Run Economy & Resistance Training

By Megan Brown

As runners, our main goal is to get the finish line as fast as we can and in most cases, ahead of as many people as possible. To achieve this goal, we set up complex training plans which include: long runs, shorter aerobic runs, tempo/threshold intervals, speed intervals and hill repeats.

 

Now, what if I told you that you could also get faster by investing some extra time in ‘NON-running’ workouts?

 

No, I am not referring to hitting the pool or jumping on your bike! I am suggesting that you can get faster as a runner by hitting the gym for strength and resistance training.

 

You have probably heard many times that RESISTANCE TRAINING can improve run performance. Some cite reasons such as ‘increased strength’ or ‘increased power’ or even ‘fatigue resistance’ for improved performance. Although many of these outcomes do lead to performance enhancement, resistance training, if done properly, has the most profound impact on performance because of its effect on run economy.

 

RUN ECONOMY is formally defined as the amount of oxygen consumed to run a given speed for a given distance. To illustrate: Erin may require 49ml of oxygen to run a 4:30 km, while it may cost Wes 54ml of oxygen to run his 4:30 km, making him ‘less economical’. With all things being equal, who do you expect to get to the finish line first? I bet you wish you were Erin!

 

You can also understand this concept by comparing your body to a car, and oxygen to gas; the more economical your car, the less gas you require to get from A to B at a given speed. And since gas (oxygen) is one of the limiting factors of performance, you want be as economical as possible.

 

Interestingly, most recreational (and even professional) runners loose a great deal of economy through their RUN MECHANICS. Below are some of the more common mechanical flaws:

  1. Hip instability
  2. Slow foot contact time
  3. Poor hamstring activation
  4. Insufficient knee drive

Therefore, a sound (run-specific) strength and resistance program that focuses on improving hip & core strength, foot contract time, hamstring activation and knee drive will inevitably make you a faster, more economical runner.

Below are examples of exercises that might be seen in such a program:

1)     Hip raise with hip abduction against resistance

– lie on you back, knees bent and feet firmly planted on the ground with resistance band around your knees

– raise your hips forming an incline bridge while pushing your knees out against resistance

*Start with 1 set of 12, move to 2 sets of 12-10 then 3 sets of 12-10-8

2)   Plank on swiss ball – “Stir the pot”

– form a plank on your elbows on a medium sized swiss ball

– contract your core while ensuring the integrity of your back stays strong

– use your forearms to ‘stir’ the swiss ball to the right and then to left while keep plank stable

* Start with 1 sets of 6xeach way; 2 sets of 6x each way; 3 sets of 6x each way 

3)     Hip raise with single straight leg

–        Lie on your back with your left knee bent and foot firm planted on the ground and right leg straight on the ground

–        Raise your hip (as in #1) while keeping your right leg straight; focus on leading the movement with your right leg so that your right hip is parallel with left hip and the end of the movement

–        Lower hip (and right leg) + repeat

–        To add a challenge, you can have the foot of your bent leg on a medicine ball creating an unstable surface

*Start with 1 set of 12x each leg then 2sets of 12xeach leg + 10xeach leg

4)     Running A’s against resistance 

–        Anchor a strong looped resistance band around a stable pole or piece of equipment  

–        With your back to equipment and the resistance band at waist level, run as hard as you can forward against the resistance

–        If done properly, the resistance band should keep you running in one spot despite your efforts to power forward

–        Continue to lean slightly forward and drive your knees, executing a perfect running motion

–        5-8 sets of 10sec; powerful running with high knees and perfect body condition

Thanks Megan Brown for providing us with this awesome article about run economy. Megan is a multiple-time Canadian cross country running champion and the current Canadian 1/2 marathon championShe coaches a wide array of runners in Toronto as part of MB Performance and can be reached at megan.brown2012@gmail.com


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