I work with a few runners as a personal trainer which at times has led to an awkward question that I seem to inadvertently bring up from time to time. “How are the runs going?” I ask. The reaction is usually one of puzzlement from the client and curious sympathy from passer-by’s wondering how my training routine has led to a client’s diarrhoea. I have since changed my questioning style to something a bit more appropriate and less embarrassing for all involved.
My topic today focuses on the benefits strength training may have for a runner be they of the casual or performance variety. Personally I believe the benefits are numerous but personal opinion is not enough for me to accept usually and I shouldn’t expect that from you either. Let’s have a look at the evidence to back my musings up.
Reduction of injury
One of the main reasons I believe so much in strength training for runners is the potential it has to reduce injury risk. The most recent paper on the topic of strength training reducing injury risk was from Lauersen et al. (2013). This was a systematic review including 25 studies and over 25,000 subjects and found that “strength training reduced sports injuries to less than one third and overuse injuries could almost be halved”. Very promising and very encouraging but…of the 25 studies looked at by the authors, none of those studies involved runners so we cannot jump to a conclusion for runners unfortunately.
In spite of this large limitation, in my opinion it gives us an indication that strength training can enable to better bullet proof our bodies against injuries associated with great movement demands. Strength training helps increase muscle tissues ability to manage load and so may help runners in force absorption with so many strides involved in distance running.
Running economy is how efficiently a person uses oxygen whilst running at a given pace. This is very similar to fuel economy when assessing a car. The research around running economy and resistance training is even more promising. Jones and Bampouras (2007) found a strong association between resistance training and running economy in distance runners. The thinking behind it is improved muscle strength results in greater “stiffness” in muscle tissue resulting in more efficient use of energy associated with each footfall.
VO2 Max as some might know is the maximal rate at which heart, lungs and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise. This measure is often used as an outcome measure in physical fitness tests. The idea thatresistance training could improve VO2 Max is not supported by evidence as yet but it does not decrease it (Jung 2003). Lactate threshold is also a topic which is commonly associated with runners. This can generally be described as the fastest pace you can run without generating more lactic acid than your body can utilize for energy. Essentially it is the fastest pace you can run before your legs start to feel on fire. Research supporting improved lactate threshold is again not very strong but again, resistance training does not worsen LT. Both of these findings are understandable since resistance training does not place a huge demand on your cardiovascular system (unless you spend every waking hour in a gym pumping iron).
..improved muscle strength results in greater “stiffness” in muscle tissue resulting in more efficient use of energy associated with each footfall..
Resistance training has a lot of promise according to research for injury prevention and improved running economy. It will not however improve your fitness but will not make it worse.
Recommendations for runners