To run well it takes far more than just running. Sometimes, we have to train in ways that may seem counterintuitive to our normal training focus. One example, is plyometric training – a form of training involving fast explosive jumps, hops, skipping and bounding.
On the face of it, running and plyometrics are at opposite ends of the training spectrum:
- Plyometrics involves short explosive muscle contractions
- Endurance running involves repeated submaximal muscle contractions
Despite, the apparent differences plyometrics can really benefit runners by improving strength, power, running speed and efficiency. However, despite the proven benefits of plyometrics it’s still not a widely used by endurance runners.
Whilst there have been a large number of research studies looking at the benefits of plyometrics for runners, many of these have involved either small numbers of runners, or runners that were less well trained.
One interesting study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, looked to address this. So, what was interesting about this research? Firstly, in comparison with other studies, the subject group was relatively large with 36 participants. Secondly, the subjects were all very highly trained, with a minimum of 2 years competitive experience at either national, or international level. And thirdly, the plyometric training involved only depth jumps.
Lets take a closer look at the research.
Effects of plyometrics training on middle and long distance runners
The researchers randomly assigned the 36 national and internal level endurance runners into two groups. One of the groups completed only endurance training, whilst the other undertook both endurance and plyometric training. Before starting the training intervention, all the athletes completed a series of tests. These were then repeated afterwards, in order to assess the effectiveness of plyometrics training on running performance.
What did the researchers find? Firstly, there was no improvement in the endurance training group. In contrast, the plyometrics group improved in a number of tests, including: 1) countermovement jump test; 2) drop jump tests; 3) 20m sprint and most importantly (from an endurance running perspective); 4) 2.4km time trial improved by 4%. Not surprisingly, the researchers concluded that concurrent strength and endurance training could be beneficial for middle and long distance runners.
The most interesting thing with this research, was that the only difference between the two groups was that the plyometrics groups completed 2 weekly sessions of drop jumps. In this case just 60 drop jumps, from 20 to 60cm. There was no other training difference.
So what are depth jumps? Depth jumps (sometimes called bounce drop jumps) are an advanced plyometric exercise, that involve stepping off an elevated platform, or box. Once you make contact with the ground you then immediately jump upwards. When doing depth jumps athletes try to step off, rather than jump off the box. To do this, athletes stand with the heel of one foot balanced on the edge of the box, or platform, with their lead leg straight. Because of the explosive nature of box jumps, they improve our ability to co-ordinate fast powerful muscle contractions and make use of elastic energy.
Plyometric/explosive strength training research summary:
Including plyometrics/explosive strength training, as part of your endurance running training is a very time effecient means of improving running performance. Clearly, a 4% improvement is a significant amount at this level. As an example this would equate, to around a 38 second improvement in 5km running time, for a 16min 5km runner.
Of particular importance was that this improvement occurred in such high level runners, where very small improvements can make a significant difference. And potentially greater gains, may well be achievable in less well trained athletes.
Further reading on strength training for endurance:
Click here to read more about the benefits of strength training for endurance athletes.
Ramírez-Campillo R, Alvarez C, Henríquez-Olguín C, San Martín EB, Martínez C, Andrade DC, Izquierdo M. EFFECTS OF PLYOMETRIC TRAINING ON ENDURANCE AND EXPLOSIVE-STRENGTH PERFORMANCE IN COMPETITIVE MIDDLE AND LONG DISTANCE RUNNERS. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print]