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TRAINING: Power Tools

Combining Strength and Power to Rev Up Your Running.

Just because you’re a runner doesn’t mean you need to shy away from strength and power training exercises. Being stronger and more powerful will increase the reactive strength and contractile capacity of each of your muscle fibres. You’ll have better neuromuscular communication and be able to produce more force at a faster rate. Your stronger muscles and joints will allow you to be more efficient at using the elastic energy that’s stored during running. This will enliven your stride by shortening stance-phase ground contact times.

While strength training and plyometric exercises are usually performed in separate workouts during the training week, a method known as “complex training” or “contrast loading” can develop strength and power at the same time, combining both training sessions into one.

What is complex training?

A complex training program involves continuously alternating between a strength-developing exercise and a power-developing plyometric exercise. The plyometric exercise should be biomechanically similar to the strength-developing exercises. For example, a body-weight jump squat would be paired with a barbell back squat.

This method of training improves the performance of the subsequent plyometric exercise compared to when the plyometric exercise is performed by itself. Also, this method of training has been shown to develop more strength and power compared to performing strength developing exercises and plyometric exercises in separate workouts.

Not only has this method been proven to be effective at improving jump and sprint performance, but it is a great way to design a workout plan to improve conditioning and overall fitness. This is by no means the only way of performing strength and power training – it’s just one method to add variety to your strength and conditioning program.

The complex science

By performing the strength exercise before the plyometric exercise, the muscles involved appear to have an enhanced neural drive, contributing to improved jumping performance. This is also known as “post-activation potentiation,” or PAP for short. The explosive potential of the muscles is enhanced after performing maximal or near-maximal contractions in the strength-developing set.

Researchers have suggested that these mechanisms are involved in creating PAP:

– Increased motor unit recruitment

– Improved motor unit synchronization

– Greater motor neuron excitability

– Reduction in pre-synaptic inhibition

    Other physiological mechanisms may also be responsible for the augmented power output displayed in the plyometric exercise.

    Use complex training to:

    – Improve your running economy by improving your body’s ability to use stored elastic energy

    – Boost your ability to attack hills and produce a strong kick at the end of a race

    – Increase the strength and power producing abilities of your muscles

    -Reduce injury risk from the repetitive strain of running by improving the strength of your muscles, tendons and ligaments

      The Exercises:

      -When performing the strength exercise, intend to accelerate the concentric (shortening of muscle) part of the movement as much as possible to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibres.

      -When performing the explosive exercise, remember the word explosive. Without sacrificing technique, explode when performing the concentric part of the exercise.

      -If you lift weights twice a week, perform Complex 1 at the beginning of 1 workout and Complex 2 at the beginning of the other workout.

      Complex 1: Goblet Squat and Jump Squats

      Strength Exercise – The Goblet Squat: Hold a dumbbell lengthwise with the palms of your hands and your elbows pointing down. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing straight ahead. Push your hips back into the squat to keep the majority of your weight on your heels. Drop into the squat while pushing your hips back and down away from the dumbbell. Keep your chest up and back muscles strong to maintain your posture. At the bottom of the squat, you will be leaning forward slightly from your hips with the pointy part of your elbows touching the inside of your knees. Stand forcefully while spreading the floor with your feet and while driving your chin and chest up. Squeeze your glutes and stand tall to complete the rep.

      -Perform 5 reps and then take a 3-4 minute break.

      Plyometric Exercise – Jump Squats: With the same squatting technique described above, perform five continuous bodyweight jump squats. Swing your arms back at the bottom of the jump squat and swing them forward when jumping up into the air to help you jump higher. Land softly in an athletic position so you can immediately perform another jump.

      -Perform 6-8 reps, and then take a 3-4 minute break. Repeat for 3 sets.

      Complex 2: Goblet Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats & Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat Jumps

      Strength Exercise – Goblet Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats: Hold a dumbbell as described above and stand a lunge-length away from a stable bench. Place one foot on the bench and maintain your balance. Drive the rear knee down as you descend into the squat. Keep your chest up and out while bending the front knee to 90 degrees. Drive the front leg “through the floor” to stand yourself up. Squeeze your glutes and stand tall to complete the rep.

      -Perform 5 reps on both left and right sides, and then take a 3-4 minute break.

      Plyometric Exercise – Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat Jumps: With the same set up as the strength exercise, perform 6-8 continuous body weight single leg jumps per leg. Again, use your arms to help you jump higher.

      -Take a 3-4 minute break and repeat for 3 sets.

      Complex training tips:

      1.      The runner should have experience lifting weights and a good understanding of the exercises.

      2.      This type of training will especially benefit runners in sprints and middle-distance events, and should be performed during the strength-power phase of their training, usually the fall and winter months.

      3.      Runners need to be cautious of overload injuries and chronic overuse problems associated with running and improper programming or execution of plyometric exercises.

      4.      Perform plyometric exercises on forgiving surfaces, such as rubber flooring.

      5.      When performing the explosive exercises, minimize the time on the floor between reps, land softly and produce as much force as possible to jump as high as you can.

      6.      This type of training is neurally demanding and may leave your legs feeling dead for the next day’s run. Only perform for four-week blocks and remember to recover with rest, massage and proper nutrition.

      Jon-Erik Kawamoto is a strength and conditioning coach in Burnaby, B.C. (StrongerRunner.com).