Monday, January 24, 2011

Runners and Resistance Training, Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed how:
  1. Most runners are adamantly opposed to regular strength training, even though they can benefit from it more than most populations.
  2. It is the NORM for the majority of runners to experience an injury throughout a given year, and I challenge that this should be the exception, not the rule, for distance runners. 
  3. The majority runners approach their training as analogous to continually punching the accelerator when the emergency brake is on, which inevitably leads to injury.  
  4. Proper strength training will help “release the brakes,” resulting in a faster, more efficient runner that is also less prone to injury.
Today, I’d like to continue to build the case for why it’s imprudent for a distance runner to ignore the value of a solid strength training routine.  I will begin by addressing the all-too-familiar claim put forth: 
“But my lower body receives all the ‘strength training’ it needs from running.”
This is a simple misunderstanding of basic physiology.

We could go into great detail here, but for brevity’s sake, here are two very important points worth taking note of:
  1. Progressive overload plays an ENORMOUS role in developing muscular strength.
  2. Strength and neural control is - to a great majority - range of motion specific.
How does distance running fail both of these criteria for increasing musculoskeletal strength?
  1. Where is the progressive overload?  The only way I see it possible to add progressive overload in running is to get fatter.
  2. Distance running involves thousands of repetitions through a very small range of motion.  As Eric Cressey has mentioned, “not a single joint in the body passes through an appreciable range of motion in distance running.”  Why should you care about this?  When your joints lose range of motion (think ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and the shoulder), you develop compensation patters that lead to dysfunction elsewhere in the body (knee pain, back pain, shoulder pain, just to name a few). 
An effective resistance training program will develop your muscular strength and connective tissues through a full range of motion, enhance your structural integrity and neural control, resulting in a faster, more efficient running machine that is less prone to injury.  Who wouldn’t want that?!?

And going back to the progressive overload example, running is essentially moving your legs (+ shoes, a submaximal load) through space for thousands of repetitions.  This is supposed to make us stronger?  So, along that same line of thinking: If I want to strengthen my arms, should I just take a wiffle ball (a submaximal load) and curl it for a few thousand repetitions?  Of course not!  So why apply the same logic to running?
Far from progressive overload.

As a quick intermission, here is one of our track athletes, Kayleigh, who is the current state record holder in the 400m sprint.  She is a teenager (female, no less) who understands and appreciates the value of strength training to her success.  By the way, that's 185lbs that she's deadlifting like air.  To the males reading this who only train their chest and biceps, this girl in her early teens will soon enough be picking up heavier things than you!

Also notice that she is FAR from the “big and bulky” mammoth that many women, or runners in general, fear they’ll turn into if they strength train!

Now, before the internet police begin to shout that endurance training does lead to positive changes within human skeletal muscle, I will note that yes, it does.  However, these adaptations primarily aid in helping the athlete run further without fatiguing, as opposed to running more efficiently and becoming more “bullet proof” to injury.  We could get pretty geeky and talk about the histochemical and metabolic transformations that take place at the cellular level (ex. increase in endurance-specific enzymes that enhance oxidative capacity, which is favorable for runners), but I don’t think most of the readers are interested in that.

One other point I’d like to make before wrapping up for the day, and this has been mentioned by many other strength coaches but I feel it never hurts to repeat: you should to be fit to run, not run to get fit. 

Christopher McDougall of Born to Run makes the argument that humans were designed to run long distances.  While I don’t disagree, I challenge that humans also weren’t designed to sit hunched over at desks all day, establishing dysfunction running up the entire kinetic chain, leading to a host of aberrant motor patterns that will negatively impact your running!

A distance as short as two miles requires roughly 3,000 plyometric repetitions with forces of 2-4 times bodyweight.

Do you really expect to take a body that sits for the majority of the day, and place that kind of demand on it - day after day - without accruing some sort of injury?  It’s no wonder the great majority of runners suffer from so many injuries!!

The only way – unless you’re in the 5% of the population that was genetically gifted enough to get away with it – to offset the demand running places on your body is to strength train.

I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it.  How do you expect your body to take that kind of beating (especially under the sheer volume that distance runners perform) without some kind of baseline strength?  And runners are surprised when their IT band acts up, they experience the agony of a stress fracture, or they develop chronic knee pain??

Even for fat loss....
This is also why (and it's a topic for another post) I think steady-state running for fat loss is a markedly poor choice for the overweight person.  If I'm working with a deconditioned client that weighs 300- pounds, you expect me to have them run for 45 minutes while every step requires them to efficiently absorb 600-1200 pounds of force?  I don't think so.  Not even taking it this far, let's say a 150-pound person wants to lose some weight.  That's still 300-600 pounds of force on every step they have to deal with.  It's no wonder why I've read studies that show significant injury rates in the initial phases of poorly-designed fat loss programs. 

Something is working
Many of the athletes we’ve coached at SAPT say we are the greek gods of athletic performance enhancement (okay, I joke, maybe those aren't their exact words).  But, the people who have trained under our roof will tell you how much better their bodies feel and move after a solid training block.  The honest truth is that we just get people stronger, and we do so correctly.   We incorporate all of the components necessary to prepare someone to confidently enter the playing field, or the roads if he or she is a distance runner.  And it’s not just lifting weights.  It's the entire package of movement preparation, corrective exercise, etc. that was discussed in Part 1.

Again, I don't mean to bash distance runners.  You have to respect dedication to any sport.  My earnestness stems from having to constantly answer questions regarding why so-and-so is hurt after a few months of running.  I'm just trying to help people take action before it's too late, as opposed to reaction after the fact. 

That's it for today.  Stay tuned for Part 3!


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