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Monday, January 21, 2013

Should Endurance Athletes Strength Train

So the big question this weekend I am seeing is:
Should runners strength train? Many are afraid of “bulking” up, or their legs getting too muscular which will slow them down.
Well I’m here to tell you that resistance training is essential to any runners weekly plan!
Here is why:
  • Improves running economy, which reduces the amount of energy it takes to run at a given pace.
  • Improves length of time running before exhaustion sets in.
  • Improves cycling and running efficiency, particularly as an endurance athlete ages. Research.
  • Swimming is highly technical and thus upper-body strength training plays a minimal role.  According to research, swimmers require highly specific forms of strength training to realize performance improvements.
  • The athlete has better control over movement and enhanced ability to generate power.
  • Helps strengthen supporting muscles and allows the maintenance of form/biomechanics when the prime movers begin to fatigue (normally late in races).
Now some of this you may have already known, but there is always research to back this up! Take a look at this interesting piece from the European Journal of Applied Physiology. This was done with all endurance athletes.
This study compared the effects of 1) mixed maximal strength training & explosive strength training with 2) maximal (not mixed) strength training & 3) explosive strength training when combined with endurance training (running). The study lasted 8 weeks, where they were split into four groups:
  1. maximal strength training (MAX) (n=11)
  2. explosive (EXP) (n=10)
  3. mixed maximal & explosive (MIX) (n=9)
  4. circuit training control group (CON) (n=7)
Strength training (and circuit training) was performed 1 to 2-times per week (supervised); whereas, endurance (running) training was performed 3 to 4-times per week. Endurance sessions (heart rate monitored) were performed on non-strength training days at an intensity below lactate threshold (pre-determined).

Endurance training volume was (in km and individualized based on training background and current fitness level):
  • 42.6 + 30.5 for MAX
  • 40.7 + 30.5 for EXP
  • 33.0 + 28.5 for MIX
  • 25.5 + 22.0 for CON

Total endurance training time per week was 5:38 + 0.56 hours; therefore, the researches were able to claim relative volume and intensity was similar.

Strength and explosive sessions were preceded with 20 to 30-minutes of low-intensity cardio and warm-up sets with sub maximal loads (squat and leg press exercise). 2 to 3-minutes break was given in between exercise sets for all the three strength and/or explosive training groups.

Significant increases were seen in maximal dynamic strength (1RM), countermovement jump performance (power measure) and maximal muscle activation during the 1RM in the maximal strength training group. Peak running speed and running speed at respiratory compensation threshold improved significantly in the maximal strength training group, explosive training group and mixed maximal & explosive training groups without a significant change in VO2-max or running economy.
The researchers state that low volume maximal strength training, explosive training or mixed maximal strength training & explosive training, when combined with a high(er) volume endurance (running) training program over an 8-week intervention period resulted in significant gains in strength, power and endurance performance measures (peak running speed & running speed at respiratory compensation threshold).
Strength training can be attributed to either an increase in muscle cross sectional area and/or via neuromuscular acclimations (obviously, we know which result you runners want). Previous studies have linked strength training (in combination with endurance-type training) with improved performance economy (e.g. running and cross country skiing) in both males and females and in trained and un-trained populations.

Performance economy essentially means improvement in voluntary muscle activation (leading to increases in strength and power production), which is associated with an increase in speed and reduced oxygen consumption (cost).
Mixed strength training and explosive training, strength training alone and explosive training alone appear to be helpful in improving overall strength and power development in runners (recreational only running less than lactate threshold).
So I believe it is safe to say that strength training in endurance athletes results in a greater power and speed development! Many runners are just unsure of what to do in the gym.  They MUST make time for resistance training if they want to get the most out of their bodies!
If you are unsure of what to do give me a call or contact me and we can talk about a program for you! Don’t miss out on having your maximum potential show on your race day!
Stay tuned for a new post on what exactly runners should avoid and what they should do if they are at the gym!
Until next time
Stay Strong!
References Taipale, R.S., Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Nummela, A., and Hakkinen, K. (2012). Neuromuscular adaptations during combined strength and endurance training in endurance runners: Maximal versus explosive strength training or a mix of both. Eur J of Appl Phys. Epub ahead of print.

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