STRENGTH TRAINING AND THE DISTANCE RUNNER.
Why strength training?
Strength training is not just for sprinters, bodybuilders and power athletes. Increases in strength and power can have a profound effect on athletes competing over middle and long distances where thousands of strides are taken in training and racing. Making each stride more powerful, easier on joints and more efficient (http://jap.physiology.org/content/86/5/1527) can increase performance dramatically, reduce injury and help the athlete perform well later in life.
Strength training, stride length, power, speed work and flexibility.
Strength training can increase stride length and leg speed by improving the power (force produced in a given time) of each stride. Increasing the power of each stride can be done in various ways.
Increasing the maximum force produced by the muscles on ground contact will produce a longer stride at the same stride rate therefore an improvement in speed since speed (in this instance) is equal to stride rate x length of stride.
Increasing the speed of your training sessions will, in general, not only cause an increase in stride length and stride speed but also make running at slower speeds feel easier once an improvement in maximal speed has been achieved.
Increasing the speed of ground contact time, proprioception and balance by using plyometrics, explosive movements full body movements and balance exercises will make strides more efficient by ensuring force is efficiently transferred to the ground each stride.
Strength training has been proven to improve the stiffness and energy return capabilities of the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower leg creating a more resilient running stride.
Running uphill has been shown to increase stride length and power by forcing the athlete to increase knee lift and recruit the muscles of the posterior chain more fully. http://www.maximumtrainingsolutions.com/increasing-stride-length/
An increase in stride length of 4cm (1 ¼ inches) over 10,000m running at 40 min pace equates to an improvement of 200m or 48 seconds based on a 2m stride length.
Running efficiency, technique and imbalances
Everyone remembers Paula Radcliff for running a marathon in 2hrs 15mins and 25secs.
Paula would also be remembered for constantly being out kicked in the closing stages of Championship events due to her lack of speed and power. A prime example of this is the 10,000m at the Sydney Olympics where she lead to 9600m but was out kicked and eventually finished the race in 4th in 30.26. After a lot of work in the gym and an increase in speed work on the track Paula set a European record of 30.01!!