I want to take a second and talk about running. Running is something that humans have done for as long as we have been human. Running is not merely a survival mechanism – it is a beautiful, astounding, almost spiritual expression of our fitness. With that being said, running sucks! I mean, running really, really sucks! But, it wasn’t always this way. Running is something that we are designed to do, in the most mechanically efficient way possible. We run the ways that our bodies are designed to run, or, at least, we are meant to.
“I look so good! But, it hurts so bad!”
However, anyone who has ever watched anyone running know that we all have different running styles. Don’t worry; this isn’t just a post on the forefoot vs heel strike debate. That comes later! Most of these differences aren’t due to the fact that we’re prone to internal or external rotation whilst running – more on that later. It is mostly due to the fact that we, as a populace, are spending way too much time on our asses. That’s right! Sitting for hours on end is making you immobile, due to the fact that you are developing scar tissue in your bodies’ collagen deposits in your joints. This is leading to you, as a human who is designed to run and express your fitness, to run in mechanically inefficient positions, which is then causing your body damage and forcing many people to give up running because, ‘it’s hard’, and ‘it hurts’. Of course it hurts! Your running has becomes a series of inefficient positions, transferring to the next inefficient position, and so forth.
So, what can we do about it? Well, proper warm ups and cool downs, mobility work – such as compressions, stretching and foam rolling – is all going to help, but that isn’t enough. The issue with most people’s running technique is a structural one. Generally, when we see people running they tend to either run correctly, or in a valgus, or varus position. Basically, the hip internally rotates and the ankle flicks out (valgus), or the hip externally rotates, and the knee faces outwards, with the ankle flicking inwards (varus). Neither of these is a good position for the hip, ankle or knee to be in during any athletic endeavor. It is not an optimal position for the hip to be in order to allow the musculature of the body to generate optimal force out put. So what causes this? Well, as I stated, it’s a structural issue. This means that the musculature of the body is what is causing these inefficient positions to occur, due to being too tight, weak, under developed etc.
Recognize anyone you know?
So given what we know now about these inefficient positions,and why they occur, it answers the question as to why runners, and endurance athletes seem to be injured all of the time! So what can we do to fix it? Well evidently, if the issue is structural, then we must strengthen and develop the structure – i.e. the human musculature – via strength training. However, what is the one thing that most endurance athletes don’t do? That’s right, you guessed it… Strength train.
“The best thing you can do to be a successful long distance runner, is choose your parents” – Dean Karnazes, ‘Ultramarathon Man’
The simple fact is if that we look at these incredible runners such as Dean Karnazes, and Jason Robillard, and we are all sitting there thinking ‘if they are the elite, then I need to do exactly what it is that they do to get better, then I will be the best!’ Wrong! The issue with this mentality is that what these runners are doing today is not what they were doing yesterday. They are at the heightened state of athletic performance due to genetics, hard work, and constant development. The ugly truth is that the majority of us are not technically competent enough to run a 5k, let alone that marathon you seem to think you are ready for! Always remember, you can have the sickest stroke volume and VO2max (max oxygen up take), but that means sweet F.A if your technique is poor and your structure is limiting your progression.
Brian Mackenzie, one of the foremost thinkers on modern endurance training
WHOA! SLOW DOWN! Ok, before you guys get your SKINS leggings all up in a bunch, I am not saying that you need to sack in the long runs and start pumping iron, cause, let’s face it, there is a reason by Bodybuilders and Powerlifters do not run marathons. Bulk is not a benefit to the endurance athlete. However, what if I told you that a slightly more developed upper body allows a runner to pendulum his arms at a greater force output by allowing more power to be generated throughout the body via each stride? Would you hit the gym then? At the end of the day, it’s a question of watts. He – or she – who can put out the greatest wattage at the lowest body weight has an advantage, simply by virtue of the fact that Force X Mass = Acceleration. When taking a hill on a bike, or on foot, your personal wattage may be what separates you as the one who crests the hill first, or last.
Listen to Dean Karnazes and Brian Mackenzie chat about endurance and strength
It is a well-known fact that endurance sports are some of the most physically taxing events that the human body can go through. As such their need for physical stability and muscular endurance is tantamount to their success. So, why is it that more endurance athletes don’t engage in strength training? Well, the main reason being is time constraint. Long distance events take time, and as such, training for these long distance events takes a great deal of time, and for the average endurance athletes primary means for VO2max increase. Many fear that resistance training will slow them down, decrease their VO2max, and take away recovery time from their other training. This is simply not the case.
The path less followed is the path of most resistance
True, there is no evidence to suggest that resistance training is going to benefit the athletes VO2max in any way what so ever. It just doesn’t tax the correct energy systems, but whatever. According to Jung, VO2max is not compromised when resistance training is added to an endurance program. Equally, resistance training has been shown to improve the running efficiency of an athlete by as much as 8%. This is largely due to improved neuro-muscular efficiency and force production. These findings have huge implications to the world of endurance sports, given the extremes endured by the athletes during their chosen events.
Something else worth mentioning is a study which was performed by Mikkola et al. which demonstrated that the integration of explosive resistance training into an endurance program for cross country skiers showed a greatly improved power output from the quadriceps muscles of the athletes. Cross-country skiers are said to have some of the best VO2max’s in the world. As such their ability to fuel their muscles is top notch, meaning that an increase in their ability to produce force will have a massive impact on the economy of movement and their efficiency during training and races.
Questionable outfit, awesome athlete!
As we can see, there is nothing to worry about in regards to a degradation of an athlete’s VO2max. In fact, resistance training can actually be a major benefit for the athlete. As we mentioned earlier, it is merely a question of wattage. Resistance training will help to improve maximal strength, running economy, neuromuscular efficiency, and will serve to increase structural stability.
At this point, given the amount of people who engage in endurance sports, we need to see an evolution in the training ideals of the endurance community at its very roots. We need to see people treating running as a skill – developing that skill and looking at the body as a tool to express your fitness. In every feat of athletic endeavor, whether it is training, or in an actual event, we have to remember just one thing. There should be no difference between moving in the strongest manner, the most mechanically efficient manner, and the safest manner.
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 Jung, A.P, ‘The Impact of Resistance Training on Distance Running Performance’, Sports Med, 2003; 33(7): 539-552
 Mikkola J.S, Rusko H.K, Nummella A.T, et al, ‘Concurrent Endurance and Explosive Type Strength Training Increases Activation and Fast Force Production of Leg Extensor Muscles in Endurance Athletes’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007, 21 (2) : 613-620. 10.1519/R.20045.1
 Millet G.P, Jaouen B., Borrani F. et al. ‘Effects of Concurrent Endurance and Strength Training on Running Economy and VO2 Kinetics’, Journal of Medical Science, Sport and Exercise, 2002; 34 (8): 1351-1359