Training runners with running prescriptions is, of course, different from training strength athletes with resistance training, as running is a sport that specifically requires power rather than strength alone. Calling upon the work of Wilson, Newton, Murphy, and Humphries (1993), therefore, answers the question of how best to train power athletes. In their study, a group of athletes underwent traditional strength training, while another group underwent plyometric training that utilized only body weight, and yet another group engaged in plyometric training with weighted loads that allowed for optimal power output. Their data demonstrates that strength training produces the greatest strength performances (as measured by isometric strength), whereas maximal power plyometric training produces the greatest power performances (as measured by countermovement jumps, static jumps, and 30-m sprint performances, for example) (Wilson, Newton, Murphy, & Humphries, 1993). This study shows the strong correlation between the specificity of the training and the performance.
With this in mind, coaches ought to mimic the training their athletes undergo to the demands of the sport in which the athletes compete. Distance running, and any other kind of running for that matter, is a power performance. Strength training in particular has relatively low value to runners as compared to weighted plyometrics with optimal power outputs. This is, again, a matter of finding the “sweet spot” of dose-response. Coaches and athletes can reduce the overall stress placed upon the athlete by optimizing the kind of stresses employed to produce specific muscular adaptation. Distance runners ought to undergo maximal power output plyometric training rather than traditional strength training.
Dose-response optimization is about finding that “sweet-spot” that maximizes training effect while minimizing overtraining and/or overuse injury risk. This can be accomplished best by putting to use intensities, volumes, frequencies, and sport-specific methods that are paired with an athlete’s “training age” and sport demands.
Peterson, M. D., Rhea, M. R., & Alvar, B. A. (2004). Maximizing strength development in athletes: A meta-analysis to determine the dose-response relationship. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(2), 377-382.
Wilson, G. J., Newton, R. U., Murphy, A. J., & Humphries, B. J. (1993). The optimal training load for the development of dynamic athletic performance. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, 25(11), 1279-1286.
Athletes and their coaches seek to identify the optimal training dosage that, when applied maximizes performance gains over a given time period, while minimizing overtraining and/or overtraining injuries. This “sweet spot” of training can be elusive.
From the meta-analysis performed by Peterson, Rhea, and Alvar (2004) that included 37 studies with 370 effect sizes which were qualified to be used in their meta-analysis, it is clear that athletes with different levels of training experience respond differently to different dosages of resistance training. Untrained athletes just beginning to train can experience relatively large improvement in performance due to the neural adaptations that accompany the early stages of development. These untrained athletes demonstrate optimal strength gains when training at intensities of 60% of their single repetition maximum (1-RM), three days per week, with four sets per muscle group. Trained athletes on the other hand, have an ideal training load of 85% (or possibly greater; there is a lack of data to indicate if this figure is actually higher) of 1-RM intensity, just two days per week utilizing eight sets per muscle group (Peterson, Rhea, & Alvar, 2004).
As a cross country and distance-event track coach for young athletes, the resultant data from this meta-analysis is both highly informative and supports the practical experience I have gathered from my fifteen seasons of coaching athletes. First, new athletes to cross country and track, who are previously untrained, can experience relatively large jumps in fitness that has its foundation in new neural adaptation and the quick response of new aerobic conditioning. These athletes, however, can be easily overtrained or injured if they undergo too much training (in terms of volume, intensity, frequency, or any combination of the three). I have found that relatively low intensities, volumes and frequencies of running prescription hits that “sweet spot” in the same way the resistance training did in the studies incorporated into the aforementioned meta-analysis. Highly trained runners on the other hand (those with an older “training age” and more consecutive seasons of injury-free training), can tolerate greater intensities, volumes, and frequencies of training.