The winter months are a time of year when many runners focus on building an aerobic base for the upcoming racing season. This is also an opportune time to start hitting the weights. Building a foundation of strength and improving your power production capabilities in the winter can improve your racing potential during the season and stave off injuries.
Running performance depends on the complex interaction between physiological and biomechanical factors. Measures such as your maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and lactate threshold are traditionally used to predict potential running performance. However, additional measures such as running economy (energy used to run at a given speed), velocity during maximum oxygen uptake and maximum anaerobic running velocity are currently thought to be superior when predicting running performance. Muscle power, which is related to neuromuscular properties, has been implicated in faster running velocities during both maximum oxygen uptake and anaerobic running. One method to improve neuromuscular function is through strength and power training.
Strength ≠ Bulk
A strength-focused weight training program will improve how much force your muscles can produce. Power is defined as producing force quickly (think kicking at the end of a race). And before you worry about bulking up, getting strong and powerful doesn’t always mean increasing your muscle mass. Your muscles can also get stronger because of what is referred to as neuromuscular adaptations.
It’s through these physiological adaptations that strength training has the potential to improve performance in runners. Richard Lee, head coach of the B.C. Endurance Project, is 100 per cent on board with incorporating weight training into the fall and winter aerobic base-building seasons. “Strength training is an integral part of any good foundation,” says Lee, “which can even out strength and mechanical imbalances and make runners feel more confi- dent.” A stronger and more balanced runner should experience fewer injuries and setbacks therefore allowing for consistent training and smoother progressions to higher fitness levels.
Programming for Strength
Weight training requires the same amount of planning just like your season’s aerobic program. Coaches use what’s referred to as periodization, which means planning and progressing workouts over the weeks and months to coincide with your improvements and adaptations to training.
A major contributor to the success of a runner’s strength and conditioning program is the exercise lineup. According to a 2014 paper in the Journal of Sports Medicine runners should choose functional exercises to optimize the neuromuscular adaptations to training. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, squat jumps and sprints should make up the bulk of your strength program. These multi-joint exercises require the lower leg’s muscles to work in unison, similar to producing force with each running stride, which is missed when exercising with machines.
The strength-training program should be tailored to the individual but doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. Weak runners, even those well trained endurance-wise, can experience significant improvements in neuromuscular function and force production with a simple strength-training regime.
The Perfect All-Around Strength Session
Explosive Lower Body Exercise
3–5 sets of 8–10 reps (60–90 second rest)
3 sets of 5 reps increasing weight each set (30 second rest)
3 sets of 10–15 reps (60–90 second rest)
Squat variation such as Walking Lunge
3 sets of 5 reps per side, increasing weight held in hands with each set (30 second rest)
Seated Cable Row
3 sets of 10–15 reps (60–90 second rest)
2–3 sets of 30–60 second holds (60–90 second rest) Plank variation such as Side Plank
2–3 sets of 30–60 second holds (30 second rest)
This workout template can be used to design two different workouts, which can be performed twice per week. Perform your strength workout after aerobic work-outs separated by six hours or on easy aerobic days before or after your run.
By Jon-Erik Kawamoto