Ultra-distance trail running is an endurance sport that requires athletes to cover long distances on varied terrain, often including steep climbs, technical descents, and challenging terrain. Preparing for such a grueling event requires not only cardiovascular fitness but also strength and muscular endurance. Strength training has been shown to be a beneficial training modality for endurance athletes, including those participating in ultra-distance trail running. This article will explore the evidence supporting the use of strength training for endurance performance in ultra-distance trail running.
Improved running economy
Running economy refers to the amount of oxygen needed to maintain a given pace. The more efficient an athlete is, the less oxygen they need, allowing them to maintain a given pace for longer periods. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that eight weeks of strength training led to significant improvements in running economy in a group of distance runners. Specifically, the study found that strength training improved the runners’ neuromuscular coordination and improved their efficiency while running at sub-maximal intensities. This finding is particularly relevant for ultra-distance trail runners, who must maintain an efficient running style for hours on end while navigating varied terrain.
Reduced injury risk
Trail running can be a high-risk sport, with uneven terrain, obstacles, and elevation changes posing challenges for athletes. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that a strength training program specifically designed for trail runners led to a significant reduction in lower-extremity injuries. The study found that the strength training program led to improvements in muscle strength, balance, and power, which helped the runners better tolerate the physical demands of trail running. The reduced injury risk associated with strength training is particularly important for ultra-distance trail runners, who may be at increased risk of injury due to the prolonged duration and challenging terrain of their events.
Increased power and muscular endurance
Muscular power and endurance are important qualities for endurance athletes, including ultra-distance trail runners. Power allows runners to quickly accelerate on hills or over obstacles, while endurance allows them to maintain a high pace over long distances. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that a 12-week strength training program led to significant improvements in power and muscular endurance in ultra-distance runners. Specifically, the study found that the strength training program led to improvements in maximal strength, rate of force development, and the ability to maintain sub-maximal force production. These improvements in power and muscular endurance can help ultra-distance trail runners maintain a strong pace over the course of a long race.
Improved lactate threshold
Lactate threshold refers to the point at which the body’s ability to remove lactate from the bloodstream is overwhelmed, leading to a buildup of lactate and a decline in performance. Improving lactate threshold is an important goal for endurance athletes, including ultra-distance trail runners. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that a combined strength and endurance training program led to significant improvements in lactate threshold in trail runners. The study found that the strength training program improved the runners’ maximal strength and power, which in turn led to improvements in lactate threshold. These findings suggest that combining strength training with endurance training may be particularly effective for improving lactate threshold in trail runners.
Strength training has been shown to be a beneficial training modality for ultra-distance trail runners, with evidence supporting improvements in running economy, reduced injury risk, increased power and muscular endurance, and improved lactate threshold. It’s important to note that the specific type of strength training program used in these studies may be important, and individual results may vary based on factors such as training history, genetics, and injury history. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to work with a qualified coach or trainer to develop a strength training program that is tailored to your individual needs and goals.
Strength training programs for ultra-distance trail runners
Strength training programs for ultra-distance trail runners should be designed with the specific demands of the sport in mind. These programs should include exercises that target the muscles used in running, such as the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. The exercises should also be tailored to the unique challenges of trail running, such as the need for balance, power, and agility. Some examples of strength training exercises that are particularly beneficial for ultra-distance trail runners include:
- Squats: Squats are a compound exercise that target the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. They can be performed with body weight, dumbbells, or a barbell. Squats help develop lower-body strength and power, which can improve running efficiency and endurance.
- Lunges: Lunges are another compound exercise that target the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. They can be performed with body weight, dumbbells, or a barbell. Lunges help develop single-leg strength and stability, which can be particularly important for trail running.
- Deadlifts: Deadlifts are a compound exercise that target the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. They can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. Deadlifts help develop posterior chain strength and power, which can improve running economy and power on hills and technical terrain.
- Plyometric exercises: Plyometric exercises such as box jumps, jump squats, and bounding exercises help develop explosive power and agility. These exercises can be particularly beneficial for trail runners, who need to be able to quickly change direction, jump over obstacles, and accelerate on steep inclines.
- Core exercises: Core exercises such as planks, sit-ups, and Russian twists help develop core strength and stability, which can improve running efficiency and reduce the risk of injury. Strong core muscles also help maintain good posture over the course of a long race.
In conclusion, strength training is a valuable training modality for ultra-distance trail runners. Evidence supports the use of strength training to improve running economy, reduce the risk of injury, increase power and muscular endurance, and improve lactate threshold. Strength training programs should be designed with the specific demands of trail running in mind and should include exercises that target the muscles used in running, as well as exercises that develop balance, power, and agility. As always, it’s important to work with a qualified coach or trainer to develop a strength training program that is tailored to your individual needs and goals.
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