If you want to beat your best race time, it seems to help to spend time in the gym. Alex Hutchinson at Outside reports on recent studies that confirm that runners who do strength training turn in faster times.
Photo: Best Running
It isn't clear if the results are due to getting stronger, or to other benefits of weight training such as stiffer tendons and better neuromuscular "wiring" between the brain and body. One of the studies was a meta-analysis of 24 high-quality trials on trained runners. They excluded recreational runners (such as me and, most likely, you) just because newbies tend to improve with any sort of training.
In these studies, the runners who did weight or plyometrics training improved their running economy, time trial performance and sprinting speed, but they didn't grow bigger muscles. That can be a plus or a minus, depending on how you look at it: Elite runners don't want to carry any more weight than they need to, but most of the rest of us would like some muscles to show for our efforts.
So how should you work out to take advantage of this strength training boost? Hutchinson notes that two strength workouts per week could be a good way to start, and he summarises the exercises like so:
Common strength-training exercises used in the studies were barbell squat, deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges. For plyometrics, studies used drop jumps from a box that's eight to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) high, skipping, and hopping.
For practical purposes, the authors suggest incorporating different types of strength training at different times of the year, moving between different blocks of training. This way, you're throwing a new stimulus at your muscles once in a while instead of getting used to the same thing.
Fortunately, two strength sessions per week plus a few days of running fits right into the recommendations for how much exercise you need to be healthy.
How Strength Training Makes You Faster [Outside]