How You Strength Train Matters
What you do in your program in terms of the type of strength training, exercise selection, and intensity of the movements, can affect the performance gains transported to run activities. Several studies not only looked at the effects of strength training on running, but also compared the type of strength training performed to see if one way of doing it produced better performance gains than another. In most of the research, strength training fell into one of three categories listed in the following pages.
The type or category of strength training performed in the studies did appear to have different levels of benefit to run performance.
Maximum Strength Training.
This involved heavy loads and low repetitions. The resistance was in the range of 80 percent of the maximum amount that could be performed one time (1RM), and the repetitions were in the range of 4 to 8.
Circuit Training or Endurance Strength Training.
The program design of these groups was a little more varied, but all consisted of lighter loads and more repetitions or timed sets.
Explosive or Plyometric Training.
These types of training consisted of lighter loads but higher peak forces. The objective of this method of strength training is to accelerate the weight (or body) as fast as possible, generating as much force as possible in the shortest amount of time. Now, I need to point out that although explosive and plyometric training methods are similar, and I have put them into the same category for the purpose of this book, they are not exactly the same.
Plyometrics are explosive movements in which the deceleration of your body weight is controlled and transitioned to acceleration as quickly as possible. The muscle is contracting eccentrically on the descent because it is lengthening as it contracts to control the weight. The muscle then contracts concentrically as it shortens and accelerates the weight. The elastic component described earlier comes into play with these types of movements because it allows energy to be stored as the muscles are stretched and released as they contract.
For example, if you did a squat jump starting from the squat position and jumped as high as possible, that would be an explosive movement. However, if you did the same squat jump but started from a standing position, dropped into the squat, and then immediately exploded into the jump, that would also be explosive, but it would be considered a plyometric movement. In the plyometric movement, energy is stored during the deceleration and used during the subsequent jump, which results in a higher jump due to the stored elastic energy. More examples of plyometric movements in the exercise library include skaters, lunge hops, and ski jumps.
More running performance gains were found with maximal strength efforts and explosive movements. The studies mentioned in the above section, that showed the most increase in running economy and time to exhaustion, used maximal strength training. Adding any type of strength training in general has been shown to benefit running, however, the studies comparing maximal efforts and explosive/plyometric movements tended to show stronger improvements in run performance or improvements over a wider range of variables.3,5,6 These variables included a three-kilometer time trial, peak running performance on a graded treadmill test, before-and-after oxygen use at a given speed, and perceived exertion.
When the plyometric training was compared to explosive training with concentric contractions only, both programs resulted in improvements in running performance(5). However, the plyometric training group showed the most gains, with a 7 percent improvement in run economy, and the explosive, concentric group showed a 4 percent improvement. On top of that, these improvements were obtained with just one strength training session per week!
The circuit training groups in the studies still made significant but smaller improvements in the run performance variables measured.
These improvements in strength and running performance came with no increase in body weight. This should come as good news for runners concerned about extra weight that may come with building muscle. The reason given for this is that with the minimal and explosive-type weight training, much of the strength gains come from neuromuscular adaptations, versus an increase in muscle mass. Also, remember that during the training periods studied, the run groups were all still doing their endurance-training program, which may have contributed to maintaining weight as well.
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