Ask the experts: Muscle Power and Running


Runners are often told to include strength training in their training regimens, specifically for their core and legs. While this is acknowledged as a valuable addition to training, only a small portion of runners actually DO strengthening CONSISTENTLY.

It’s one thing to hear a suggestion—even if it’s from a coach or trainer—, but it’s another to see the facts. Research has shown a direct relationship between improved running performance and plyometrics and strength training.

Improved running performance means faster, more efficient running. For speed, you need muscular power. For efficiency, you need muscular endurance and proper use of each muscle involved.

A study examined the effects of adding plyometrics to running endurance training for running endurance performance. The test group showed a significant improvement in both explosive strength and running endurance performance after 6 weeks of plyometric training. In fact, the test group decreased their time for a 2.4km run three times more than the control group (doing only running training). (1) So we can conclude from this study that the test group improved in muscular power (explosive strength), which is needed for speed and improved performance.

Now that we have established a proven way to increase muscular power (and therefore speed), let’s move on to increasing muscular endurance and the proper use of each muscle. When I use the phrase “proper use”, I am referring to the proper sequencing and coordination of activating the muscles necessary for efficient running. For example, many runners’ glutes are not “turned on” when they run, resulting in poor landing mechanics and therefore decreased efficiency and increased injury risk. It is important your body not only “turns on” the muscles at the right times, but that you use as much of that muscle as you can for efficiency. This takes training. A recent study used EMG (electromyography) data to compare how well muscles were recruited (how much of the muscle is “turned on”) using light weights for resistance vs heavier weights. The EMG showed greater muscle activity (more of the muscle was “turned on”) when heavier weights were used as compared to lighter weights with more repetitions. (2) Therefore, using greater resistance and lower repetitions is a more effective way to build muscle efficiency and strength.

In conclusion, any runner looking to improve—any runner with goals for the new year— would do best to consider making plyometrics and weightlifting (with heavier weight and lower reps!) a regular part of their routine.

1 Ramirez-Campillo R Alvarez C Henriquez-Olguin C et al. “Effects of plyometric training on endurance and explosive strength performance in competitive middle- and long- distance runners”. J Strength Cond Res 2014; 28(1):97-104.
2 Lonney DP Kraemer WJ Comstock BA et al. “Electromyographical and perceptual responses to different resistance intensities in a squat protocol: does perofrming sets to failure with light loads recruit more motor units?” J Strength Cond Res. 2015; 10.

Cat Fitzgerald, PT, DPT, CSCS, CAFS
New York Custom Physical Therapy. 295 Madison Avenue #1026. New York, NY 10017. 212-682-7860

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