Better Running Through Strength Training

The following is one in an ongoing series of articles written by Wayne L. Westcott PhD.

Distance running is a great sport that is enjoyed at a variety of levels by millions of competitive and recreational athletes. Whether you prefer to jog a couple of miles through the neighborhood, or are training to complete a marathon, distance running is a highly effective and efficient means of aerobic conditioning. Unfortunately, distance running is considerably less beneficial for your musculoskeletal system. Injury rates among runners are extremely high. In fact, at the high school level, cross-country runners experience more injuries than athletes in any other sport, including football and gymnastics.

Why is a non-contact sport like running such a high-risk activity? Actually, running involves an incredible amount of contact, but it is with road surfaces rather than other athletes. Every running stride places about three times the weight of your body on your foot, ankle, knee and hip joints. These landing forces may also stress your lower back structures.

The repetitive pounding encountered mile after mile produces a degree of micro-trauma to the shock-absorbing tissues. Under ideal conditions, these tissues recover completely within a 24-hour period. However, there are numerous factors that may interfere with normal recovery processes, eventually resulting in weakened and injury-prone tissues. These factors include longer running sessions, faster running paces, shorter recovery periods between workouts, more downhill running, more hard-surface running, more racing, more general fatigue, and undesirable changes in eating or sleeping patterns.

Of course, you may wisely take steps to reduce the amount of tissue trauma and decrease your risk of running-related injuries. Such precautions include making very gradual increases in training distances and speeds, taking sufficient recovery periods (particularly between hard training sessions), selecting user-friendly running courses (soft surfaces and level terrain), competing in fewer races, avoiding over-fatigue, and paying careful attention to proper nutrition and sleep.

However, one of the most effective means for minimizing tissue trauma is to develop stronger muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments and bones. This is the primary reason that every runner should perform regular strength exercise. Consider the results of our four-year strength training project with the Notre Dame High School girls’ cross-country and track teams.

Notre Dame High School Strength Training Program For four consecutive years, 30 distance runners from Notre Dame High School participated in a basic and brief strength training program during the summer and winter months between their cross-country and track seasons. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they performed 30 minutes of strength exercise (12 Nautilus machines) that addressed all of their major muscle groups. Each of these years, the cross-country team won both the Massachusetts and New England championships in this sport. More important, during the four years that they did strength training, only one girl experienced an injury that resulted in a missed practice session or meet.

Strength Training Benefits
The Notre Dame runners realized that a sensible strength training program provides many benefits for runners. These include the following:

  • Greater muscle strength
  • Greater muscle endurance
  • Greater joint flexibility
  • Better body composition
  • Reduced injury risk
  • Improved self-confidence
  • Improved running economy

While the first six strength training benefits should be self-explanatory, you may be intrigued by improved running economy. In a 1995 study at the University of New Hampshire, the women cross-country runners who did strength training experienced a significant improvement in their running economy. They required 4 percent less oxygen at sub-maximum running speeds (7:30, 7:00, and 6:30 minute mile paces), meaning that they could run more efficiently and race faster than before.

Runner Concerns
With so many advantages, why do so few runners regularly perform strength exercise? Consider these four concerns that keep many runners from strength training:

  • Increased bodyweight
  • Decreased movement speed
  • Less fluid running form
  • Fatigued muscles

Let’s take a closer look at each of these issues.

Increased Bodyweight
Very few people who perform strength exercise have the genetic potential to develop large muscles. This is especially true for distance runners, who typically have ectomorphic (thin) physiques. Strength training increases their muscle strength and endurance, but rarely results in significant weight gain.

Decreased Movement Speed
With respect to running speed, our studies and many others have shown that greater strength results in faster movement speeds. We need only look at sprinters and middle distance runners to realize that strength training has a positive impact on running speed, as essentially all of these athletes perform regular strength exercise.

