running. Biomechanical efficiency as well as reduced energy expenditure and fatigue can be some of the many benefits available to athletes through the inclusion of full-body strength movements.
What type of Strength Training should I do?
For many, the thought of strength training can be quite a daunting experience. Knowing what exercises to do to maximise performance, as well as the periodisation of the training plan, can put many athletes out of their comfort zone. The key is to plan your strength training schedule ahead of time, this offers the benefit of knowing how intense your runs should be in any given week or day. It is advised that runners incorporate strength training routines within their plans 2-3 times a week.
Plyometric training is the first of these strength training types; Plyometric training offers athletes the benefit of enhanced efficiency within the muscle fibres, vital for the exchange of oxygen from the blood to the muscles. This involves jumping in quick and controlled bursts, the ultimate goal is to be as explosive as possible.
Strength endurance training, the second type of strength training, is the specific form of strength displayed in activities which require a relatively long duration of muscle tension with minimal decrease in efficiency. Strength endurance is met when exercising around 70% of your one rep max [1RM] and completing around 12-20 reps for 3 sets.
Unilateral training is the penultimate type of strength training. When running, an athlete will predominantly use only one leg at a time, so why not bring this into strength training too? Unilateral training will stop performance-sapping unevenness of a dominant leg. Symmetrical movement patterns will ultimately improve your balance and reduce the risk of injury.
Muscle Activation is the final strength training type to incorporate into your routines. Muscle activation is caused by neurotransmitters passing messages from nerve cells to target cells, where muscles represent our target cells in this case. Should there be irregularities in these neurotransmitters, we would see a muscle activation efficiency loss which will ultimately lead to degraded running technique and improper activation of key muscle groups. Muscle activation exercises help to retain muscle movement patterns and make sure all the right muscles are contributing to your running technique; think in terms of muscle memory. Activating the muscles is achieved by isolating the known underactive muscles within the athlete’s frame and helps to establish a neural connection from the brain to muscle.
Regarding strength training, it is important to focus on gaining strength and power rather than raising your heart rate. As a runner, you will be gaining the benefits of cardio through running alone. Strength training therefore should focus on working the entire body, concentrating specifically on muscle activation and isolation. Focusing on movements that involve multiple joints and muscle groups will also aid in the prevention of injuries.
Written by Better Body Group’s in-house expert on running biomechanics, Becky Wade. Becky is well known for her speed and stamina from 400m to full marathons. For more information or to book a biomechanical analysis appointment please call them on 01732 451979 or email email@example.com.