WHY IS STRENGTH & CONDITIONING VITAL FOR DISTANCE RUNNERS? 5 KEY BENEFITS FROM TIME IN THE GYM
Distance runners are traditionally very wary of lifting weights. Time away from running is something that runners think is, not just a luxury, but in many cases the wrong thing to do. More miles is the only way forward. Mileage is important, but the reality is that most amateur runners would not cope with the demands of significantly increased mileage. They would actually get more out of the time spent in the gym – Strength & Conditioning.
Having just been on a UKSCA course, Strength & Conditioning was well defined as “training to make you more athletic to perform better in your sport.” Having seen the ESPN Sports Science clip on Meb Keflezighi, it is amazing to hear that he spends 75% of a marathon in the air. With that in mind being more athletic sounds quite appealing to me.
So here are 5 keys benefits of strength and conditioning:
- BECOME MORE INJURY RESISTANT – as I am currently suffering from an ankle injury this is a vital reason in my opinion to hit the gym. Strengthening muscles and ligaments stabilises the joints making related injuries less likely. Increased tissue strength helps to absorb the impacts from take off and landing more effectively. Distance running may be sub maximal for the most part, but significant stress is put on the body every time you take off and land. A stronger body means you are less likely to suffer from overuse injuries. A well structured plan can promote muscle balance which again reduces injury risk further. And finally bone density increases from weight training. Strong bones are a must for runners.
- BUILD POSTURAL STRENGTH FOR MORE RUNNING EFFICIENCY – some runners consider technique to be quite important. Check out my article on technique for more information. But in order to maintain technique into the later miles of a long-distance race you must maintain good posture. This means strength is a must through the postural muscles of the back, around the hip and the hamstrings. Exercises like squats and deadlift variations are great for increasing strength in vital muscle groups, enabling you to stand taller and maintain a higher hip position throughout the run.
- COMPLEMENT YOUR RUNNING BY DEVELOPING OTHER ASPECTS OF FITNESS – running is a repetitive action by nature. Distance running is an endurance event with the muscles needing to continue functioning to a high level for long periods of time to propel you to the finish. However, muscle strength and power are also needed. Strength in the muscle allows you to absorb the impact of landing and maintaining a rigidity in the muscle is an advantage. Strength and power will allow you to develop a more powerful foot strike, meaning you can run at the same speeds more easily or run faster without an increase in energy expenditure. Higher loads with low reps 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps with loads 80-90% of your 1 Rep Max is the way to go to build a stronger body.
- REDUCE GROUND CONTACT TIME – the use of Olympic lifts and plyometric type training will help develop the muscles elastic capacity. The stretch shortening cycle is the natural springiness of the muscle that you can train and take advantage of. Medicine ball throws and jumping exercises will help develop the stretch shortening cycle and a truly athletic running action. Check out my Instagram profile (jimmy_run_coachfg) for some ideas of plyometric exercises you can start to use.
- BUILD THE RUNNING MUSCLES – in point two I spoke about running efficiency. Many amateur runners are quad dominant, hinged at the hip, over stride and as the race goes on, these issues become more pronounced. Building hamstring and glute strength in particular will not only help you be more efficient, but they will help you pull the body through with each stride and generate pure speed. Surely that sounds good to any runner!