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Nov 22, 2019 11:17 PM EST

Strength Training Drives Better Running Performance

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Strength Training Drives Better Running Performance

(Photo : pixabay)

Having a lighter weight can improve the mobility of many runners. By contrast, weight lifting is all about getting more-eat more, lift heavier loads, then gain higher muscle mass. This is one of the reasons why others would say that "meathead-style strength training to improve running performance" doesn't make sense at all. 

Even so, numerous perspectives had been altered after Mo Farah revealed the secret of winning a double gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. He said, "hit the weight room!" (non verbatim), which gained widespread currency since then. 

Shortly after, many relative studies discovered that strength training could improve  maximal sprint speed, time trial performance, and running economy. Here are evidence-based reasons that can explain how strength training drives better running performance.

Enhances running economy 

Running economy (RE) measures how efficient a runner can be. Studies have shown how strength training improves a runner's efficiency. Sure, getting bulkier doesn't do any help to it. However, it's the neuromuscular factors and stiffer and springier tendons developed from strength and plyometric training that can make your strides become more efficient. 

One study revealed that long-distance runners could increase their time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed (MAS) by 21.3% and running economy by 5% after participating in an 8-week long maximal strength training.

Other related research has shown similar performance results-no proofs of hypertrophy, no increase in body weight, and no increase in muscle size. Therefore, it's the strength training's neural drive, strength gains, and muscular coordination that contribute to the runners' running economy. 

Offers fatigue-resistant muscle fibers 

Strength training increases the proportions of type II A "fast-twitch" muscle fibers. These are the fibers that generate more speed and power, but fatigue slowly. The thing is, runners tend to concentrate and more likely to develop these fibers as they train. Integrating strength and aerobic exercises then will offer runners the best fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. 

One Danish study examined endurance athletes who underwent strength training. The results showed that the athletes increased the proportion of their fast-twitch muscle fibers by 26-35%. This result can already be considered as a favorable shift for endurance performance. 

What's more, strength training, especially focusing on the lower body, allows you to produce more force when kicking off the ground. With a better running economy, increased proportions of type II muscle fibers, and the ability to have a better final kick, your speed will dramatically improve. 

Decreases fat percentage

In improving your overall running performance, the last thing you should gain is unnecessary fat. As indicated in the introduction, runners are recommended to be lightweight and have a lower body fat percentage for them to be faster. They tend to perform a very large volume of high-intensity training, such as distance running. 

Another solution to get a low body fat percentage is through strength training. In addition to the Danish study earlier, researchers also discovered that strength training could decrease body fat by 2% without any changes in the athletes' body mass. It's because an increase in lean muscle mass can improve metabolic rate, which, in turn, helps you lose excess fat. 

Improves structural balance and prevent possible injuries

Non-dominant or weaker sides of your body can throw your strides off and cause improper motor patterns, which can cause injuries for runners. Examples of these muscle imbalances are bunions and plantar fasciitis (feet), vastus medialis obliquus (quads), and weak calves. 

Single-sided strength training, such as a single-leg pitcher or rear-foot elevated squats, is one of the ways to correct these structural imbalances, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In equalizing runners' leg power and strength, steps-ups and forward lunges are recommended.

Strength training can also contribute to getting rid of joint discomfort, which runners usually suffer from regularly pounding the pavement. The training can increase your bone strength and prompt muscle protein synthesis in the connective tissues. 

Furthermore, according to Barbend, muscle protein synthesis can be further maximized with whey protein consumption. Whey protein has high biological value (assesses a protein's maximum potential quality) and high leucine (stimulates protein synthesis) content. Ideally, whey protein is recommended to be taken as pre- and post-workout supplementation. 

Increases antioxidant levels

Strenuous physical activities like running have been paradoxically associated with a high level of oxidative stress, causing chronic inflammation. Epidemiological data shows that the physical stress from a high volume of aerobic exercise can result in a cardiovascular health decline, such as atherosclerosis or the progression of arterial hardening. 

Recent research revealed that strength training could increase antioxidant levels, countering oxidative stress. A moderate to heavy strength training can reduce inflammatory responses or prevent the long-term debilitating impact of repetitive, intense physical stress. 

Supports insulin health

If you're insulin resistant, the chance is that oxidative stress from running will get even worse and cause you to have damaged cells and chronic inflammation. That's why insulin health is considered as a high priority component in your running performance. It plays a crucial role in replenishing glycogen stores, muscle recovery, and faster metabolism. 

The Harvard Gazette reported that muscle contractions that occur during strength training trigger your body to produce irisin. Irisin is an exercise-related hormone that can improve your insulin sensitivity. As you keep on contracting your muscles to generate force in a strength exercise, your body will also produce more irisin. Consequently, your insulin health will be improved. 

Takeaway

Strength training can improve your efficiency as a runner. First off, it lets you have leaner mass without gaining weight. It then turns your muscles to be stiffer and springier, which can significantly improve your strides. Also, it drastically increases the proportions of your fatigue-resistant muscle fibers, allowing you to have better endurance in a running race. 

It doesn't only contribute to improving your running performance but also aids you during your recovery stage. It can correct your structural imbalances, counter oxidative stress, as well as promote insulin sensitivity. Considering all of its unintuitive benefits, never ever shy away from strength training.

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