Strength Training for Joggers and Runners
This is a personal favourite topic of mine, why? Because it really demonstrates that resistance training can be so much more than beach weights and Saturday night muscles. Indeed, adding Strength training into the routine of a runner will reduce the risk of those under wanted injuries and also improve running performance.
First things first, to understand the benefits of strength training for runners, there are a few basic principles to understand. There are four main physical qualities that can determine a good runner :
Benefits of Strength and Conditioning
V02 Max, simply put, is the highest amount of oxygen you can breathe in and transport to the working muscles. It’s one of the strongest predictors of race performance and is an essential physical quality for running performance. There is little to no evidence that strength and conditioning will improve V02 max. Also, increases in body mass will actually decrease your V02 Max because V02 Max is linked with your power to weight ratio, so any increases in mass could bring down your V02 Max because :
V02 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen a runner can use per kilogram of their body weight per minute written (ml/kg/min)
So why engage in S&C if it’s going to hurt your performance ?
Because there’s a lot more to strength training than making muscle big and bulking, there is a host of different physical qualities that can be enhanced that improve race times.
These qualities are changes in the nervous system, think of it as a software update on a computer rather than a hardware update.
Lactate is a by-product of energy production, more specifically anaerobic glycolysis. When oxygen requirements can no longer keep up with the demand of movement, pyruvate acid is converted into lactate, which in turn restricts muscular movements, thus slowing you down. Runners whom have higher Lactate threshold can run longer for harder. Strength and conditioning activities are often performed using the anaerobic energy pathway. Because of this, S&C will improve your ability to clear waste products rapidly, this will also help with your race performance
Running Economy is the amount of oxygen that can be used at a given speed and is the best predictor for race performance. A runner with superior economy will often beat a runner with the same or similar V02 Max. Running Economy becomes a stronger predictor of performance over distances of 5km.
An example of the importance of running economy is Paula Radcliffe the greatest female long-distance runner ever. Her V02 Max was 70 ml/min/Kg which, while very respective, doesn’t even put her in the top 10 females ever recorded. However, her oxygen consumption at a pace of 16 Km/hr (6 min/mile) decreased from 205 ml/Kg/Km in 1992 to 175 ml/Kg/Km in 2003, which represents a 15% increase in efficiency (i.e. 15% reduction in the amount of oxygen consumption per Km at a standard pace). Meaning her running economy was truly breath taking and unquestionably world class.
While Strength and Conditioning has been shown to bring about small improvements – in V02 Max and Lactate Threshold- Where strength and conditioning shines is its ability to vastly improve running economy.
So what are in details the benefits of Strength and Conditioning for runners
Strength Training improves force generating ability
The main benefit of engaging in strength and conditioning routine, will be increase in the forces that you can put into the ground. By becoming stronger at squats and steps-ups, your ability to produce greater force through the ankle, knee and hip means longer strides and faster running speed, all at less efforts, thus improving your economy.
Using Tendon more effectively
During running, the elastic properties of the Achilles tendon and connective tissues can contribute up to 30-40 % of the energy to run, and the best part of this is, its free energy. The Achilles tendon acts as spring, absorbing energy and then springing back releasing the stored energy. This action is known as the stretch shorting cycle. Therefore, runners who possess greater levels of tendon elasticity often have greater economy. Heavy strength training has been shown to improve this quality, but the real silver bullet to enhance the stretch shorting cycle are plyometrics.
How to train runners
Exercise selection should always be transferable, in the example of running, exercises that fulfil a number of bio-mechanical criteria will have the greatest carry over to improve race times. Running itself is a concentric extension of the ankle, knee and hip. As previously mentioned, increased focus production is the main goal of strength training. Thus, high force or heavy loads exercise that concentrically extend the ankle knee and hip are ideal for runners. A mix of double and single leg exercises are recommended to prompt structure balance.
For example :
- Back Squat
- Single Leg RDL
While high forces exercise and great runner only spend about 0.2-0.5 seconds on the ground, Strength is great, and is the base of everything -but we want to produce that force as quickly as possible. This is where power training comes in. Being able to recruit muscles quickly will reduce the effort on each side and improve economy. Once again, we need to fulfil our bio-mechanical criterias to ensure all exercise are transferable to running.
For example :
- Power Cleans
- Power Snatch
- Hurdle Hops
- Box Jumps
- Single Leg Box Jumps
The ability to use tendons effectively like a spring is key to improve a runner’s economy. The best way to enhance the stretch shorting cycle is plyometric training. Indeed, plyometric training is a very special form a body weight jump training, where the aim is to reduce the time on the ground as little as possible. The key here, is use the stored energy in the eccentric or lower phase of the jump to increase the concentric phase or the upwards phase ; if you spend longer than 0.25 seconds on the ground, all the free energy from eccentric phase dissipates and you don’t get to use it. So, when it comes to running your 10km, you’re going to want to use all the free energy you can get your hands on. However, a word of warning, plyometrics training is very high impact and should be carefully progressed for beginners and intermediates. Learning proper landing mechanics is key in the early stages of plyometric training.
Here is an example progress for a beginner :
- Double Leg Hop and Stick (Learning landing mechanics)
- Single Leg Hop and Stick
- Small Hurdle Hops
- Single Leg Hurdle Hops
- Depth Drop
Core Training, a fad word in the fitness industry, but the core really is any muscle that act to stabilize the spine. Think of the spine like a radio mast and the muscles like the cables supporting the tower as the core. In runners, the core acts isometrically to resistance movement, specially resistance rotation, extension and flexion. A core which is strong enough to resist these movement will reduce the risk of injury and improve performance because a strong core allows force to be transferred from the feet through the body and help move you forward.
Few examples of core training :
- Planks (Anti Flexion)
- Side Planks (Anti Rotation)
- Pallet Press (Anti Rotation)
- Roll Outs
- Hanging Leg Raises
- Prone Hold
When running, the hamstrings act to catch the leg during the swing phase. Indeed, the hamstring is repeatedly rapidly stretched. So, it’s not hard to see why there are so many hamstring injuries in runners. Therefore, strengthening the hamstrings in this length position or eccentrically, can reduce the risk of injury and bullet proof those hammies. All these exercises are to be performed slowly under good control, focusing on the lowering phase.
Few examples :
- Single Leg RDL
- Assisted Nordic
- Glute Ham Raises
The Gluteal are brains for the knee and ankle. Often knee injuries and poor leg control can be traced to weak glutes. The glutes act to externally rotate the femur and keep the knee tracking over toe, thus reducing stress on the delicate structures of the knee. Having a number of activation and strengthening exercises in your routine, can go a long way to preventing injuries and keeping you on the road
Few examples :
- Glute Bridge
- Banded Glute Bridge
- SL Glute Bridge
- Crab Walks
- Side Plank Leg Abduction
Sites that are commonly injured on runners are the ankles, knees and hips. Therefore, exercises that strengthen the tendons, ligaments and connective tissues in these areas will help to prevent injury. Perform these exercises using a slow tempo, a single rep should last 5-10 seconds and be done for reps of 10-15.
Few examples :
- Calf Raises
- Seated Raises
- Reverse Nordics
Unfortunately, possessing an impressive squat and power clean won’t make you an effective runner. The inability to effectively express force will undermine all your good gym work. Therefore, it is key that runners incorporate drills that teach them how to effectively express force when running. For instance, here are some drills that can be performed before a run, or during a warm up.
Few examples :
- B Skips
Sample Gym Workout Strength Day
Sample Gym Workout Power Day
Example Conditioning Home Workout