Let’s face it: to get better at something you do it again and again… and again. Practice, practice, practice.
Especially when starting a new sport, this method of practising the same thing over and over can show great improvements in performances and results.
But what about when you’re serious about training and feel like your improvements are limited?
Is there something else us runners can, other than run, to improve our performance?
Yes, there is – resistance training, and this term is used to summarise exercises which involve using some form of resistance. This can include using barbells, therabands, plyometrics and bodyweight circuits.
Note: the terms resistance training and strength training can be used interchangeably.
Resistance training lets you run faster
Whilst running long distances is a great way to build cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance, there comes a point where you will struggle to run faster because although your lungs and legs can handle running for long periods of time, your legs do not have the muscular strength to produce the power needed to run faster.
Resistance training will recruit more type 2a and 2b – fast oxidative glycolytic and fast glycolytic muscle fibres which will allow you to produce a greater amount of force with and without oxygen. This force will let you push harder off the ground, directly translating to a quicker running speed.
In addition, by strengthening your core muscles in your back, upper body and hips you reduce your risk of injury and are more likely to maintain good form during runs and races which will let you hold your pace. By improving your form, you improve running efficiency and over those long distances, these marginal differences in your posture when running can mean a lot.
If you are a serious runner, to run further or faster you need greater strength endurance – especially in your hip flexors. These muscles are responsible for driving your leg forwards. As you fatigue, your range of motion in your hip flexors as you run tends to decrease. As a result, your stride length decreases and your pace slows. Having sufficient strength in the hip flexors can go a long way in helping you run faster as can increase your muscular strength in other specific muscles used in running.
Resistance training will not make you lose fitness
On the contrary, a study carried out in 2008 has shown strength training to improve running economy, and during the study, the runners had no losses in VO2 max and ran a faster 5k at the end of the study.
The best exercises are the ones which mimic running action in the specific muscles targeted and uses the same muscular contraction which is performed during running e.g. when doing backwards lunges with a barbell, drive your back leg forth quickly into a high knee drive to mimic the explosive generation of power when you push off the ground.
By using specialised resistance training to make each exercise specific to running, it can help you develop a kinaesthetic feel so that when you are running, you can better detect when you are losing your form. By having this internal feeling of when your form is dropping, you can attempt to make improvements to correct your form as well.
General resistance training will definitely help, but by making exercises more specific to running itself and using specialised resistance training you will see far greater improvements over time.
If you are lacking the time and want to squeeze some resistance training into your weekly routine, check out this no equipment bodyweight circuit.
Here is an example of a specialised resistance training circuit used in the Oregon Project with a focus on maintaining stability in their runners to reduce the risk of injury and keep a strong, stable running form.
Are you considering taking up resistance training and what exercises are you thinking of doing?