Less Fluid Running Form
Running involves coordinated actions of the legs and the arms, and one cannot function without the other. Your right arm moves in mirror image with your left leg, and your left arm counterbalances your right leg in perfect opposition. That is why it is almost impossible to run fast and move your arms slow or to move your arms fast and run slow. By strengthening the upper body muscles, you more effectively share the running effort between your arms and legs, resulting in more fluid running form.

Fatigued Muscles
It is true that a strenuous strength training session can cause a considerable amount of muscle fatigue that could adversely affect the quality and quantity of your runs. That is why we recommend brief strength workouts that do not leave you feeling enervated or exhausted. Remember that you are strength training to enhance your running performance, not to become a competitive weightlifter. Our program of strength training requires just one set of exercise for each major muscle group, which does not take much time and does not produce much lasting fatigue. You may also choose to strength train only one or two days per week, which should make muscle fatigue even less likely.

Runners’ Strength Training Program
The strength training protocol followed by the Notre Dame athletes, and all of our runners, is a comprehensive conditioning program that addresses all of the major muscle groups in the body. We do not attempt to imitate specific running movements or emphasize specific running muscles, because this typically results in an overtrained, imbalanced, and injury-prone musculoskeletal system.

For example, the calf (gastrocnemius and soleous) muscles are used extensively in running. Due to their involvement in every running stride, many people think that runners should strengthen their calf muscles. Indeed they should, but it is even more important to strengthen their weaker counterpart, the shin (anterior tibial) muscles. If you strengthen only the larger and stronger calf muscles they will eventually overpower the smaller and weaker shin muscles, which may lead to shin splints, stress fractures, achilles tendon problems, and other lower leg difficulties. With this in mind, our runners always conclude their strength workouts with a set of weighted toe raises to strengthen the shin muscles and maintain balance within the lower leg musculature.

Some people believe that runners should complete numerous sets and many repetitions with light resistance to enhance their endurance capacity. However, this is not our purpose in performing strength training. Remember that running is best for improving cardiovascular endurance, and that strength training is best for increasing musculoskeletal strength.

Generally, muscle strength is best developed by training with moderate weightloads (about 75 percent of maximum) for 8 to 12 repetitions per set. However, distance runners typically possess a higher percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers, and therefore attain better results by training with about 12 to 16 repetitions per set. You should add 1 to 5 pounds more resistance whenever you complete 16 repetitions in good form. One set of each exercise is sufficient for strength development.

There is no reason to train with fast movement speeds, because training fast will not make you faster and training slow will not make you slower. Exercising with controlled movement speeds maximizes muscle tension and minimizes momentum for a better training effect. We recommend six-second repetitions, taking two seconds for each lifting movement and four seconds for each lowering movement.

Research supports three non-consecutive strength training sessions per week for best results, but fewer workouts can produce significant strength gains. Our recent studies have shown two weekly workouts to be 82 percent as effective and one weekly workout to be 69 percent as effective as three-day-per-week strength training.

Summary of Strength Training Guidelines

  • Exercise all of the major muscle groups
  • Perform 12 to 16 repetitions per set
  • Add one to five pounds whenever 16 repetitions can be completed
  • Perform one set of each exercise
  • Use controlled movement speeds (six seconds per rep)
  • Train one, two or three non-consecutive days per week

Recommended Strength Exercises For Runners
You may develop muscle strength with a variety of exercises using free-weights or machines. The following section presents recommended strength exercises for the major muscle groups.

Leg Muscles
Although barbell squats are the traditional leg exercise, most runners may do better to avoid placing a heavy barbell across their shoulders. Dumbbell squats are an acceptable alternative, but it may be difficult to hold enough weight to appropriately stress the large leg muscles.

Our recommendation is leg presses on a well-designed machine that offers a full movement range and good back support. It may be advisable to precede leg presses with leg extensions that target the quadriceps and leg curls that target the hamstrings. One set of each exercise is sufficient, but you may perform an additional set if you desire.

