There is a common misconception that distance runners don't need to be strong. Many see their minimally-muscled frames and fall into a deeply embedded cultural stereotype:

Big muscles = strong therefore distance runners = weak

Where it is true that in absolute terms that a distance runner needn't and won't be as strong as a sprinter of the same sort of stature, it is crucial that distance runners develop their maximal strength.

The maximal strength of a muscle or muscle group refers to the highest level of force that you can voluntarily create using it. This will usually be displayed in static positions or very slow movements for up to around 5 seconds. Any movement or position that takes or is held longer than 5 seconds does not display true maximal strength.

Why is strength that is only displayed for up to around 5 seconds relevant to distance running  where athletes are exerting themselves for periods of time from around 15 minutes upwards?

Running economy is a measure of how much oxygen somebody uses to run at a given speed relative to their bodyweight. Say you and your friend who both weigh the same can both run 10k in 40 minutes and testing reveals that you use less oxygen than they do to do this, you have a superior running economy to them.

It has been shown that developing maximal strength improves running economy.

Although the mechanism is not completely understood, it seems strongly linked to the ability to stop collapsing due to one's own motion during each stride. It is possible in a fast 5k race for a runner to experience forces higher than 2.5 times their own bodyweight with each step for a split second. At a cadence of 180 steps per minute, that 2700 steps during the race.

Doing the maths starts to make the need for maximal strength make sense.

Stronger runners in stopping the collapse also keep a more vertically stable centre of mass throughout their run, leading to less energy expenditure.

Maximal strength also has many other benefits for distance runners.

To find out about what other benefits maximal strength and other sorts of strength have for distance runners, subscribe using the box below to receive exclusive articles over the coming days.

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Arton Baleci
Float Sting - The Athletic Transformation Specialist, Manchester