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Stronger Running: Part 1

What Makes a Strong Runner

Imagine a runner who lacks solid stance or good posture. When he or she is running, you may see the person sink a little with each step. You may notice his or her hips drop on one side each time he or she lands on the other leg. The person’s core may be soft, like a bowl of jelly, and provide no stability for the lower extremities to push off. The core may also poorly transfer force from the upper body and provide little support from good posture. You have probably seen this person running. You might be this person.

Now imagine the person with strength and stability in his or her hips and legs. There is no sinking or softness when the person’s foot makes contact with the ground. The ankle, leg, and hip stay perfectly aligned and absorb that energy to release to aid in the push-off. The person’s core is like a rock-solid piece of concrete that transfers the drive from the arms and gives a solid platform for the lower extremities to push from. His or her posture allows for maximum room for the diaphragm to expand during breathing. This person looks better, feels better, and runs faster and more efficiently.

There is a ton of research out there to support the idea that strength training is beneficial to run performance. This blog series focuses on body-weight strength training methods such as Suspension Training(TRX). I feel that this method is the most accessible and demand specific type of strength training to running. The research on suspension training and run performance is scarce, and badly needed. Due to this I am including some studies that used body-weight and explosive-type exercises that I felt were very similar to some of the exercises using a suspended trainer.

What Studies Say about Strength Training for Running
  1. Strength training improves running economy.  Ok. What exactly is running economy? The term running economy basically refers to the amount of oxygen you need at a given submaximal pace. For example, say you run an eight- minute mile on a flat grade for a certain duration. If you improve your running economy, you will be able to run the same eight-minute mile but need less oxygen to do so.  You will achieve a lower heart rate and accumulate less fatigue for the same amount of work.  By improving your running economy, you become a more efficient runner because you lower your energy cost at a given speed.

Running economy measurements and tests are done with the runner performing at a submaximal level. Most of the studies I researched that looked at the effect strength training has on running economy in experienced runners. The pace used was based on each runner’s marathon pace, but for a much shorter duration.(2,6,8,9) The same run at the same pace was performed before and after a six-to-eight-week training block. Runners who performed strength training during this time were compared to those who didn’t. Oxygen use was measured during this run. The consistent results in the literature show that the strength training group needed less oxygen to perform that exact same effort after adding strength training to their running program compared to the groups who only performed run training. The amount of improvement was in the range of 5 percent.

  1. Strength training improves time to exhaustion. The tests measuring time to exhaustion were generally a graded treadmill test where the speed was increased every three minutes until the runner was too tired to continue. A time-to-exhaustion test was also performed and measured before and after the training block in the studies previously mentioned (as well as many others). The group that performed strength training showed greater improvements in this test as They could continue further into the test, and achieve higher peak speeds before reaching exhaustion.

  1. VO2 max values did not improve, but performance did. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that can be used and is usually measured with harder efforts of increasing intensity. It’s interesting that VO2 max values did not change after strength training was added and the runners were retested. This means that the strength training did not raise the ceiling of the amount of oxygen that could be used, yet the runners still became more efficient and were able to perform more work. One possible reason for this is the increased efficiency, including the ability to store and release elastic energy during the run stride, which I talk about in the following
Next section PART TWO: Why does strength training improve running?

List of studies reference in Stronger Running blog Series

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