How to increase your performance and become more resilient
Written by: Nemanja (Nem) Sambaher, Reg. Kinesiologist, Msc, CPT
To improve your running performance, it would logically make sense to focus just on running and increasing your mileage. While this strategy might be beneficial for building endurance, if the muscles are not strong enough to absorb this extra stress from running, stress will get absorbed elsewhere and will eventually lead to injuries. If you want to perform at your full potential, you need to take a comprehensive approach to your training. This means targeting areas of fitness you may not normally pay attention to like flexibility, balance, mobility, strength and power.
When we say strength training, we mean exercises that are used for the purposes of increasing one’s strength. This can be accomplished by performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups or performing exercises with weights, bands, chains, etc. Strength training can be beneficial for anyone, but more specifically to running, it has the following 3 main benefits:
- Improved Running Economy
Want to run greater distances? Want to run for longer but keep the same pace? Like the fuel economy of a car, the less energy and oxygen you need to run at a certain pace, the longer you can run. Several research studies have shown that runners who incorporated strength training into their routine were able to increase their running economy, i.e. they were running at a faster pace over the same distance and/or increasing duration at the same pace, due to a decrease in required oxygen consumption (energy demand).
- Improved Running Speed
Many runners perform hill runs, tempo runs, sprint and interval workouts as a tool to improve their running speed. Even though this is a good way to improve your speed, it will only take you so far. To fully develop your speed potential, you will need to build your strength which will provide foundation for power and speed. With a properly designed strength training program we are teaching the body to recruit more muscle fibers more quickly which will then allow you to run faster. In other words, the stronger you are relative to your bodyweight, the faster you will be.
- Injury Prevention
Best way to protect body from injuries is to make it strong. Strong muscles, tendons and ligaments protect against impact with each stride, improve form and can help prevent breakdown. A strong body properly activates stabilizers before the foot hits the ground and keeps the pelvis stable and neutral. Most runners lack strength in at least one muscle group, which will lead to other muscles becoming overworked. Furthermore, one of the greatest injury risk factors are body asymmetries or relative differences in muscle strength, mobility, stability and mechanics between sides of the body. Properly designed weight training can correct and/or diminish the degree of these imbalances, that may prevent most of the overuse injuries like knee pain, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and shin splits, etc.
A lot of runners worry that by doing strength training they will add too much muscle mass and become bulky. This concern stems from the fact that increased bodyweight will increase the metabolic cost of running and thus make you slower. One only has to look at the best distance runners and notice that they are all very light. However; to make any meaningful increase in muscle mass one needs to train for prolonged periods of time, periodize their strength training, have adequate protein and calorie intake and almost eliminate any form of running from their program. In addition, the female population has a lower blood testosterone concentration which makes it even more difficult to increase muscle mass in this population. Considering all these factors, it becomes clear that runners should not worry about strength training making them bulky and slowing them down. To the contrary; a properly designed and supervised strength training will make you faster, more resilient and decrease the risk of injuries!