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Improve Your Running Economy
In addition to injury prevention, strength training has been shown to directly improve running performance. Of course, running is the most effective way to improve your ability to run faster, but as we’ve seen — and you’ve probably learned in your own training — we can’t infinitely increase mileage or workout volumes. Therefore, we can use general strength work to speed our improvements along while getting in the appropriate amount of actual run training.
But how does improving your running economy make you faster? By improving running economy, a runner should be able to run faster over the same distance with less effort. This is the result of more powerful muscle contractions without a corresponding increase in effort with each stride, more efficient form (i.e., less wasted energy), and a decrease in oxygen consumption while running at the same speed.
Here are some interesting preliminary results about the performance benefits of strength training:
In 2009, Sato and Mokha studied 28 recreational runners with 5K PRs just under 30 minutes. During the six week experiment, both groups continued their normal training routines, but the experimental group was given a set of five exercises to be performed four times a week in 2-3 sets of 10-15 repeats each. The experimental group dropped their 5K time by 47 seconds, while the control group only improved 17 seconds.
A 2008 study by Øyvind Støren and coworkers in Norway examined a more rigorous program focusing on raw leg strength. Seventeen runners (nine men and eight women) with 5K bests in the 18:40-range partook. Støren’s subjects displayed no increase in oxygen intake but a 5% increase in running economy and a startling 21% improvement in a treadmill run to exhaustion at somewhat faster than 3K race pace versus the control group, who had no improvement on either mark.