Strength Training and Endurance Performance by Manuel Joshua Gutierrez-Fernandez MS

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[This is a guest blog by Manuel Joshua Gutierrez-Fernandez. “Manny” has an MS, CSCS, USAT-I, USATF-I,II, USAW-SPC and participated in the summer internship program at Athletic Lab]

Strength training is not commonly associated with endurance athletes such as distance runners. Endurance training has traditionally focused on improving cardiovascular and muscular endurance. The chief objective of endurance training is to increase speed by improving oxidative energy metabolism through increased capillary and mitochondrial density and increased enzyme activity. Customarily, distance runners have not implemented strength training into their training to avoid the hypertrophy of muscle which can increase mass and raise the energetic cost of running. However, studies consistently suggest that distance running performance may be positively impacted by the addition of strength training. Most notably, the research points to heavy and explosive strength training affecting distance running performance through improving running economy, the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running.

galen-moTwo recent reviews of research regarding strength training and endurance condense the benefits of strength training and provide practical applications for implementing strength training to enhance endurance performance (Bazyler, 2015; Ronnestad, 2014). Both reviews hypothesize that strength training may improve distance running performance through improved mechanical efficiency. The research suggests that strength training leads to changes in neuromuscular characteristics by increasing neural input to the muscles and improving motor unit synchronization and motor unit recruitment pattern. Furthermore, efficiency may be enhanced through increases in musculotendonious unit stiffness, allowing for an improved capacity to store and release elastic energy.

Building on the suggested benefits of strength training on distance running, a newly published study looked at the impact of strength training on neuromuscular characteristics and pacing during a 10KM time trial (Damasceno, 2015). The study resulted in a 2.5% improvement over the 10KM distance. The authors attributed the improvement to an enhanced running speed during the last third of the time trial. Interestingly, the increase in running speed was not accompanied by an increase in the reported rate of perceived exertion by the participants.

The research supports the application of strength training to improve distance running performance. Following the training law of specificity, strength training should be task specific and specific to the individual and his or her racing distance, goals, training experience and ability. The strength training exercises should focus on prime movers involved in running, prioritizing closed kinetic chain movements, and aim to increase the amount of muscle fibers available to do work. Max strength through high force activities (such as heavy back squats) will maximize fiber recruitment. Additionally, the ability to produce force quickly through power movements that are explosive and reactive (like jump squats), enhance the rate of force development, the firing frequency of fibers.

Distance running performance may be enhanced through a properly designed and implemented strength training program that evolves to include the development of force and the rate of that force production.

  • Bazyler, C.D., Abbott, H.A., Bellon, C.R., Taber, C.B., and Stone, M.H. (2015). Strength training for endurance athletes: theory to practice. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 37, 1-12.
  • Damasceno, M.V., Lima-Silva, A.E., Pasqua, L.A., Tricoli, V., Duarte, M., Bishop, D.J., and Bertuzzi, R. (2015). Effects of resistance training on neuromuscular characteristics and pacing during 10-km running time trial. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115, 1513-1522.
  • Ronnestead, B.R., and Mujika, I. (2014). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: a review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24, 603-612.
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