Running Performance Improvements: High Intensity Resistance Training
Physio: First, what do you think?
– I will gain body mass if I lift weights which means I will run slower.
– More time in the gym means less time on the road, meaning my running performance will decrease.
Physio: The benefits of aerobic exercises or high intensity resistance training have continued to grow, with regular running being associated with increased maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), reduced body mass, decreased resting heart rate, and triglycerides. This is essentially the definition of getting fitter.
However, due to the nature of the sport, runners with a high chronic workload are particularly at risk of overloading injuries on musculoskeletal structures. Research has reported that 43-76% will sustain an injury in athletics, with two out of three athletes sustaining an injury within a season annually. Evidence suggests that resistance training is one of the interventions that can reduce the risk of injury.
In a survey-based study, 74% of coaches reported a high running millage was associated with risk factors for training-related injuries. Furthermore, 44% of middle and long-distance runners reported reduced muscle strength as a risk factor for training-related injuries, and 79% of coaches reported reduced muscle strength as a risk factor for training-related injuries.
Traditionally, endurance athletes have been reluctant to incorporate resistance training into their routines. For example, a study investigating the characteristics of qualifiers for the US Olympic marathon trials in 2008 concluded almost half the runners did not participate in strength training, and the runners who did participate in strength training only included a small number of exercises.
A possible reason may be that running speed is negatively associated with body and fat mass index. A higher body mass affects VO2 max and RE, leading to poorer running performance. In addition, studies have found endurance athletes believed ‘time constraints’ and ‘inadequate knowledge’ around exercise prescription and exercise progression was seen as a barrier to introducing resistance training into their training.
Patient: Okay, so running a lot can cause an overloading injury, and resistance training may help to prevent these injuries. Does that mean high intensity resistance training will increase my running performance?
Physio: Surprisingly, the one common agreement across research is there is no significant change to body composition when adding resistance training into a running routine. Stereotypically distance runners have put off resistance due to increased body mass because of hypertrophic changes leading to a slower running speed. However, this is not the case based on the research.
Studies have shown that introducing resistance training into a running routine can increase running economy, VO2 max and running speed. Therefore, middle- and long-distance runners should include resistance training in their running programme as it does not impact running performance or body composition. In addition, adding in resistance training and reducing weekly running load may aid in lowering overloading running injuries caused by a high chronic workload.
Patient: Great, so I won’t put on significant body mass by adding resistance training into my routine, and it will not impact my running performance.
Patient: Are there any other benefits to adding resistance training into my running programme?
Physio: Yes, resistance training enhances muscle strength, which makes running feel more effortless and effective. Resistance training can aid in developing explosive power, essential for sprinting and hill running. Greater muscular endurance can help you maintain your pace for longer periods of time. In addition, resistance training can improve bone density, which is vital for avoiding osteoporosis and lowering the incidence of stress fractures.
However, there is no consensus across the literature that resistance training will improve running performance for every patient, as every person has different circumstances. In addition, other factors such as running mileage, rest, sleep, stress, nutrition, hydration and history of injury also need to be considered.
Patient: Great, I will start by adding two resistance training sessions into my routine and decreasing my running mileage so I don’t overload my system. As well as focusing on getting a good amount of sleep, continue consuming a healthy diet with plenty of water.