Approaching strength training for running the right way makes it a legitimate and effective approach to improving running technique. The key running technique tip is to focus your efforts on functional strength and coordination exercises that closely resemble the muscle activation patterns needed to sustain good running form.
In a previous post and in my book I’ve written about the neurological adaptations that help stimulate improvement, and made the argument that these are critical to unlocking the possibilities of running with better technique. The “practice” element of strength and coordination training is all important to improve the overall efficiency of any complex movement – especially in running.
In the June/July 2011 issue of leading Australian Running Magazine: Run For Your Life (R4YL) I wrote a feature length article that explains why these benefits are so important for regular runners to help improve form and avoid running injuries. From a relative perspective it’s even possible to make a good argument that strength training is more important for less gifted runners than for the elite. The article explains the theory, but also includes detailed exercise instructions and photographs to get you started with strength and coordination training for running. The emphasis of the article is on the buttocks and hamstrings – two muscle groups that have been consistently shown to be vital to producing good running technique and high performance.
The publishers of R4YL have been good enough to allow me to post the full PDF version on this article for you to download for free. Simply click on the link below and save the file.
Please share the article with your friends and invite them to visit Running Technique Tips and R4YL for more useful information about running. R4YL does a great job of providing practical and entertaining information for runners of all ability levels. Sometimes running magazines and books tend to over-focus on the elite or pointy end of the sport – and that’s fine, I’m a big fan of elite running too. The problem is this: what’s relevant for runners striving to get a ticket to the Olympics is not necessarily what the guy or girl trying to crack 40-50 minutes for the 10k needs to know. This is where R4YL gets the balance right with good coverage of recreational and club running and plenty of hints and tips from experts that are useful for runners of any level of ability.
Strength training improves absolute strength in muscles and tendons and its benefit to running is easy to understand. Stronger muscles and connective tissue mean the movements that drive running can be performed with more power, for longer with less energy cost. But this is only part of the story.
When I talk about strength training I always add the word coordination into the discussion because gains in strength are linked to factors other than building bigger muscles. This is where the direct relationship between strength training and better running technique becomes apparent.
For example, studies have shown that strength improves by:
- the central nervous system and muscles learning to work more efficiently;
- better coordination between groups of muscles;
- eliminating muscles activating at the wrong time; and
- assuming more advantageous postures to allow muscles to express their maximum strength.
Researchers have also suggested that when movements become more complex, such as in running, there is greater opportunity for strength gains by focusing on these neurological factors. This makes strength and coordination training vitally important to any runner trying to improve their running technique.
Dr Philo Saunders also found during his PhD studies that one of the key factors in increasing running economy was improving the recruitment of the buttock and hamstring muscles and utilising the elastic energy stored in the muscle tendon systems. Strength training ticks both of these boxes.
Good running technique is built around the foundations of coordination, activation and strength in the glutes and hamstrings. During the research for my eBook Running Technique, I identified studies of talented athletes that explained when muscle groups were firing at each stage of the running cycle. The hamstrings were shown to be the most active group and the glutes, while not firing for long, work hard just before and during the early stages of contact with the ground. In a nutshell, these muscles work together to sustain good running technique by generating force while regulating optimal posture at the hip and knee joints.
Training the glutes and hamstring muscles in postures and movement patterns similar to running can improve the technique of runners at all levels of ability. These muscles thrive on good coordination because they control the posture of the hip and lower back and the generation of movement through the hips and knees. There are numerous exercises runners can perform that will help strengthen the muscles around the hip and improve their coordination with the hamstrings. Runners enjoy the outdoors and often resent time in the gym, the good news is there are exercises that can be performed at home or the track without equipment. These can be completed as a separate strength session or alternatively before running. This saves time and helps activate the glutes and hamstrings during running. Do less volume and intensity if you are running after strength training.
Master the coordination to perform each exercise before adding weights, faster movements or increasing ranges of motion. Remember that a movement driven by activation of the correct primary and supporting muscles groups will provide more benefit than increasing the size of muscles that cannot work effectively as part of the overall neuromuscular team.
For full descriptions and photographs of three key exercises to stimulate improvements in running technique refer to the PDF download.
Written by: Brian Martin
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