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Don't Run To Get Faster

That’s right I said, “Don’t run to get faster.” Have you ever considered that running isn’t the most effective way to get faster? Does running less and getting faster sound appealing? Read on…

Recently numerous developments have confirmed that including a progressive strength-training program involving running specific exercises can have a dramatic effect on running performance. If executed properly, a strength routine can be much more effective then running in increasing speed and reducing fatigue.

Historical thinking was in order to become a better runner you needed to run. Run faster, further and more. High weekly mileage was looked as directly correlating with increased running performance and was considered the primary focus of many running programs and without it you wouldn’t reach your full potential. In fact, this is still the thought process for many coaches and runners today. While I agree in some individuals high weekly mileage will increase running performance, this isn’t true for everyone. I would even argue that for these runners who respond to high mileage, a running specific strength routine would have a greater impact on performance then continuing to increase mileage.

Scientifically this “old school high mileage” thinking was absolutely justified. Running is an extremely cardiovascular and muscular activity. It is completely logical to assume running more is the most effective way to work those systems.

However, over the past few years it has been increasingly understood that runners are much more then leg muscles powered by a big heart and that the central nervous system plays a much bigger role in running performance.

The central nervous system regulates everything that happens in a runner’s body; it allows the brain and muscles to communicate coordination and speed of muscle contractions, controls changes in your body’s heart rate and cardiac output and the extent to which you experience fatigue. When the central nervous system is working optimally your body is firing each muscle fiber in perfect harmony and at the exact timing, producing the most amount of force resulting in optimal stride length and rate. This process is often called one’s running economy. The most efficient way to increase one’s running economy is through running specific strength training and explosive work.

Running specific strength training involves performing exercises that closely mimic the demands of running. These exercises are performed unilaterally (one leg at a time) and involve multiple muscles working together much like they would during running. I typically recommend incorporating 2 to 3 session per week involving 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions each. As you get stronger start adding weight.

The 5 best running specific strength exercises are:

  1. Single leg bench lunge

  2. Single leg dead lift

  3. Step ups with knee raise

  4. Single leg squat

  5. Single leg calf raises

The other way to increase your speed without running is through explosive exercises, often called plyometric’s. Historically, plyometrics were thought as an exercise that only sprinters should incorporate but recent studies have shown otherwise. One Olympic Finnish study linked 9 weeks of explosive exercise with the largest gain in running economy ever published. Another study found an increase of 3% in 3k performance (9:00 to 8:43) by implementing 15 explosive exercises over a 6-week period. I typically recommend 5 to 8 exercises with varying sets and repetitions

The best explosive/ploymetric exercises are:

  1. Squat Jumps

  2. Standing Broad Jumps

  3. Bounding (double leg, single leg & straight leg)

  4. Bounding over hurdles

  5. Box Jumps

  6. Tuck Jumps

  7. Ankle Bounces

  8. Depth Jumps

I would suggest including these exercises during your base-building phase in place of increased mileage and depending on the spacing of workouts can be continued throughout a workout phase. I would highly discourage starting these mid-season, as your body will not have time to adapt to the intensity and handle a full workout schedule. I start with a few weeks of strength only, leading into a few weeks of plyometrics & strength routine. These exercises are intense and if not careful can increase chance of injury. Moreover, performing these while fatigue while decrease their effectiveness.

So, next time you’re planning on increasing your mileage in hopes of getting faster try incorporating exercises like the ones above first. That’s how you don’t run to get faster.

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