Weight Training for Runners | Tips & Exercise

If you want to run better, take up barbells and dumbbells and follow some weightlifting programs. Why runners as well as distance runners should pay more attention to strength training and what loads to choose, we explain below in our article.

How Weight Training Relates to Running

Weightlifting and dumbbell training will not increase your endurance, but it will increase the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running efficiency – the ability to expend less energy for the same number of movements.

At equal VO2 max – maximum oxygen consumption – this economy determines 65% increase of success in distance running performance of highly trained athletes in middle- and long-distance running.

Weight training is also beneficial for sprinters: eight weeks of strength training increases the effect of different strength training programs on young athletes’ sprint performance in 30 and 60 metres distance by 8% and 5.9% respectively.

Below we’ll look at how strength training helps you improve your running performance.

How working with weights improves running efficiency

There is a number of aspects where exercising with weights helps to boost the results in running.

1. Increases muscle and tendon stiffness

The elasticity of leg muscles and tendons is very important for running economy. When a runner puts his foot on a support, the muscles and tendons stretch and store mechanical energy, and when the foot pushes off the ground, the energy is released and helps the runner take a step.

If the leg muscles are relaxed, they cannot store and release energy. Imagine suddenly sinking your foot into a hole: the muscles are relaxed, there is no push, only a bump.

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Stiff muscles and tendons stretch and contract faster, store and release more energyThe spring-mass model and the energy cost of treadmill running. In this case, the contact with the ground is reduced, and in the pushing phase, the activity of the leg muscles is reduced: they no longer need to exert so much effort to push off the ground. Less tension, less oxygen consumption, more running economy.

Strength training increases the thicknessRegion-specific patellar tendon hypertrophy in humans following resistance training and stiffnessEffects of resistance and stretching training programs on the viscoelastic properties of human tendon structures in vivo tendons and help activate muscles: make them stiffer by improving neuromuscular coordination.

2. Improves neuromuscular coordination

In order for the muscle fibers to activate and become rigid, they must receive a signal from the motor neuron, a nerve that sends signals from the spinal cord. A single muscle is innervated by several hundred motoneurons, so not all of its fibers are activated at the same time. The more fibers are turned on, the stiffer the muscle becomes in the moment before landing.

In contrast to endurance training, maximal and explosive strength exercises increase muscle stiffness, pump motor unit involvement and intramuscular coordination, which leads to increased power and efficiency.

What strength training is good for runners

Heavy weight training and explosive strength exercises are equally good for runners. Doing them regularly increases running economy, endurance and sprint performance.

Exercises with heavy weights

Mostly runners need to train their leg and back muscles. Try the following exercises:

  • Squats with a barbell on your back;
  • Deadlift;
  • Leg presses on a machine;
  • Leg curls on a machine;
  • Deadlift in a bent position;
  • Dumbbell bent-over pull.
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General recommendations for the workout routine

Choose 2 to 4 exercises. Start with 2 sets of 5 to 10 times, add one set each week and gradually work your way up to 6 sets. Select the weight so that the last repetitions are difficult, but do not lead to muscle failure.

Here’s an example of the strength training of four-time Olympic long-distance champion Mo Farah. His strength training in the gym is very short and light, but he considers it a mandatory part of his training.

You should not include both strength and plyometric training in your classes at once – this can overload the nervous system, which already has to adapt to unfamiliar exercises.

In the future, when the body gets used to the loads, you can do both strength and endurance training in one week, but keep the proportion 3 : 1, where 3 is endurance and 1 is strength + explosive power. Also, reduce strength training during the competition period to avoid overloading.

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