Strength training and running: A strong connection

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For some runners, strength training plays little to no part in their training program. Suggestions that gym training will slow a runner’s performance or leave them feeling too sore to run at their best are common arguments against picking up a barbell. But if improving your running performance is a high priority, it’s worth it to spend a little less time running and a little more time in the gym.  Strength training may help you reach your running goals sooner, and ultimately run faster! Here’s a few reasons why if you’re a runner, Freeletics Gym could be the missing puzzle piece.

Strength, Rate of Force Development and Running Economy

Strength training can play a very important role in improving running performance. Maximal strength, rate of force development (RFD), running economy, and time to exhaustion are all abilities that directly impact running performance. Strength is a fundamental bio motor ability, that can influence other abilities. Strength training is able to increase maximal strength, RFD, and running economy. All of which directly lead to improvements in running performance.

The proof: what science has shown us

Research exploring the effects eight weeks of strength training had on experienced, long distance runners demonstrated that the strength trained group displayed 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 or maximal oxygen uptake. The improvements only occurred in the strength training group, and appear to be a direct result of the strength training intervention.

Another study investigating the effect strength training has on stride length in experienced runners also demonstrated positive results for the participants performing strength training. So, strong runners are able to make longer steps. The research revealed that the loss of stride length which occurs during an intense running session can be reduced via strength training. Stride length is an essential component of distance running. The participants performing strength training were able to lessen the reduction in stride length that typically occurs under fatigue. This is another example of strength training directly leading to gains in running performance. The research is clear; well structured strength training can boost running performance.

What are the reasons for these results?

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.

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.