The most common mistake in running-based sports is the compulsion to over-use large volumes of running in the training of these athletes.
Unless they are receiving technique re-training, the majority of these athletes would benefit from reducing their running volume in favour of increasing relative strength and stability in the appropriate areas.
“Blasphemy!” I hear you say.
But it’s true… The most common deficiency I consistently see in running-based sports is a lack of strength.
What does being strong have to do with running you say?
I’m glad you asked.
Even in non-contact running sports, strength is a vital attribute for the athlete to possess.
Appropriate increases in strength will not only increase speed, acceleration, and agility, but will help to reduce the incidence of soft tissue injury, reduce the amount of load a joint will be exposed to, and reduce the chances of getting caught in poor joint positions during movements or contact.
How does strength affect running speed?
Hang on while I get a little mathematical… don’t worry it’s pretty simple.
The easiest and most accurate way to illustrate this point is to ask you to imagine driving your car around a racetrack, cornering at a reasonable pace, braking, accelerating, hitting a few bumps here and there. Now imagine doing the same thing with little or no suspension in your car, this is essentially what the majority of the running population are doing every time they run. Having sufficient musculature around the hips, core and legs, is vital for absorbing the forces that we receive from the ground on every step.
The speed at which a person can run is determined essentially by the amount of power they can apply to the ground per foot strike. The equation for power looks like this (Power = Force x Distance ÷ Time) What this basically means is that the amount of force they can
generate each time their foot hits the ground, divided by the time it takes for them to apply that force = the power they produce. Math lesson over.
So let’s take two athletes with identical height/weight/strength/running technique/shoes/hair colour etc. and we’ll train one such that his/her leg strength/power increases by 30%, whilst his/her body weight stays the same, and our other athlete continues to practice only running. What will happen when we put them head to head?
Our properly strength-trained athlete now has the ability to produce more force on each step, and will also produce that force in a shorter time, this affects both sides of our equation in a positive way, and leads to a much higher power output. Simple right?
And what about agility?
If you understand how speed ties to strength, agility should be simple too…
In the same way that strength affects how fast you can propel yourself forward, it also governs how fast you can stop and change direction.
The application of force backwards will propel you forwards; this is acceleration.
The application of force forwards will send you backwards or slow you down if already moving forward.
The application of force to the left or right will propel you in the opposite direction.
The greater the force applied, the more pronounced the change will be.
POWER-TO-WEIGHT: Which way to go?
I have heard more times than I care to remember, that if you want to get faster, or more agile, you have to get lighter.
This theory is especially prevalent in running-based contact sports, (Rugby, AFL, and Gridiron) and it is as damaging as it is unfounded.
Don't get me wrong, if you are carrying 15 extra kilos of fat, it should be your priority to drop that. Aside from a few 'specialist' positions there is little sense in an athlete carrying extra bodyfat around the field.
Let’s break it down.
The theory of ‘lighter = faster’ is, in and of itself, accurate. If you reduce your bodyweight, you will have less mass to propel, and like a car with a newly installed lightweight carbon-fibre body, you will find yourself lighter, faster and more agile…In theory.
However it only takes into account one half of the power/weight ratio!
Why not increase power? If we stick with our car analogy, why would you go to the trouble of replacing the body of your car with carbon fibre, and making your vehicle lighter and more fragile, when you can leave the durable steel protection where it is, and drop a big V8 engine in to replace your V6?
The reason most people choose to reduce weight is simply because it is easier.
Increasing strength can be a daunting task for some, and when presented with the choice, most would choose to drop weight, as it seems the much simpler choice. Why bother trying to build strength when you can just eat less and drop a few pounds to achieve the same result?
The problem is that the result isn’t the same.
The sole benefit of dropping weight is that you weigh less, thus increasing the power-to-weight ratio.
The benefits of increasing strength are more numerous:
Increased power for propulsion (SPEED)
Increased ability to accelerate/decelerate/change direction (AGILITY)
Increased ability to absorb forces from surfaces/opponents (INJURY PREVENTION)
Increased support for joints and ligaments (POSTURAL SUPPORT)
It seems obvious that the best choice for long term performance is to increase strength rather than reduce weight in this very simplified example.
In conclusion, it’s about time the rules on running got a rethink. Logging countless miles running around the oval with the hopes of getting faster/fitter is not the answer. If you want to get better at running, see a qualified coach to help you refine your technique, then improve your strength and power.
The benefits of reducing mass to improve speed and agility are too few, and the benefits of appropriate strength protocols are clear to see.
I hope that this rant has been helpful in clearing up some of the myths and misinformation that is often circulated in athletic circles, or at the very least provided some food for thought.
Until next time…