“Will lifting weights make me a slower runner?”
It’s a question physical therapists get asked all the time by runners fearing that increased muscle mass will slow them down. Although the running community is becoming better educated on the benefits of cross training with resistance workouts, it is still a deeply rooted belief that runners tend to think the best way to become a better runner is to run more miles.
Although it is true that higher mileage runners are more efficient than novice runners, it is a limited view thinking that running is the only way to improve efficiency. Any runner who puts in more hours of practice will be better than the weekend warrior, but what makes one runner outperform another runner who has put in equal amounts of training?
The answer is how they practiced during all those hours. Was it purposeful and thoughtful practice or was it just “junk” miles? Did they work on improving their weak areas or just stick to what they were good at? After all only perfect practice makes perfect.
There definitely has been a shift in the last few years in the running community as more and more research points to the benefits of strength and plyometric training to improve running performance; especially those focused to correct muscle imbalances for those who sit for their job.
Even when the benefits of strength and plyometric training are recognized, it is still difficult for many runners, especially those competing, to incorporate this type of training into their running schedule because they are not sure how this type of cross training will affect their running performance.
Lucky for us, there are some good researchers out there who are interested in answering this exact question. A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Condition Research looked at the acute effects of plyometric and resistance training on running performance, and they found some interesting results.
Richard Marcello and his colleagues Beau Greer and Anna Greer at Sacred Heart University decided to look at collegiate distance runners and determine how a plyometric and resistance trainingprogram would acutely affect their running economy.
Running economy is often used as a measure of aerobic performance along with VO2max and lactate threshold. Unlike VO2max which is a measure of how much oxygen an athlete can use and maximal exertion, running economy is the rate of oxygen consumption at a given submaximal running velocity.
The lower the rate of oxygen a runner uses, the more economical their running form and less energy expended.
In this study, eight collegiate runners performed a 12 minute running economy test at 60% and 80% VO2max and then were split into a treatment group, which performed plyometric and resistance training, and a control group, which rested in equal duration.
The treatment group performed 3 sets of 5 reps at 85% 1 rep max of barbell squats, Romanian deadlifts, barbell lunges, lateral lunges, box jumps, and depth jumps. The two groups performed another 12 minute running economy test immediately after training and then again 24 hrs later. A week later, the groups were switched and the test performed again.
The findings of this study showed that there was a statistically significant increase in VO2 and energy expenditure directly after training for the experimental group, which did not occur in the control group. However, this change only occurred at 60% VO2max and not at 80%, and there was no statistical difference when participants were tested again twenty-four hours later.
This suggests that high-intensity plyometric and resistance training for the lower body significantly reduced running economy at a moderate exercise intensity (60% VO2max) in highly trained runners, but this effect only lasted less than twenty-four hours.
This data is useful for physical therapists working with elite level runners in order to help them cross-train and prepare for upcoming races. At Competitive Edge PT, we often use resistance and plyometric training to help runners of all levels cross-train, improve the weak areas of their running, and improve overall running economy.
We make sure we know when our clients have their next race in order to ensure they taper properly and we don’t perform resistance or plyometric training 24-48 hrs prior to a race. If you would like to learn more about running performance and how we help athletes achieve new PR’s, feel free to email, call, or stop by and visit our clinic here in San Jose, CA.