How can strength training make you fast? Stride Length

By Tim Allerton MS, CPT, EP

Strength training and endurance training appear to be on the opposite ends of the fitness spectrum.  Both have the purpose of causing a physical adaptation.  Endurance training forces the body to increase its oxygen transporting ability to allow for longer bouts of running, for example. Strength training improves the body’s ability to produce force.  Men and women that are looking to improve their running performance should to look to strength training as a way of improving their performance without increasing their mileage.

Running speed is a product of stride length and stride frequency.  During the course of an endurance event there are several factors that can limit one’s performance.  However, all of those factors ultimately contribute to a reduction in the length and frequency of running stride.  According to the research there is a gradual decline in the length of the stride in distance runners as the event progresses. This is due to the fatigued muscles inability to continuously contract and propel the body.

The University of Madrid conducted a study of 18 well-trained distance runners. The study randomly assigned the athletes to a strength training group or a control group.  The results of the study demonstrated that a progressive strength training program attenuates the loss of stride length during endurance events.  The researchers believed that the loss of muscle power at the latter stages of an endurance event contributed to the reduction in stride length. The group of runners that completed strength training was able to maintain their stride length for longer durations throughout the event.  (Esteve-Lano, 2008)

Strength training for the endurance athlete should target the muscles specific to running.  These are the muscles of your lower body such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and buttocks.  However, the abdomen, shoulders, and arms are important in running as well. Neglecting those muscles could ultimately limit performance.  Running is a dynamic movement that requires the coordination of different body parts (kinetic chain).  If one particular muscle group is much weaker than the others it creates a weak link in the kinetic chain. With this knowledge it is apparent that a strength training program for the endurance athlete should involve the whole body.