Concurrent Training: The strength behind endurance running

By Riley Gould

Following on from our concurrent training article, this article takes a detailed look at how resistance training can positively affect running performance and reduce time pounding the pavement to get the same, if not better result.

More and more we are seeing long distance athletes reducing the amount of kilometres trained in order to get their fitness up. Gone are the days where an AFL player will be required to do 10km a day in order to achieve the 15-16kms they need to perform in a game.

Due to progressions in technology, with the addition of GPS and Heart rate evaluation, scientists and coaches have identified that the need to run at a steady pace is no longer the priority that it once was, athletes can achieve the same aerobic (fitness) capacity in half the amount of distance covered with a combination of strength training and interval work.

Sportsman doing exercise in the park at evening jog

To first understand the purpose of using strength training during a running program, you must understand some of the basic principles behind running performance and how they can be altered. The training method of most middle to long distance runners is to pound the pavement throughout the week with the hope to improve their aerobic endurance, and ultimately reduce the time it takes to achieve their desired running distance. This approach is based on the idea that by increasing either your lactate threshold or VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake), which can be used as indicators of aerobic performance, is the only way to improve your running performance.

Although these factors are indeed important for aerobic endurance, research has also revealed that energy cost is a better predictor of endurance performance rather than VO2max [1].If this sounds complicated, think of it as an input-output system. Let’s class lactate threshold and VO2max as our input and as these increase our ability to run at a faster pace for longer also increases. Now think of energy expenditure as our output, or how much energy is used from the input to produce your running movement. Therefore, to improve running performance an individual should aim at not only increasing their input, but also reducing their output.

So what exactly effects energy expenditure during running?

There are many factors that can affect your energy expenditure while running, both external (environment) and internal (gait, injury, muscle contractility). For the purpose of this article let’s focus on the things we can alter through training, or the internal factors. Think of these internal factors as alterations to your running movement and the required amount of energy needed to perform that movement, which can affect running economy and therefore energy expenditure.

[cro_callout text=”For example: Side to side movement in your running gait > a greater amount of energy then needed to propel you forward > reduced running economy > increase in energy expenditure > shorter time until fatigue at a constant speed.” layout=”1″ color=”1″]

How can you improve running economy and reduce energy expenditure?

The most obvious answer would be to improve running technique, however due to the fact that I’m not a running coach it would be out of my scope to comment on alterations in running style. Instead I will discuss the benefits of strength training when incorporated into a structured running routine, or what is called ‘concurrent training’.

It has been proven that maximal or explosive strength training implemented alongside running training can improve running economy and increase time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed, without any alterations to VO2max [3,4]. Simplified, this means that you can obtain improvements in your running times through structured strength training, without any change to your aerobic capacity (time spent running).

How does strength training improve running economy?

Maximal strength training is suggested to improve running economy via neural adaptations and changes in recruitment patterns [2]. Essentially, with an increase in your maximal strength (1RM), a lower percentage of your maximal strength (1RM) in your lower limbs is needed to perform a stride which then reduces the demands of the number of motor units (muscle fibres) recruited.

As you may have also previously known from discussions (with the coaches at Hammer Athletic) about maximal strength training, it can reduce the time it takes for a muscle contraction to reach peak force output (recruitment patterns). When running this would result in less time needed for your muscle to contract during each stride while increasing the time it has to relax between each stride. This increase in relaxation time results in a better blood flow through the working muscle, improving the access to oxygen and substrates (both needed for aerobic muscle contractions) which may then indicate a longer time until exhaustion.

Explosive strength training is also another method of resistance training which has shown improvements in running economy when implemented into a concurrent strength-endurance training program [3]. The improvements in running economy through explosive-strength training have been suggested to be similar to that of maximal strength training, with a further emphasis on improving the stretch shortening cycle.

Implementing a concurrent strength-endurance running program.

This is heavily dependent on the distance of your desired running event, especially when structuring your running program. The running program should be performed as per normal dependent on the distance being trained for. While the strength program can be altered depending on maximal strength training or explosive strength training. You should be performing bilateral or unilateral exercises which have greater transference to running. An example would be performing back squats or split squats instead of leg extensions or leg press. Loading should be 80% of 1 repetition max or above performed at 6 reps or below. Any explosive-strength training should be performed as such, at high speed with lighter loads, such as jump squats or weighted jumps.

This type of training style will be implemented during Hammer Athletic’s running program later this year, and will cover a concurrent strength-endurance program targeted at a 5km running distance. It will focus on individualized loading and intensities during strength training as well as running speeds to achieve an individual’s lactate threshold. Using this training method we aim to see improvements in running economy, increases in maximal aerobic speed and a reduction in running times.

Want to test it out? Join our Run Forrest, Run Clinic where we will implement these principles to improve your running performance and overall fitness.

Reference List

  1. Di Pampero, P. E., Capelli, P., & Pagliaro, P. (1993). Energetics of best performance middle-distance running. Journal of Applied Physiology , 74, 2318-2324.
  2. Hoff, J., & Helgerud, J. (2003). Maximal strength training enhances running economy and aerobic endurance. Football. New Developments in Physical Training Research , 37-53.
  3. Paavolainen, L., Hakkinen, K., Hamalainen, I., Nummela, A., & Rusko, H. (1999). Explosive-strength training improves 5km running time by improving running economy and muscular power. Journal of Applied Physiology , 86, 1527-1533.
  4. Storen, O., Helgerud, J., Maria Stoa, E., & Hoff, J. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medical Science in Sports and Exericse , 40 (6), 1089-1094.



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