Note from RT: The author is offering some brief guidelines to strength training in running. If you wish to explore this more you should consult an accredited professional before proceeding with your strength program.
Developing power specific to distance running
By Mark Blomeley for The Runner's Tribe' Run School
The more powerful you are the more potential you have to be a better runner. If you have a greater potential power then you have to operate at a lower percentage of your power potential when you’re running 5, 10, 15, 20km etc.
So what is power anyway?
Power is essentially taking a load and seeing how fast we can move it. If we look at the sport of Olympic weightlifting it’s a good example of power. Ultimately to be able to complete the lift the athlete needs to move the bar at a certain speed (around 1m per second) otherwise the lift will fail. Therefore they are trying to move the heaviest load possible at this speed. When it comes to Olympic lifting and strength sports, in general, the heavier you are the more you can lift due to increased muscle size and overall strength. That’s why they have weight divisions in these sorts of sports.
So back to running. Our focus with running from a power point of view is again to look at optimising the two factors that make up power, i.e. load and velocity. In this case, our load is not an external load but it is us, our body weight. Therefore we should aim to minimise our body weight without then compromising the speed at which we can move ourselves. The other factor then is the speed at which we can move ourselves. The stronger we are relative to our body weight we then have a greater power potential. Then we just need to learn how to apply our strength into generating power efficiently with as much force as possible.
You need to get strong relative to your body weight and then work on becoming more efficient (running better) and effective (working specific drills for power) in training.
Most of our power in running is generated in a more horizontal direction. In other words, we want to optimise our power to push us forward rather than straight up. Therefore the exercises we choose in the gym should aim to assist this.
Can we use Olympic lifting and vertical power exercises such as box jumps? Yes, but we need to understand that we are not specifically training running specific power. So we can still use these and they will assist our overall power but we also need to, if not more so concentrate on power exercises that are specific to running.
Exercises like Single leg standing long jumps, bounding, horizontal jumping lunges and jumping lunges up stairs are all such exercises that provide more specificity in our running power training. These exercises are specific because they produce power horizontally and they utilise your body weight only, which again is specific to running.
RT’s Run School featuring Mark Blomeley. Mark is a strength and conditioning coach with over 10 years experience in the sports and fitness industry. Currently, in Brisbane, he is a specialist strength and conditioning coach for runners from international standard elites to the everyday runner.
For more advice on running, strength training for runners and becoming a better athlete go to markblomeley.com.au.
I’d like to thank the Author for their article, their perspectives, and their practical suggestions. I just can’t help but wonder whether we’ve overanalysed running and whether their too much focus on the sports science of enhancing performance. We all aspire to be the best we can, and to run as fast as we can, but all of us have a ‘ceiling limit’ that we eventually reach. I guess the argument could be that this ceiling limit may be raised by power/strength/plyometric training; but there is evidence to suggest that this may not always be needed as part of a formal running program. The current opinion seems that any form of resistance training is essentially required to bolster the musculoskeletal system and thus attenuate the risk for overload related injury. Indeed, most of Australia’s best runners currently engage in various forms of resistance work as part of their (pre)injury rehabilitation and performance improvement. In discussing this topic with older runners and those who were around at the time of some of our best running greats in the mid 1980’s to mid 1990’s, regimented progressive resistance training was not commonplace in these elites. One wonders then that the lack of challenge on the best times of two of our greatest race’s, the Sydney-based City to Surf, and the marathon (in general) are partly due to too much focus on developing the “whole” runner, rather than focussing purely on what is needed to lower a given time. Interestingly, these same great runners, had illustrious Olympic, Commonwealth and National careers and (may have nursed/managed but) were largely unrestricted by injury. It remains to be seen as to who of the current crop of runners can go sub-2.10 in the marathon (and still be minutes from these great runners) as well as attack the 40-min mark in the City to Surf. This writer is of the opinion that there is precious time in the training week, and too much of it is spent in activities supporting the running itself. In providing some actual food for thought, the following is a link to full-text of a comprehensive research study investigating physical, anthropometric, physiological, and demographic aspects of the very best Eritrean and Spanish distance (5000m) runners. [http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/pdf/10.1139/h06-029] The study essentially found as a principal finding that the Eritreans had exceptional running economy, and this was likely a key difference to the studied Spanish cohort. As a side note, the Spanish were studied at that time because they were considered to be the best of the Caucasian runners to challenge the East Africans. For mine, Table 3 of this journal article contained some telling information, and I think, important things for current aspiring runners to consider. The Caucasians completed more km’s per week and more training(running) sessions per week than the Eritreans. All studied Caucasians (n=9) undertook strength training, whereas not a single Eritrean (n=7) strength trained. This is remarkable given that there were Olympic and World-championship 10,000m place-getters in the studied cohort. Other findings were that the Eritrean’s slept for 11 hours on average per day compared with 8.5 in the Spanish cohort (which included Siesta). More evidence exists and arguably more evidence is still justified; however studies like this, and evidence of our lack of sub-2.10 marathon and sub-41 City to Surf performances, suggest that our current “Sports Science-fed” runners are potentially undertaking too much in their overall program, not resting enough, and underperforming compared to runners of past and their likely competition counter-parts. Thanks for reading
Exceptional comment! RT appreciates this concise, polite, and thoughtful user post.