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  • Writer's pictureLuke Nelson

Does Strength Training Really Make Runners Faster? 

For runners, the quest for speed and efficiency is perpetual. While pounding the pavement and clocking in miles have been staples in every runner's regimen, the role of strength training in enhancing performance has been a topic of debate. Recent studies shed light on the impact of various strength training modalities on running economy and performance.


Plyometrics vs. Dynamic Body-Weight Exercises:

Patoz et al. conducted a study investigating concurrent endurance training with plyometric or dynamic body-weight exercises among recreational runners. The outcomes revealed improvements in running economy, with plyometrics showcasing a notable 2.83% enhancement and dynamic body-weight exercises resulting in a 1.4% improvement. Intriguingly, 42% of participants exhibited significant improvements (high responders), while 58% were classified as low responders.


A Simple Progressive Daily Hopping Exercise:

Engeroff et al. explored the effects of a straightforward progressive daily hopping exercise on running economy in amateur runners. The intervention comprised daily plyometrics with pogo jumps over 6 weeks. Results demonstrated a 2% boost in running economy at higher speeds (12 and 14 km/hr), aligning with Saunders' prior findings of a 4.1% improvement in highly trained middle and long-distance runners at 18 km/hr. Interestingly, no changes were observed at 10 km/hr or in VO2.


Are Resistance Exercises or Plyometrics Better?

Two recent reviews have dissected the benefits of plyometric and resistance training. Šuc et al.'s narrative review delves into the role of resistance exercise in enhancing running economy and biomechanics. Their conclusions indicate a consistent pattern of improvement in running economy through both resistance and plyometric training, showcasing benefits within the range of 4-6.3%. Additionally, there is emerging evidence suggesting positive effects even with isometric training.


Eihara et al.'s systematic review and meta-analysis compared the effects of heavy resistance training and plyometric training on running economy and time trial performance. The analysis unveiled that, while both methods offer benefits, heavy resistance training exhibited greater effects on both economy and time trial performance. Their conclusion emphasizes that, for optimal results, resistance training should be performed at a higher intensity (less than 4RM) and for at least 12 weeks.


Conclusion:

While the benefits of resistance training may surpass those of plyometric training, our practical experience often involves incorporating both modalities into a runner's strength program. The optimal approach to strength training hinges on individual responsiveness and the specific demands placed on the runner. As the quest for speed persists, the scientific exploration of strength training's impact on runners evolves, promising further insights into individualized training prescriptions.



References

  • Engeroff, T., et al. (2023). "Progressive daily hopping exercise improves running economy in amateur runners: a randomized and controlled trial." Sci Rep 13(1): 4167.

  • Nugent, F. J., et al. (2023). "The Effects of High-Repetition Strength Training on Performance in Competitive Endurance Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." J Strength Cond Res 37(6): 1315-1326.

  • Patoz, A., et al. (2023). "Concurrent endurance training with either plyometric or dynamic body-weight training both improve running economy with minimal or no changes in running biomechanics." Sports Biomechanics: 1-18.

  • Saunders, P. U., et al. (2006). "Short-term plyometric training improves running economy in highly trained middle and long distance runners." J Strength Cond Res 20(4): 947-954.

  • Turner, A. M., et al. (2003). "Improvement in running economy after 6 weeks of plyometric training." J Strength Cond Res 17(1): 60-67.

  • Šuc, A., et al. (2022). "Resistance Exercise for Improving Running Economy and Running Biomechanics and Decreasing Running-Related Injury Risk: A Narrative Review." Sports 10(7): 98.

  • Eihara, Y., et al. (2022). "Heavy Resistance Training Versus Plyometric Training for Improving Running Economy and Running Time Trial Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." Sports Medicine - Open 8(1): 138.

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