Millions of people around the world make running their favorite exercise. And whether you’ve just started running and want to run 5K or run a marathon, you’re probably looking for ways to improve.
While most training programs for runners focus primarily on increase the amount running than you do, becoming a better runner isn’t just about running more miles. In fact, what many runners don’t realize is the importance of including strength training as part of your program.
1. Improves performance
Running economy is a key factor in endurance running performance. It is the amount of oxygen your body consumes at different running speeds. Improving running economy can help people run farther and faster – with research showing that more economical runners are able to use their energy more efficiently during their runs.
It has always been shown that strength training improve running economy. This is because strength training, such as intense resistance exercises (squats or leg press) or bodyweight plyometrics (jumping and jumping) can improve the use of elastic energy – which means you are better able to propel your body forward, reducing the amount of work the muscles actually have to do.
strength training can even help people run faster. This can be explained by the changes that occur in our muscle fibersor because strength training alters our brain and nervous system so that our muscles are better able to apply force during movement.
This could be particularly advantageous in middle-distance events, such as running events between 800m and 3000m.
2. May Reduce Risk of Injury
One of the disadvantages of running is that it comes with a relatively high risk of injury to the legs, feet and ankles due to overuse. Some research suggests that approximately 40% of runners get injured each year of training.
But strength training can help reduce the number of overuse injuries that runners get. This could be due to the positive changes in healthy muscles, tendons and bones that occur as a result of strength training.
Strength training can improve the strength of the hip abductors (which help provide stability during movement), which can reduce instances of iliotibial band syndrome, a common knee injury caused by the iliotibial band (which extends from the pelvic bone to the knee) rubbing against the hip and knee bones. Strength training can also help improve ankle strength, which is a known risk factor for Achilles tendon injuries.
Although there is promising early evidence that strength training reduces injury risk in runners, more research is needed to confirm this. Corn general guidelines suggest that performing short-duration, high-intensity strength training, such as lower-body resistance exercises (including squats and lunges) may protect against overuse injuries in runners.
3. Improves the way you run
About 80% of the energy we use when we run serves to support our body weight and propel our body forward. So if a runner can reduce the amount of movement from their center of mass (the balance point of the body) up and down (called vertical oscillation) while running, they could be more effective.
To understand this, we need to consider Newton’s Laws of Motion. Gravity accelerates our body mass towards the center of the earth and we counteract this by applying an equal and opposite force against it. The longer it takes us to apply this force, the more our center of mass will move downwards and therefore the longer our foot will have to be in contact with the ground every step we take.
If we have stronger muscles and tendons, we can reduce this movement and bounce back more easily each time our foot makes contact with the ground. Strength training improves the strength of our muscles and tendons and the speed at which force can be applied. It is a factor that helps improve our operating economy.
Some studies also show that strength training improves torso and hip biomechanics which should in theory lead to more efficient operation and better operating economy. As such, runners can benefit from many strength exercises such as squats, lunges, and step-ups that help build core and lower extremity strength.
It is recommended that runners do at least 2-3 strength training sessions a week for at least six to 14 weeks to start. Many different types of strength training are likely to be beneficial, but heavy strength training (lifting a difficult amount of weight) and plyometric training (like jumping, hopping, jumping) have been shown to be the most advantageous for performance.
All runners who want to start strength training should work with an expert and build slowly while aiming to be coherent. Plyometric training should start with low impact exercises, such as box jumps or jump rope, and progress gradually. For strength training, we recommend moves that engage the whole body, like squats, lunges, and step-ups. We also recommend exercises aimed at strengthening specific muscles prone to overuse injuries, such as the calves and hip muscles.
As well as improving running performance, resistance training has many other health benefits – with just 30-90 minutes per week sufficient to reduce the risk of premature death from all causes.
Matthew Wright, Lecturer in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, University of Teesside
Jonathan Taylor, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise, University of Teesside
This article was first published on The conversation