There is no doubt that when done properly, strength training elicits positive training adaptations for runners. However, the question that often arises is how does one properly strength train, and more specifically, how should one best integrate running and strength training?
Listed below are seven tips on how to best integrate running and strength training to get the best results.
1 – Move outside the sagittal plane
The what? The sagittal plane (A) is the movement plane that refers to forward and backward motion and therefore the movement plane most commonly associated with running. However, when running, 20% of one’s energy is used to stabilize the body so that it doesn’t fall to the side. Additionally, the spine does not stay in a vertical, static position while running. It bends slightly side-to-side and counter-rotates to allow the hips and upper body to store and release energy to facilitate a proper running gait.
Therefore, movement in the frontal (C) and the transverse planes (B) is recommended.
2 – Cardiovascular fitness proceeds musculoskeletal readiness
This concept means that one’s cardiovascular system adapts to training faster than the musculoskeletal system. This is likely a large reason for the high injury rate among runners. For example, just because someone has the cardiovascular fitness to run 20 miles does not necessarily mean the person’s muscles, bones, and connective tissue are ready for this sustained impact.
By performing specific resistance-training exercises, a runner can speed up the musculoskeletal adaptation to reduce the chance of injury. While it is unlikely that even with strength training a runner can adapt at the same speed in both cardiovascular and musculoskeletal areas, it will likely reduce the adaptation gap between the two.
3 – Don’t randomly select a rep count
The number of repetitions should not be randomly assigned. The type of exercise and the number of repetitions should be determined based on one’s goals. For example, if increasing strength is the goal, a lower rep count would be advised. Conversely, if muscular endurance and increasing one’s maximum aerobic power is the focal point, a higher rep count is likely the way to go. This information is based on a 2002 study that examined changes to participant’s strength (1 rep max), muscular endurance, max cardiovascular output, time to exhaustion, pulmonary ventilation and max aerobic power.
4 – Focus on ballistic training
At the most basic level, running is little more than a bunch of small jumps – repeated hundreds, if not thousands of times in a row! From a biomechanical perspective, the energy used to run comes via the body’s natural spring system – with the legs and foot arches acting as the springs. The ‘leg springs’ compress during the first half of the support gait phase and rebound during the drive gait phase. The stiffer a muscle is, the greater the amount of energy that can be stored and released. However, to not increase the chance for injury, a muscle must have full mobility.
Ballistic exercises such as jumping are great ways to increase one’s running efficiency by training the body to store and release more energy via the spring system while running.
5 – Use it or lose it
To get the full benefit from strength training, it must be done on a consistent basis. Like cardiovascular fitness, if strength training is done sporadically with relatively long periods of time in between training sessions, there will be little to no benefit. That said, it doesn’t require a ton of time. Once a strength base has been established, one to two times per week of resistance training will enable an athlete to maintain their lean muscle mass and likely increase their power output.
6 – Run first!
While there is quite a bit of conflicting research in regard to how best integrate running and strength training, a 2013 study examined if it was better to run first, then strength train – or, strength train first, then run. The results showed that it is most beneficial to run first.
7 – Muscle-specific
While seemingly common sense, muscle fatigue from a particular exercise is not systemic. Rather, muscle fatigue is directly related to the muscle that is being worked. Therefore, integrating an upper body strength workout on the same day as a long run would likely not result in any negative results – so long as the runner has enough energy to perform the strength training workout. However, integrating a heavy set of squats after a long run is likely not the way to go!