When you participate in a sport that requires you to cross mountains, you soon learn that the stronger you are, the further you can go. Trail running demands powerful glutes and arms to drive us uphill, strong quads to resist miles of downhill and a rock-stable core to rule them all.
We should embrace Strength Training for two reasons; it decreases our risk of overuse injuries and improves running performance.
Strength training is one of the most effective prevention strategies for running injuries and also the most underutilised. By introducing weights into your regular running program, you can decrease your risk of overuse injury by almost 50%. Lifting heavy increases bone density, thickens joint cartilage and increases the capacity of our muscles and tendons to deal with the demands of more prolonged efforts.
Most runners aim to improve their running performance and economy by running more. The more you run, the better you get, right? This is true; but as we adapt, we gradually get used to the stimulus of running and performance will plateau unless we introduce a more challenging stimulus. Strength training provides that stimulus. Physical therapist Jay Discharry sums it up:
“Weight training requires the runner to produce forces well above those seen during running. It’s possible to activate a very high percentage of a runner’s muscle mass, with minimal physiological fatigue. It’s a great training tool to better develop the runner.””
Weight training not only builds muscle but also improves the communication between your brain and muscles, enhancing your ability to:
- Recruit more muscle fibers for more powerful muscle contractions.
- Recruit synergistic muscles in synchronization for better skill performance.
- Recruit muscles at a faster rate.
Trail takeaway: While greater muscle activation will improve your climbing ability and running speed, better synchronisation and faster contraction response will sharpen your coordination over technical trail sections. Also, your muscles will fatigue at a slower rate, enhancing endurance and lowering the risk for cramping.
Running Economy (RE) is measured by how much oxygen you use while running at a given pace. During running, the tendons in your lower legs act like springs by storing elastic energy during landing and releasing the built-up energy during push-off. This mechanism is called elastic recoil and serves as a ‘free energy system’ that drives you forward, decreasing the workload in the muscles. Strength training increases tendon stiffness, enhancing their capacity to store and release free energy. As a result, your muscles are doing less work and consuming less oxygen, resulting in better RE.
Trail takeaway: Strength training makes you a more efficient runner.
Read more on how to optimise your strength training workouts here.