Upper Body Muscles
The typical exercises for the upper body are bench presses for the chest muscles, bent rows for the mid-upper back muscles, and overhead presses for the shoulder muscles. These are acceptable exercises, but are much safer when performed with dumbbells rather than barbells. For example, because there is no back support in a barbell bent row, the stress to the low-back area is 10 times the weight of the barbell. By using one dumbbell, and placing your other hand on a bench for back support, this exercise can be performed more safely and effectively.

If you have access to machines, we recommend chest crosses for the chest muscles, pullovers for the mid and upper back muscles, and lateral raises for the shoulder muscles. These machines require rotary movements that better isolate the target muscle groups. If you prefer linear movements that involve more muscle groups, well-designed chest press, seated row, and shoulder press machines provide combined training for the upper body and arm muscles.

Arm Muscles
The basic exercise for the biceps muscles is the arm curl, performed with barbells, dumbbells, or machines. Training the triceps involves some form of arm extension, either with free-weights or machines.

A good means for working the biceps and upper back muscles together is chin-ups with bodyweight or on a weight-assisted chin/dip machine. A good means for working the triceps and chest muscles together is bar dips with bodyweight or on a weight-assisted chin/dip machine.

Midsection Muscles
Machines provide the best means for safely and progressively conditioning the muscles of the midsection. In our opinion, the abdominal machine and low-back machine are key exercises for developing a strong and injury resistant midsection. We also recommend the rotary torso machine for strengthening the oblique muscles surrounding the midsection.

If appropriate machines are not available, the basic trunk curl may be the best alternative for abdominal conditioning. The recommended counterpart for the low-back muscles is a front-lying (face down) back extension. Although both of these exercises are performed with bodyweight resistance they are reasonably effective for strengthening the midsection muscles.

Neck Muscles
The neck muscles maintain head position throughout each run. As the head weighs up to 15 pounds, this is an important function. In fact, the first place where many runners fatigue and tighten up is the neck/shoulder area. We therefore recommend the 4-way neck machine to strengthen these muscles. If you do not have access to this machine, perhaps the best approach is manual resistance. That is, place your hands in front of your forehead to resist slow neck flexion movements, and place your hands behind your head to resist slow neck extension movements.

Table 1 presents the recommended strength training exercises for an overall conditioning program that should be beneficial for runners.

Table 1. Recommended Strength Training Program: Basic Exercises

Major Muscle Groups Machine Exercises Free-Weight Exercises

Quadriceps Leg Extension Machine Dumbbell Half-Squat
Hamstrings Leg Curl Machine Dumbbell Half-Squat
Chest Chest Cross Machine Dumbbell Bench Press
Upper Back Pullover Machine Dumbbell Bent Row
Shoulders Lateral Raise Machine Dumbbell Overhead Press
Biceps Biceps Machine Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Triceps Triceps Machine Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Low Back Low Back Machine Back Extension (Bodyweight)
Abdominals Abdominal Machine Trunk Curls (Bodyweight)

Once you have mastered the basic exercise program, you may want to add some of the exercises presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Recommended Strength Training Program: Additional Exercises

Muscle Groups Machine Exercises Free Weight Exercises

Quadriceps & Hamstrings Leg Press Machine Dumbbell Lunge
Chest & Triceps Weight-Assisted Chin/Dip Machine Bar Dip
Upper Back & Biceps Weight-Assisted Chin/Dip Machine Chin Up
Internal & External Obliques Rotary Torso Machine Trunk Curls with Twists
Neck Flexors & Extensors 4-Way Neck Machine Manual Resistance Neck Flexion   & Extension
Calves Calf Machine Dumbbell Heel Raises
Shins Weight Plate Toe Raises

Summary
The main objectives of a strength training program for runners is to decrease injury risk and increase performance potential. For best results the program should be high in exercise intensity and low in training time. One good set of 12-16 repetitions for each major muscle group is recommended for a safe, effective and efficient exercise experience. One or two training sessions per week are sufficient, although three weekly workouts produces greater strength gains. Each workout should take no more than 20-30 minutes depending upon the number of exercises performed. The key to productive strength training is proper exercise technique, which includes full movement range and controlled movement speeds. When you make every repetition count, a basic and brief training program should increase your strength significantly (40-60 percent) over a two month training period.

