Strength training, once synonymous with weightlifting, is now a common aspect of training for sports ranging from football to ice skating. The book "NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training" explains that strength training is used to increase the ability of the neuromuscular system to provide internal tension and exert force against external resistance. If you are a middle-distance runner, strength training is a key component to improving your running time and achieving your personal record.
Running is aerobic and therefore will inevitably break down muscle tissue. It is important to develop a strength-training program to counteract the breakdown and build more muscle to ensure a faster running time. Training all body parts is necessary, but emphasize the running muscles. Design your workout to pay close attention to the buttocks, thighs and calves. Follow with the shoulders, chest, back and arms. The increased muscle power in the lower body will give you a competitive edge.
Body balance is important, especially when running, to avoid injury. According to "Running for Peak Performance," by Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist and 1976 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon, certain opposing muscle groups, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, should fall within a certain range of relative strength. Approximately 60 percent of your strength should be in your quadriceps and 40 percent should be in your hamstrings. This ratio helps prevent injury because there is a balance. Strength training also allows for a 50-50 balance on the left and right side, which again will prevent injury from overuse of one particular side.
Plyometrics, or jumping exercises, are a good way to improve your running time. The Memorial Herman Sports Institute has suggested that vertical jump height is one of the most important predictors of running speed. Plyometrics create fast eccentric and concentric muscle contractions, which are important for speed. A study published in May 1999 in the "Journal of Applied Physiology" found that plyometrics increased 5K times in well-trained athletes.
An example of a strength-training program for middle-distance runners includes a total body workout. Using free weights, complete two sets of eight to 10 reps of each exercise. To incorporate plyometrics, begin each set with eight to 10 squat jump-ups, and end each set with eight to 10 jump knee tucks.