A few weeks ago, I gave you the lowdown about how to get faster. I introduced you to several core running workout concepts: the word “fartlek”; the idea that hills are good for you; and the necessity of running around 400 meter ovals while timing yourself and gasping for breath. These are the types of running workouts that you can do to make yourself a more efficient (therefore faster) runner. But have you thought about strength training?
If running efficiency is a path to fast, strength training is the path to efficient. (I know, I know, there is a school of thought that argues that if you want to make your running more efficient/get faster, you merely need to run more. Back in the day, coaches would sometimes gruffly tell you that if you had time for strength training, you really weren’t doing enough mileage.)
Most of the research coming out of the field of exercise science, however, suggests that strength training can accomplish several things for the runner.
- Improve running economy
Through strength training, a runner can develop a more solid base through the development of core strength. He or she can strengthen basic biomechanics, master form, establish a more controlled stride, and waste less energy on unnecessary movement. Being stronger allows a runner to rapidly correct muscle imbalances that if not addressed can throw off his or her entire running form. More efficient form should also result in more comfortable, faster running.
- Avoid injury
Although it’s a wonderful sport, running can lead to injury. A 1992 study of the literature on running injury rates revealed that the yearly incident rate varied between 37 and 56 percent, while a 2011 assessment concluded that the average rate hovered around 50 percent per year. (This number may be on the low side as many of us unwisely ignore injuries until they become chronic and intrusive.) A review of historic data from the past thirty years indicates that despite great leaps forward in running-related technologies, the yearly percentage of runners laid low with various injuries hasn’t really changed much. If you’re a runner, you’ll probably get injured at some point. This is not the greatest news, but strength training can help you get injured less.
Incorporate strength training into your training at least once a week to strengthen your core strength, contribute to better posture, and increase bone density. It will also allow you to increase lean muscle and strengthen muscles, tendons and bones. All of this will help to improve your running mechanics, which will, in turn, allow you to avoid running injuries. Coach Jack Daniels, for instance, reminds athletes, “Nothing leads to running injuries more quickly than poor running mechanics.” He recommends ending a run in which you start to feel that your mechanics are breaking down or are getting “sloppy.” This can lead to injury and should be addressed by some additional time doing strength training.
- Recover quickly
This point is closely connected to injury prevention: you need to be healthy so that you can train for long periods of time. Consistency is of paramount importance for most running goals, from getting faster, to running smoothly and easily, to getting fitter by losing weight. It all depends on being able to get out and run. Strength training keeps you in shape so you can stay strong and put in more miles.
Strength training, according to researchers, can improve endocrine and immune function –– which can be compromised by endurance training. Have you ever gotten a cold after bumping up your mileage or intensity? Strength training might be able to help with that. Simply put, consistent strength training will help you to safely handle more running. So, in trying to run more by neglecting strength training, you could get injured and actually run less. If you aren’t hurt, you can work harder and recover more quickly.
- Strength training works
If you are still not convinced that strength training should be a critical component of your training regime, there are plenty of scientific studies to back it up. As early as 1988, a University of Illinois study put runners and cyclists on a resistance-training program for 10 weeks, three times a week. The cyclists’ leg strength improved by 30 per cent and runners’ short interval run time improved by 13 per cent.
Mackenzie Lobby, writing for Running Times, assessed the recent literature on the relationship between strength training and running and found that collectively these studies pointed to a collective 4.6 percent improvement in running economy and a 2.9 percent improvement in runners’ 3K and 5K performances. (http://www.runnersworld.com/rt-web-exclusive/how-strength-training-benefits-runners)
Let’s do the math, then: if you’re running a 5K time of 20 minutes without strength training, the studies suggest that you could be running a 19:02 if you consistently did quality strength workouts. I will just leave that there and let you draw your own conclusions about the utility of strength training.
I’ve seen the light! Now what?
Wait – before you go down to the basement and blow the dust off your old lifting bench, you might want to consult a trainer to guide you through the numerous exercises that will help improve your strength and run injury-free. (It’s not all dumbbells any more.) A qualified trainer knows not only what to do, but can explain how and why to do it. He or she will make sure that you are doing strength movements using proper form so that you get the most out of your workouts.
Runners that have successfully incorporated strength training into their routines also find that training with a group can provide necessary support and motivation. If you want to know more about how you can apply strength training to your own running, be sure to check out “Running With Power” an introduction to strength training led by Adam Harding and Kory McCoy that will take place on Tuesday, August 25, from 6:00-7:00 PM at Fleet Feet Albany (https://www.facebook.com/events/889540177786640/)
Addressing soreness through trigger point therapy
Finally, after you have done your strength training and running, there is a good chance that you will develop some muscle soreness. Do you sometimes find that you are still sore after doing basic stretching? You might need to go further and address your myofascial trigger points –– the irritable, tender spots (knots) in the fascia surrounding your skeletal muscle. These “trigger points” can be massaged and soreness reduced through trigger point therapy. If you would like to know more about this technique for reducing muscle soreness, be sure to attend “Let’s Roll & Recover” led by Ryan from Trigger Point Therapy at Fleet Feet Albany on Tuesday, August 11, beginning at 6:00 PM. (https://www.facebook.com/events/835957403139168/)
Paradoxically, then, strength training and trigger point therapy are two non-running activities that can really boost your running and keep you healthy and happy in the sport you love. What approaches have you taken to improving your strength and flexibility? Please tell us about them in the comments.