Improving Running Performance
Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, from recreational to competitive, all types of people enjoy running. Many of these runners are chasing the ability to run better, faster, further, and the question among runners and coaches is how to make that happen. The long-held belief is that a runner’s top priority is improving VO2 max, and that strength and power training will not help (Beattie et al., 2017) is not valid. Recent literature supports the importance of another aspect of running performance, running economy (RE). RE is defined as the oxygen consumption required to run at a given pace at a set velocity (Saunders et al., 2006 & Fei et al., 2019). Thus, improved RE results in a runner that utilizes less O2 for a given pace.
Increasing RE in runners can be done by adding strength and power training to existing programs (Saunders et al., 2006 & Beattie et al., 2017). These two modes of training differ considerably, and both provide different physiological adaptations to the body. Moderate to heavy loads done at low velocities of 2-6 reps for 3-5 sets make up strength training (Barrie, 2020). Low or no-load high-velocity movements make up power training, typically comprised of bodyweight jumping exercises, also known as plyometrics or explosive strength training. Strength and power are attributes that athletes are constantly training to maximize their performance, but runners do not often consider these modalities.
Strength training enhances running mechanics by providing stability to the hips and knees; these improved mechanics may enhance RE (Moffit et al., 2020). On the other hand, explosive strength training helps improve reactive strength, enhancing the muscle’s ability to utilize elastic energy, which might be one of the most significant factors in improving RE (Fei et al., 2019). These new findings lead us to the clinical question of; which training modality, strength, or power leads to better improvements in RE?
Both strength and power are essential in running performance and can improve RE. Beattie et al. (2017), Saunders et al. (2009), and Fei et al. (2019) all concluded that the ability to utilize elastic energy is an essential factor in RE, thus in order to increase elastic energy use, high-velocity power training must be part of a runners training program. However, strength training offers benefits of its own that are considered essential prerequisites for safely training plyometrics (Baechle, T. & Earle, R., 2015) and (William, E. 2001). Maximal strength training increases tendon stiffness (William, E. 2001) and (Beattie et al., 2017), a basis for the elastic energy storage that is so important for power training. Maximal strength training also increases bone density (William, E. 2001) which is vital to reducing the risk of stress fracture common to runners. Lastly, plyometric training recommends basic strength requirements to ensure each athlete has the strength and speed base required for power activities (Beachle, T & Earle, R. 2015 p. 424).
There are a few different ways to safely program strength and power for runners. Beattie et al. (2017) programmed the first training block to be maximal strength training that transitioned to power training during the in-season. William, E. (2001) and Beachle, T. & Earle, R (2015) also support this program design to ensure proper strength for a plyometric program. A third option exists in well-trained athletes, and that is complex training. Complex training integrates maximal strength training with power training by alternating from one modality to another in the same training session (Barrie, B. 2020). Proper periodization is a vital part of successfully integrating strength and power training into a running program. A recommended ratio of strength and power training to running is one session for every three runs with at least 4-6 hours of rest between training sessions (Barrie, B., 2020).
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