As the weather warms (and it IS warming up, despite this morning's dusting of snow!), we will all be heading back outside for our favorite outdoor activities, and one of my new loves in the last couple years is running. It's a great chance to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors while being active.
Since I started running a couple years ago, I became interested in the science of running and whether there was any research that could help me improve. And, as it turns out, there is a clear relationship between running and one of my other favorite activities: maximal strength training.
Runners often strength train with lighter weights and higher numbers of repetitions, thinking that this will aid their endurance. Maximal strength training, on the other hand, refers to lifting with heavy weights and low-repetition sets. This type of strength training is thought to build strength largely through neural adaptations, meaning that your muscles, nerves, and brain are learning how to work together more effectively. I enjoy it because I often see fairly rapid progress in my strength gains and because I find it emotionally easier to push through 4 heavy reps than 12 lighter reps. :)
There have been several studies to demonstrate an improvement in running economy (or how much energy it takes to run a given distance) following several weeks of maximal strength training. In one such study, runners were given a pre-training running test and then half of them engaged in 8 weeks of strength training involving half-squats with a heavy load. After the 8 weeks, the runners were tested again. Runners who had participated in the strength training regimen saw a 5% improvement in running economy, as well as a whopping 21% improvement in how long they could run at maximal speed compared to the control group. You can find a PDF of the original study here.
So whether you are new to running or you want to push yourself to new limits, consider adding in some maximal strength training to your schedule this spring to complement your running or walking routine. Happy running!