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Squat Like It's Hot

The key to improved running fitness might be in the gym - so says our fitness export Jon-Erik Kawamoto

Strength has several meanings depending on the context and athlete. To a power lifter, strength is pulling a personal best over 600lbs while strength to a sumo wrestler is his ability to outwrestle a larger opponent. A runner’s definition of strength is based on the ability to withstand the repetitive stress of training. Strength will also provide the basis for sprinting and kicking at the end of a race. A certain amount of strength is developed with endurance training alone, however, to build beyond that takes time in the weight room.
 
The Science of Strength
 
You don’t have to be big to be strong – this bodes well for endurance athletes, as racing with excess weight, fat-mass or muscle-mass is less efficient. A muscle’s cross sectional area does play a role in how much force you can produce, but strength has more to do with your nervous system. Referred to as neuromuscular efficiency, strength training basically improves the ability of your brain to communicate with your muscles. For example, your body increases strength without increasing your muscle mass by recruiting more muscle fibers or increasing the firing frequency of the neurons triggering your muscles to contract.
 
Strength training also improves the recruitment of Type II muscle fibers, which are tailored for producing large amounts of force. Since running targets Type I muscle fibers, which are designed for endurance, strength training and sprinting are necessary for developing the muscle fibers responsible for strength and force production.
 
2 Essential Strength Development Tips
 
So going for the burn, total muscle annihilation and all-over total body soreness is not the training effect you want from the gym. Focus on training methods that promote adaptation of the nervous system that will lead to increases in your relative and absolute strength. Apply these tips below to ensure you stay injury free all season long and ensure you make the most out of your time in the gym.
 
1. Perform a squat and a deadlift variation at least twice a week
 
Not all exercises are created equal. To get the most bang for your exercise-buck, chose squats and deadlifts over machine-focused exercises such as the leg press and knee extension machine. Free weight exercises that utilize dumbbells or barbells make you use more muscles to help stabilize your joints, similar to how those same muscles stabilize you while you run. Squat and deadlift variations will strengthen your legs, hips and core and teach them to work in synergy.
 
2. Go big or go home
 
To improve your absolute strength, squat and deadlift weights that are challenging in the 5-or-less repetition range. Also, to aid the strength development process, perform each rep with the intent to move the weight as fast as possible. This will ensure you target your Type II muscle fibers. Three sets of 5-repetitions is best for most beginners. Add weight each set so your last set will be the heaviest.
 
 Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS is a runner, strength coach and owner of JKConditioning in St. John’s, NL, Canada. Jon specializes in strength training endurance athletes and is currently in the middle of preparing a strength training resource for runners. Stay in touch by checking out www.JKConditioning.com.

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