What’s the Secret to Increasing Running Speed? Strength Training!
You must be a good athlete to be a good runner – and athletes are strong everywhere.
If it seems counterintuitive to add weight lifting to your conditioning menu — because you think that bulking up and adding more upper body muscle can slow a runner down — it’s time you learned about physiology that refutes this supposition.
Researchers have proven that strength training and becoming a more agile and nimble runner are highly compatible, and while the physiology that makes the pairing achievable is rather complex, be assured that tests and trials verifying this happy marriage are solid.
The bottom line is this: body building has the capability to improve your sprint power, help you race at higher capacity and you’ll even keep fatigue at bay more efficiently than you would without adding simple weight training exercises. Intrigued?
You should be if you’re a runner who is always looking for ways to perform more powerfully while experiencing less fatigue.
Are you sure I won’t bulk up?
Sceptical runners ask this question more times than you can imagine, but the truth is, it takes more than just pumping some iron to achieve the physique that has the potential to wind up on the cover of a body building magazine.
In order to wind up with that kind of body, you must spend more time in the gym that you’ll be required to if you’re just looking to enhance your sprint stamina, you’ll have to show up more often to build that mass and you’ll also have to compensate for this intense effort by taking in more calories and getting more rest.
Without undertaking these three training musts, it’s almost impossible to bulk up. That’s why runners looking to build speed should only lift once or twice a week in concert with a healthy running schedule.
Research proves that doing 12 to 20 reps builds no more muscle than you would if you had done 6 to 8, and since you already work on your endurance on the road and/or track, you wind up duplicating your efforts and adding bulk if you insist on lifting more than twice weekly.
Instead, add power and strength by doing 4 to 6 reps, because that’s all researchers claim you need to achieve improved speed goals. Short rep ranges mean you focus your mental energy more keenly and maximise psychological intensity.
How overdoing or super-charging lifting slows runners down
If you have yet to realise that power is only part of the performance equation, you’re on your way to boosting your speed already!
Your aerobic system and your body’s ability to clear lactate are more important than power if you are to sprint efficiently.
Further, as you add short, infrequent weight lifting sessions to your cross training arsenal, you'll have to learn patience and persistence, because there are no fast rewards without becoming fatigued as a result of pushing too hard.
Finally, have you ever heard of the force-velocity curve? Sounds like a racing car driver moving into a curve on a track, but this is actually a scientific principle that states, heavy weights equal slower lifts and lighter weights equal faster lifts.
Applying this theory to your own efforts to sprint faster by adding weight training, your objective, according to Cressey Sports Performance Coach Greg Robins, is
“to learn how to apply force into the ground harder and faster," so your ultimate goal at the bench is to “brace, push, pull and create the force.”
Strength training even helps runners avoid injury!
While you’re learning buzzwords employed by physiologists and physicists to describe dynamic motion, impress your friends by sharing the meaning of “sagittal plane.”
At first glance, you may ask, what is the Zodiac’s mythical satyr, Sagittarius, doing in this article? But in fact, sagittal plan is a scientific way of explaining that when you’re a runner, everything you do when you run takes place during forward-to-backward motions.
Why does this matter? Because when you work out at the gym, your body will be asked to master side-to-side and rotation movements that stabilise your core, making you more flexible.
There’s plenty of evidence in journals that prove this type of flexibility has the potential to reduce the potential for injury in runners.
As your body becomes comfortable doing weight lifting reps, the impact on your body when you run is lessened, good news for runners who have had their fair share of accidents and perpetually seek ways to avoid more of them!
How often should a runner strength train?
Most runners will get enormous benefits from 20 minutes, 3-5 times week. On some days, you can actually do less than 20 minutes. Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field certified coach and competitive runner recommended a helpful strategy called "sandwiching". He proposed to “sandwich” your run between a dynamic warm-up and a strength routine.
Runner’s weight-lifting guide
Having muddled your way through both scientific and not-so-scientific data that proves how beneficial weight training can be to a runner’s overall fitness program, we’ve dug up some exercises recommended by a professional trainer.
Try one or more to see how they feel before you commit to a regular strength building and conditioning schedule.
Exercise #1: Band Knee Pull
Why do it?: To help strengthen your hip flexor, knees and core, hips and abs.
How to do it:
- Grab an exercise band around in your hands and from a push-up position.
- Wrap the band around your shoelaces and pull to create tension.
- Dynamically bring your knee to your chest while resisting the band. Hold for two seconds.
Exercise #2: Dumbbell Pistol Squat
Why do it? The arm action in this move helps increase your speed as you push forward by driving your elbow back. This exercise stimulates your brain while your muscles force your elbow back in a straight line.
How to do it:
- From a standing position, hold a dumbbell each in front of you with your arms straighten.
- You should be looking directly forward, with your chest up, knees and hips slightly bent, and your back straight.
- Descent slowly into a squat by flexing your hips and knee. As you squat, extend the non-working leg forward to allow clearance for your movement.
- Hold the bottom position briefly and then return to the start by extending through the hips and knee.
- Switch sides and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, then switch sides.
Exercise #3: Walking Lunge with Weight Overhead
Why do it? Because you’ll benefit your lower-body so you move more explosively, and it’s a great way to train your glutes to respond fast.
How to do it:
- Select a plate that you’re able to hold overhead for a time of at least 30 seconds. Grasping the plate with both hands, raise it overhead until your arms are fully extended. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms fully extended overhead. This will be your starting position.
- Step forward with one leg, flexing the knees to drop your hips. Descend until your rear knee touches the ground. Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should stay above the front foot.
- Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up. Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg.
- Repeat for recommended number of repetitions.
Exercise #4: Heavy Sled Push
Why do it? To increase your lower body strength and explosiveness; send signals to muscles so they push a weighted sled to overload.
How to do it:
- Place a heavy weight in a sled or prowler.
- Drive it forward for at least 10 metres.
Exercise #5: Weighted Squat Jumps
Why do it? Improve your glutes, calves and quads. The single leg stance forces you to power up muscle fibre to enhance your spring and use your legs to drive force into the ground quickly.
How to do it:
- With a barbell comfortable placed on your back at your shoulder level.
- Squat down and then jump up as high as you can.
- Focus on a soft landing with the balls of your feet as the first point of contact.
- Absorb the landing impact and then jump up as high as you can again.
- Keep your head and chest up throughout the lift.
- Do 3 sets of 5.
Did you know that “less is more” when using strength training as a sprint improvement technique or is this the first time you’ve ever heard about this principle?