TAKU’s NOTE: Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and Club Industry magazines.

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3 phases to strength development:

There are 3 phases to an athletes’ strength development:

Phase # 1– This is the stimulation phase. It is necessary for the athlete to perform exercises that are challenging. We recommend training to voltional fatigue (sometimes referred to as momentary muscular failure) in order to trigger the strength and growth mechanism. Once strength and growth are triggered through proper stimulation, it cannot be triggered anymore for that training session.

Phase # 2– This is the Recovery phase. Recovery is necessary after stimulation has occurred. Recovery should be as short as possible. In order to keep the recovery short, the athlete must train with the least amount of sets possible preferably one set per exercise after the athlete learns to train intensely and is at the appropriate level. This will make the program more efficient.

Phase # 3– This is the growth phase. This phase will begin after the recovery phase is complete. Growth and strength will occur at the same time. On a proper set / rep scheme, a larger muscle is a stronger muscle. It is important to keep the growth phase as long as possible. In order to do this an athlete should train each body part less often. Strength and growth will follow recovery if during the training session you progressed in strength, either by performing more reps in an exercise than the previous workout or by lifting more weight in an exercise than the previous time you performed a set of that particular exercise.

Hybrid Fitness maintains that an athlete should have more days off than training days. This will ensure a longer growth phase. If an athlete trains again before the recovery phase ends, it will put them back into recovery again and if this repeats many times, the strength and growth phase will never occur and the athlete will be in an over-trained state that could take time to get out of.

Productive training means doing enough to get all 3 phases working properly. Efficient training will occur by spending less time training. Coaches need to take all these phases into account for each athlete. Each athlete will eventually be on his or her own individual program. This takes work but is well worth it.

PAU for NOW

TAKU

Best of Both Worlds: Stretching and Strengthening

By ©  Wayne L. Westcott PhD

There are numerous books, articles, and videos about stretching available. Many of these resources describe several types of stretching exercises and present sample programs for improving joint flexibility. However, the proposed stretching protocols presented often require up to an hour to perform.

While I do not question the effectiveness of such programs, in my experience few people have time for sixty minutes of stretching exercise. In fact, most of our fitness center participants spend about 30 minutes doing strength training (15 Nautilus machines) and about 30 minutes doing endurance exercise (treadmill, cycle, stepper, cross-trainer, etc.), leaving little time in a typical one-hour workout for stretching.

Our latest research has demonstrated the benefits of including stretching in the overall exercise program, but our participants attained excellent results from relatively brief stretching sessions. Consider the following findings from two of our studies on stretching exercise.

STUDY ONE: Our first study in this area was conducted with 77 golfers (average age 57 years) who did a standard strength training program (13 Nautilus exercises). Fifty-two golfers did strength training only, and 25 golfers did a combination of strength training and stretching exercise. The stretching protocol consisted of six exercises performed on a StretchMate apparatus (a platform and steel frame threaded with elastic cable and resembling a large spiderweb). Each stretch was held for 10 seconds, with most stretches performed on both sides of the body, and the total time requirement was about three minutes.

Both groups of golfers made impressive improvements in body composition, adding about four pounds of muscle and losing about four pounds of fat over the eight-week training period. However, the golfers who performed stretching exercises increased their joint flexibility significantly more than the golfers who did only strength training. More important to the golfers, those who did strength training and stretching increased their club head speed twice as much as those who did only strength training (5.2 mph vs. 2.6 mph).

Club head speed basically determines driving power, with each mile per hour increase equivalent to about 2.3 yards more driving distance. The combination of strength training and stretching exercise produced the greatest improvement in club head speed, and the total workout time was less than 30 minutes.

