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Improve Your Distance Running

May 25, 2011

By Gerard Bochese

Many people make running an important part of their exercise routine.  It is great way to improve your cardio-respiratory capabilities and aids in losing weight.  Besides exercise, some people use running to fuel their competitive nature and enter races of varying distances.  Whatever your running goals are, it is always beneficial to improve your running performance.

Many people try to improve their running performance by just running more.  They either add more miles to their runs or add more running days.  If they are not adding miles or days or both, they may try to run harder by running a certain number of miles faster each week or working on interval training where they increase their pace for a certain amount of time (1-2 min) and then slow their pace for the same amount of time, repeating these intervals over and over.

These methods can all help improve your running but research has also found that running performance can be improved with explosive strength training techniques (plyometrics).

More technically speaking, the three key components for runners and other endurance athletes’ training programs are VO2 max, lactate threshold, and running economy.  What research is finding now is that muscle power may also play a significant role in distance running.  Running calls upon the aerobic system to complete the task.  To improve muscle power we must call on the anerobic system in the form of plyometric training and sprint training. Plyometrics are defined as an exercise that enables a muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a time as possible.  Plyometric drills aim at linking strength with speed of movement to produce power.

In two separate research programs in which endurance runners added power training to their workouts, the following results were found:

Research group #1: After nine weeks of training the group’s 5K time decreased significantly and there was improvement in running economy, decreased ground contact time, and improvement on a maximal anaerobic running test.  In another study, research found that among runners with similar VO2 max and running economy values, those who performed the best on a plyometric leap test and in a 300-meter sprint also had the best 10k times.  These researchers concluded that anaerobic power is significantly related to distance running performance.

When training for power as a runner, the load and speed you select in your plyometric exercises should replicate the demands of the sport as closely as possible.  Running requires you to overcome your own body mass at high speed.  The load-speed ratio of plyometric activities such as bounding or leaping is very similar to the power involved in running.  Running is a unilateral activity (performed on one leg at a time), and therefore single-leg activities such as single leg hops and single leg box hops (jumping onto a box on one leg) should be incorporated in your routine.  Furthermore, your plyometric activities should take on a horizontal component (hopping and jumping forward) as opposed to a simply vertical component (hopping and jumping up and down) in order to provide an overload that simulates the forces involved in running.

By working plyometric activities into your training program, you can greatly improve your

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