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STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING IN RUNNERS/ ENDURANCE SPORTS

- Have you picked up your running distance during this isolation period?

- Have you started to notice little niggles which are hampering your continuous training?

- How can we ensure consistent injury preventative running/endurance training?

During this time of lockdown and isolation, exercise has helped many of us break away and manage our frustration. In a Telehealth (online consultation) capacity, many physios have started commenting on the increase in overuse/loading injuries.

An amazing aspect of this lockdown has been the capacity to ‘step up our learning’ to ensure that we are at our highest level of evidence-based practice. I recently listened to a great online Running Symposium held in Australia, lead by evidence-based practitioners at the top of their game.

A talk that caught my interest was by Australian physiotherapist as well as strength and conditioning coach, Trang Nguyen. Trang re-emphasised the need for strength training in endurance sports as well as correct load management.

DID YOU KNOW? Leading up to Kipchoge’s world record, he was covering 20-40Km’s of running/day?!

How did he get to this stage? Becoming an elite athlete took years of constant loading, resistance and strength training- which in turn helped Kipchoge’s body develop a high resistance and tolerance to running.

In terms of running and loading management, there are a lot of easily accessible resources and guidance guidelines. As physios we can assist with loading management, gait, running technique etc- however, something I want to discuss is the need for strength training in endurance athletes.

Resistance training improves trained runner's economy by up to 8%, while explosive strength training makes your 5km faster by improved economy and muscle power. Weight lifting improves performance (speed), running economy, and muscle power. Weight training is also shown to positively strengthen respective body tissues to deal with the high loads required during running. (Alexander JLN, Barton CJ & Willy RW, 2019).

How many endurance athletes reading this have a set strength training programme performed 2-3 times/week? Are you familiar with all the elements of training? If not, here is a recap!

Trang emphasised the need for strength training in endurance athletes with a direct correlation to injury prevention. So how do we go about this?


1) Reps and weights

- Runners need to perform heavy resistance training

- This is done at 60% of an individuals 1RM (1 rep max) for 3-6 sets of 5-8 reps (Ronnestad ,2014). This section of exercises is performed at a constant slower pace throughout the whole exercise e.g. squat.

-Explosive resistance training should also be performed at 0-60% of one’s 1RM with maximum mobilisation during the concentric phase. (e.g during a squat, the concentric phase would be coming up from the bent knee position back to standing). This section of the exercise should be performed as fast as possible. (E.g. slower down and faster up).

Trang’s top strength exercises? Squats, deadlifts, calf raises (knee bent and knee straight) as well as lunges.

2) Plyometrics

The Runner’s World magazine defines plyometric training as: “a high-velocity movement that relies on power generated through what is called the “stretch-shortening cycle.” Runner’s World went on to suggest the 7 best plyometric exercises for runners: jump squats, burpees, jumping lunge, side hops, single leg lateral jumps, box jumps as well as bleacher hops. If you are not too sure of these exercises, follow the link: https://www.runnersblueprint.com/plyometric-exercises-for-runners/

Trang highlighted a few points for plyometrics:

-Do not work to the point of fatigue/exhaustion/ breaking point. These exercises are there to supplement your running training- not hinder it. Tran did not recommend attending HIIT set classes as a group plyometric class, as it is often too long to fit in as an adjunct to your running training. This often leads to fatigue, poor recovery and could worsen your running efforts.

As a physio, I would recommend picking two of the above exercises during a holistic training session and perform 10-12 reps with 3 sets for each exercise. Change the exercises up in-between each training session.

3) Type:

-It is important that your exercise sessions are holistic and include the upper body, core as well as the lower body.

-During a training session, try start with the bigger compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time (e.g squat) and then move to accessory exercises (exercises focusing on one muscle group e.g bicep curls) towards the end of the session.

-Make sure that your training is specific- running is a unilateral sport (we weight-bear through one leg at a time), so ensure that you emphasise single limb training e.g. single leg squats, single calf raises, single leg balance etc. This will help create stabilisation through our kinetic chains which help prevent running injures.

4) Frequency:

-During the off-season as well as during the season: sessions 2-3 x a week

-Building up to a race/ tapering (maintenance)- 1 session x week

5) Muscle groups

-The primary force for runners is generated through the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves.

-The secondary force is provided through the core, hip flexors, lower back muscles, foot and ankle muscles as well as upper arm muscles (arm swing).

NB: don’t ignore the importance of upper body training as a holistic running approach!

6) Programme timing

-Tailor your programme to your race schedule- try to periodize

-Ensure that your strength and conditioning session (S&C) is at least 3 hours post or pre running training. If you are training in such quick succession- ensure you get a high carb/protein meal in in-between sessions.

-If you do a heavier S+C session and suffer from delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), rather commence with your following training session within the next 24-48 hours.

-Remember the S&C is there to complement the running. Ensure you don’t overdo the S+C training to the point that it effects your running training.

7) Technique is everything

-Heavy resistance + poor technique= injury

-Strength training done correctly leads to great tissue adaption

-If you are new to strength training- seek advice! There are many great Physios, PT’s, Rehab Chiros, Running Coaches, S+C coaches willing to help you train safely and efficiently.

-Set the foundation strength wise- you wouldn’t go out and run a 21km run as a new runner? So why try lift heavy from day one? Build it up slowly and steadily. Remember, consistency is THE best type of injury prevention!

This can come out as an information overload! If you have any queries, please feel free to contact us at Physiolistic. We are a phone call away!

Tom Workman

Senior Physiotherapist


References:

Alexander JLN, Barton CJ, Willy RW

Infographic. Running myth: strength training should be high repetition low load to improve running performance

British Journal of Sports Medicine Published Online First: 25 September 2019. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101168

Special thanks:

Australian physiotherapist as well as strength and conditioning coach, Trang Nguyen.

Great to get your guidance in in the S+C of endurance athletes. I look forward to your future talks!

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