STUDY TWO: Our second study on stretching exercise involved 76 participants from our fitness classes. The small group fitness classes run hourly throughout the day in our research center (six members with two instructors). Each class consists of 12 Nautilus exercises and about 20 to 25 minutes of aerobic activity (treadmill or cycle).

About half of the research participants performed the standard training protocol, whereas the other half added stretching exercises to the workout. To save time and to make the stretches specific to the strength training, we paired every Nautilus exercise with an appropriate stretch for the same muscle group. Each stretch was held for 20 seconds, and most were done right on the Nautilus machines.

For example, the Nautilus leg extension exercise for the quadriceps muscles was followed by the standing quadriceps stretch. Likewise, the Nautilus leg curl exercise for the hamstrings muscles was followed by the seated hamstrings stretch. This pairing procedure made productive use of the rest time between machines, using 20 seconds for single stretches and 40 seconds for stretches performed on both sides of the body. Although the total time requirement for the stretches was about six minutes, the actual duration of the workout was about the same due to the strategic placement of the stretching exercises between the Nautilus exercises.

The results of this 10-week study were both anticipated and surprising. We expected the group that included stretching exercises to make greater gains in joint flexibility, and indeed they did. Their hamstrings flexibility increased 2.4 inches compared to a 1.4-inch improvement in the group that did not stretch.

However, we also found that the stretching group gained almost 20 percent more muscle strength than their non-stretching counterparts. Specifically, the participants who paired Nautilus and stretching exercises increased their hamstrings strength by 19.5 pounds, whereas the participants who did not stretch increased their hamstrings strength by only 16.4 pounds.

So this study also showed superior results by combining strength training and stretching exercises. It would therefore seem that muscle strength, joint flexibility, movement speed, and performance power can all benefit from a relatively basic and brief exercise program that includes appropriate strengthening and stretching components.

Just as our previous research demonstrated that one set of each strength exercise is as productive as two or three sets, these studies clearly indicate that a few minutes of stretching exercise are sufficient for significantly improving joint flexibility. In fact, the three-minute stretching sessions performed by the golfers produced a 24-percent average increase in their hip and shoulder flexibility.

TAKUS’s NOTE: Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA, and author of several books on fitness, including Building Strength and Stamina, and Strength Training Past 50. Thanks to Dr Westoctt for allowing me to share his material.

THE SECRET TO SUPER SIZE!

I’ve been keeping this to myself for years. It’e been the secret to both my success and the success of my clients. It’s why I have more happy clients than anyone else on the entire planet earth.

I didn’t want to share my secret…but finally after much serious thought, I’ve decided it’s time to let everyone in on the best kept secret in muscle & strength building.

People always ask professional trainers what supplements they recommend. Usually I just offer the basics, protein, fish-oil, maybe a good multi-vitamin. But now I am finally going to reveal the best supplement that no ne has told you about.

BULL URINE:

Yep, thats what I said…Bull Urine. How do you take it? You drink it ofcourse. I recocomend at least two liters per day if you are under 200lbs, and three liters per day if you are over 200lbs.

It has to be urine collected from free-range, grass-fed Belgian Blue bulls, and it needs to be harvested from their first relief of the day. Drink the first liter first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. As soon as you drink it, do one jumping jack, and then immediately sit down, close your eyes and breath deeply in and out for thirty seconds (inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth). Wait one hour, and then eat your normal breakfast.

After your workout of the day, follow the same procedure as the morning. This time wait just 20 minutes and then drink one pint of chocolate milk.

Follow this regimen cycling three weeks on, and one week off for 90 days. By the end of this time, most people will have gained a minimum of 10 lbs of lean muscle (some may gain as much as 25-30 lbs).

Well, there you have it. The best kept secret in the bodybuilding, strength training world. Who needs steroids when you can get Belgian Blure Urine?

PAU for NOW

TAKU

P.S. Oh yeah…What day is today? That’s right…APRIL 1st.