Most runners train primarily by running and neglect the benefits of incorporating strength training into their routines. According to running expert Joe Puleo, runners who practice strength training will not only improve running performance but will also avoid injuries. “The ultimate goal is to create a strength-training program that is logical and easy to use but also improves running performance and technique,” Puleo says. In his new book, Running Anatomy (Human Kinetics, 2010), Puleo (along with coauthor Patrick Milroy) explains how to do both.
Puleo's strength-training regimen targets all the areas of the body used while running—which includes more than just the legs. His book's anatomical illustrations underscore the need to strengthen the core and upper body as well as the legs.
Puleo explains the areas of the leg used during running by examining the gait cycle. The two phases of the gait cycle are the stance phase and the swing phase. During the stance phase, the quadriceps are most active before initial contact. “Once the contact is made, the muscles, tendons, bones, and joints of the foot and lower leg function to dissipate the impact of the landing,” Puleo explains. The transition into the swing phase occurs after initial contact and midstance positioning, causing all the muscles in the legs to work together. “The hamstrings and hip flexors, the quadriceps, and the muscles of the calf work in conjunction to allow a proper takeoff,” Puleo adds. He outlines exercises to strengthen these areas and avoid injury.
The core provides stability for the upper body, allowing the pelvis to rotate in its normal manner. An unstable core can lead to injury because the gait cycle is negatively affected. “Since the gait cycle is defined by each leg moving through the stance or swing phase simultaneously, stabilizing the pelvis so it can function appropriately is an important task,” Puleo says.
Arms and Upper Body
The legs are unable to run with full efficiency if the arms are not involved in the running action. Any weakness will slow down a runner, so the arms must have endurance equal to that of the legs. According to Puleo, the arms stabilize and balance the body; each arm counterbalances the opposite leg. The arms also counterbalance each other, keeping the torso stable and in good position. “Tired arms and tense shoulders lead to a less fluent arm swing and a short stride that uses unnecessary energy,” Puleo says. “The endurance that strength training of the upper limbs provides could make the hundredth of a second difference between success and disappointment.”
Running Anatomy demonstrates the proper development of the musculature and supporting anatomy and offers sprinters and distance runners the most efficient techniques over a variety of grades, terrains, and speeds. Puleo teaches runners how to use free weights, weight machines, stretch cords, exercise balls, and their own body weight to build strength, increase endurance, and make running technique more efficient.
“Our intent is to enhance your running experience and performance by helping you understand the anatomy of running and develop a clearly defined strength-training program,” Puleo says.
For more information, see Running Anatomy.