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Using Metabolic Resistance Training To Improve Performance With Running

When it comes to runners and their training, specificity should naturally be part of your fitness regimen. In other words, if you want to improve your performance you’ll run – riding a bike won’t always necessarily help you improve your 5k time. This makes common sense to a degree when you think about it.

So when you’re starting out on a program to run your first Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, or perhaps your first 5k, your primary focus should be on running, right?

Not so fast.

If you really want to be a better runner, you’ll want to consider adding resistance training. Believe it or not this will be MORE beneficial than just going out and trying to jog or run long distances.

A properly designed resistance training routine can be extremely beneficial because it helps improve running abilities both in a physiological and physical sense (science and form).

Note: a little bit of boring science for a second….stick with me.

The science behind training focuses on energy systems used for various forms of activities. Muscles primarily get their energy from the breakdown of glucose (blood sugar) and fatty acids. The processes for energy conversion can occur two ways: with oxygen (aerobically), or without (anaerobically).

You may have heard cardiovascular exercise termed “aerobic exercise” or “aerobics” – that is because most endurance activities are completed in the aerobic energy system.

Resistance training however is more anaerobic in nature. Notice, I said most cardio exercises are aerobic – one form in particular that is more anaerobic is interval training. Truth be told even higher intensity exercise like interval training works both energy systems to some degree.

There’s another energy system, glycolytic, for really short bursts of effort, but we won’t get into that for the purpose of this discussion.

The reason I bring up the idea of “anaerobic” work with resistance training is because it can create superior gains in performance than “long-slow distance” aerobic work alone. When we talk about resistance training the ideal type is metabolic resistance training, otherwise known as “burst training.”

How burst training can do more to improve performance than running alone…

This type of training involves using resistance exercises back to back with incomplete rest periods. The idea is to create metabolic disturbances and thereby facilitate a hormonal response from the exercise.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re doing sets of squats and lunges performed back to back with burst training. This is going to really work the leg and glute muscles while being in a state of low oxygen utilization.

In other words, you’re conditioning your muscles to work efficiently outside of an aerobic state. The adaptations that occur in your muscles mean that in similar states of low oxygen utilization, your body will perform better.

Here’s another way to look at this…if you were to go outside right now and start running really fast around the block at some point you’d hit the wall and be doubled over gasping for air. What’s happening at that point is you’re trying to bring oxygen in but because the demand exceeded utilization you’re blowing it right back out.

Your body couldn’t keep providing energy in the aerobic state so you’d be forced to do so in the absence of readily available oxygen (anaerobically). When you work your muscles with resistance (especially with burst training), they become better conditioned not only to assimilate oxygen but also to work efficiently in the absence of oxygen.

Will you always be running “slow” during a race or endurance event?

So back to our example of running a 5k…at some point in the race, lets say at the end, you decide to kick it in another gear and push hard to the finish. To do so you’ll have to work outside of the aerobic energy system.

If you’ve spent all your time doing long-slow distance training by jogging or running at a moderate pace you’re not going to have much of a kick. You never trained the other energy systems!

The key to improved performance in any endurance event is to work all the energy systems and train the body on multiple levels. I’ve seen runners significantly drop their times by training with exercises like dead-lifts and squats. The reasoning goes far beyond developing additional strength in the leg muscles. It has to do with improving efficiency in the various energy systems.

You’ll want to think outside of the box and get away from the misconception that runners should just spent all their time running to improve performance. The top athletes in endurance events understand this and are increasingly using metabolic resistance training and things like CrossFit to improve performance.

Using running as a way to lose weight…is it a good idea?

If you are running to lose weight, there is also a physiological benefit of adding resistance training to your routine. The “rumor” that building muscle increases your metabolism is somewhat true in that muscle does burn calories (albeit very few calories) at rest, whereas fat does not burn any. Developing more lean muscle tissue will provide more benefits than trying to jog or run off the fat from your waistline.

I’ve long been on record stating that running (long-slow distance running) is actually a poor way to attempt to change your body composition. It just doesn’t have the hormonal responses or ability to create metabolic disturbances due to the nature of the activity. If you enjoy doing distance running far be it from me to tell you to stop.

It’s just that if you only have 3-4 hours a week to exercise and you want to primarily lose weight, you’ll see much better results doing things like burst training and interval training.

Benefits of resistance training on posture and running form…

Posture is also important for new runners to consider when starting a fitness training routine. Bad form can lead to overcompensation from other muscles, resulting in injury and decreased running efficiency. At they have tips for maintaining healthy joints. Injuries most often occur when the body tires because the strongest muscles kick in to provide the extra work causing poor form and alignment.

Focusing on your core is key for running as it promotes good running form. A good running form looks like this:

Arms pump up and down, not across the body – this decreases the amount of energy used by limiting core rotation and restricting motion to the elbow joint.

Shoulders back/not hunched – this helps with opening the lungs for maximal oxygen consumption.

Back and neck straight – this avoids overstraining the spine and spinal muscles, causing undue stress.

While running requires most work from the legs, glutes, and core, strengthening your entire chain is beneficial to making sure you have the strongest and most efficient body for running.

There’s a lot to discuss with this subject of how to best incorporate resistance training into a fitness regiment for improving running performance. I’ll be looking to expand in future posts. In the meantime don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.

If you’re in the Charleston, SC area and would like to learn more about a personalized fitness program to help you reach your goals we’re here to help. Shaping Concepts has a team of over 10 certified personal trainers that can design a program to best meet your needs. Having the right information can make all the difference with seeing results from your training.

If nothing else I hope this post has helped to shed some light on the misconception that runners should only run in attempts to improve performance. Carve out some time to hit the weights, you’ll be glad you did.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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