Strength training and Running -The sciencey bit!!
by William Cuddihy (Read time 1-2min. For runners interested in current research)
In a recent blog post, I highlighted the importance or regular strength/resistance training as part of a well-balanced training programme for long-distance runners or all levels. The post focused on three papers (Bazyler et al., 2015; Suchomel et al., 2016; Suchomel et al., 2018) that reviewed and summarised the latest evidence to provide an easy to digest, take-home message. That message being that the inclusion of strength training can reduce the likelihood of injury and improve performance.
That’s the beauty of reviews like these; they simplify all the relevant research in one place. Their strength can also be a weakness as messages can become too simplified and reduce the integrity of the research to a good headline for a newspaper.
The systematic review and meta-analysis by Lauersen et al. (2013) looked at the effectiveness of different training interventions such as strength training, stretching, plyometrics and combinations of these to determine their effect on injury rates. The sports played by the participants in the studies included athletics, soccer, and basketball. The results of the study suggest that strength training can cause a large reduction in overuse and acute injuries by up to 50%. Strength training was found to be more effective than stretching on its own but the recommendation is to follow a multimodal approach to training by combining stretching, strength, and plyometric exercise to complement endurance training. Needless to say, physiotherapists like these results.
Delving deeper into the research that these reviews were based upon we see that the use of strength training can have positive effects on running performance. Before we get into that let me just specify that not all strength exercises/programmes are the same. Certain interventions can use a lower volume of reps and sets but heavier weights lifted (this would be closer to maximal strength training) while other interventions will be done with much lighter weights, usually faster or with an emphasis on control, for much more reps and sets (to build up endurance).
Plyometric training (hops, jumps etc) can often fall under the strength umbrella in the research, often referred to as reactive strength, explosive strength or power exercises. If you increase your strength and produce this force faster, you are increasing your power so strength and power are closely linked. These power exercises are very important for endurance running as your average power output over the course of a race and your maximal power output in your finishing sprint can play a huge part in your overall performance.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s start by looking at the effect of these power interventions on running performance. Paavolainen et al (2003) observed a 5.1% improvement in 5km time trial performance in elite cross country runners with the inclusion of jumps, short sprints, and light-weight resistance training(0-40% of 1 rep max - max weight lifted for one repitition) compared to those doing their normal running only training. There was no significant change in their VO2 max - standard measurement of aerobic fitness capacity - however. Berryman et al. (2010) found, in provincial-standard runners, an improvement in both vVO2 max - the speed at which you reach your aerobic capacity - and their 3km time trial performance.
The use of heavier weighted exercises has also been shown to be effective in improving performance in a study by Støren et al. (2008). Using 4 sets of 4 rep max half squats done 3 times a week for 8 weeks, the participants in the study - well trained runners with 5km times of approximately 18 mins - increased their time to exhaustion at their maximal aerobic speed by 21.3%. In more practical terms, they were able to run for an extra 72 seconds longer at a pace that exhausted them prior to starting the strength training.
These types of improvements have also been found in studies looking at using similar interventions but with endurance cyclists (Rønnestad et al., 2011) and cross country skiers (Østerås et al., 2002). If you are interested in staying free from injury and improving your performances then you should definitely be looking to include combinations of heavy and light, controlled and fast resistance training into your overall programme. It is safe to say that this type of training can definitely help you to get closer to your target whether that’s a place on the podium or getting below a certain time for a race.
Bazyler, C. D., Abbott, H. A., Bellon, C. R., Taber, C. B. and Stone, M. H. (2015) “Strength Training for Endurance Athletes,” Strength and Conditioning Journal, 37(2), pp. 1–12. doi: 10.1519/ssc.0000000000000131.
Berryman, N., Maurel, D. and Bosquet, L. (2010) “Effect of Plyometric vs. Dynamic Weight Training on the Energy Cost of Running,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(7), pp. 1818–1825. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181def1f5.
Lauersen, J. B., Bertelsen, D. M. and Andersen, L. B. (2013) “The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(11), pp. 871–877. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538.
Paavolainen, L., Hakkinen, K., Hamalainen, I., Nummela, A. and Rusko, H. (2003) “Explosive-strength training improves 5-km running time by improving running economy and muscle power,” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 13(4), pp. 272–272. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0838.2003.00340.x.
Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, E. A. and Raastad, T. (2011) “Strength training improves 5-min all-out performance following 185 min of cycling,” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21(2), pp. 250–259. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01035.x.
Støren, Ø., Helgerud, J., Støa, E. M. and Hoff, J. (2008) “Maximal Strength Training Improves Running Economy in Distance Runners,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), pp. 1087–1092. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e318168da2f.
Suchomel, T. J., Nimphius, S. and Stone, M. H. (2016) “The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance,” Sports Medicine, 46(10), pp. 1419–1449. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0.
Suchomel, T. J., Nimphius, S., Bellon, C. R. and Stone, M. H. (2018) “The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations,” Sports Medicine, 48(4), pp. 765–785. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-0862-z.
Østerås, H., Helgerud, J. and Hoff, J. (2002) “Maximal strength-training effects on force-velocity and force-power relationships explain increases in aerobic performance in humans,” European Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(3), pp. 255–263. doi: 10.1007/s00421-002-0717-y.