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Strength training and running: A strong connection

strength running

Contrary to what you might think, running and strength training really do go hand in hand. Increased muscular endurance, stability and strength are all must-haves for runners and strength training can be a surefire route to achieving these.

Some runners claim that strength training leaves them sore, slow and unable to run at their best, but, if you train wisely, this doesn't have to be the case. Here's a few reasons why adding a bit of strength training to your running might be the missing piece in your performance puzzle.

Strength, rate of force development and running economy

Strength training develops maximal strength, rate of force development (RFD), running economy and time-to-exhaustion, all of which directly impact running performance.

The evidence:

Research exploring the effects of strength training on experienced, long distance runners demonstrated that strength training resulted in an improvement in maximal strength of 33.2%, an enhancement in RFD of 26%, a 5% improvement in running economy, and an increase in time to exhaustion whilst running at maximal aerobic speed of 21.3%. These improvements were obtained without changes in bodyweight and were a direct result of the strength training intervention.

Another study investigating the effect strength training has on stride length in runners also demonstrated positive results. The research revealed that the loss of stride length which occurs during an intense running session can be reduced via strength training.

The why

Each step a runner takes can be regarded as a small percentage of their maximum strength. A running step becomes an even smaller percentage of maximum strength as a runner gets stronger, allowing for a greater strength reserve. Therefore, by becoming stronger, a running step is made slightly easier and the entire run is less demanding.

By improving a runner’s RFD, muscles do not have to contract for as long to produce a similar level of force. The shorter contraction time can allow the muscles more time to receive oxygen and nutrients in between each contraction which can delay fatigue. The improvements in maximal strength and RFD may be due to improved neural drive and a more optimal activation of muscle fibres. Hence, when a runner gets stronger they may be able to use fewer muscle fibres to perform the same running task, thereby improving their running economy which can lead to a longer time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed.

Let's recap:

Strength training clearly benefits running performance. If you’re a runner, don’t be afraid to pick up a barbell every once in a while. Get the most out of your running by adding strength training to your training program.