To run faster, you sometimes have to take a short term step backwards. Whether it’s a change in running technique or the addition of strength training, it can mean race times go in the “wrong” direction.
The short term
When you add strength work to running, your muscles will naturally be more fatigued. It might not be hugely tiring but it can take it out of you initially, especially if you haven’t ever done much strength work or aren’t naturally muscular. What this can mean is come race day you feel a little heavy legged and your race time might not be quite what you hoped for.
If you’re changing your technique slightly, either by looking at your arm movement, heel lift, hip drive or any other aspect, whilst it often makes you faster and more efficient very quickly, it can also be very mentally draining as well as physically strenuous for other muscles which have previously been less active when you run.
Look at the long term
If you don’t have a specific target race during the early weeks of changes, then it’s not worth backing off your adjustments in the build-up to the race. Expect some variability in your race times, knowing that some days it’ll all come together, but another day it could not quite work out as well as you want. This approach will see you making those long-term improvements faster and taking bigger leaps in PBs as you’ll race “all out” less often.
If, however, you have one of your big targets races coming up, it’s worth reducing your strength training and technique work in the week leading up to it, as you would with your running also. Depending on how long you’ve been working with the technique and strength work, you’ll have an element of improvement in your running style and strength anyway. This is the optimum way to get a PB, but only apply this to your target races. If you do it every week, you’ll not make anywhere near as much progress in the same time-frame.
There is a way around it
If you’re currently doing 2-3 days of strength training per week, simply split it up into a little each day. I do this exact thing, performing around 9 sets of strength exercises each day. In a recent block of 8 weeks, I still saw leg strength endurance improvements of 82% in a wall sit test. I often do these exercises later in the evening if I’m running during the day, or as early as possible in my day if I’m running in the evening in order to avoid negatively impacting training.
Arm and hip drive technique improvements generally don’t have any drawbacks, with improvements being consistent and pretty fast without a huge amount of physical or mental energy. Heel lift changes on the other hand are a different story. In the short term it can leave your hamstrings tired as well a needing a lot of attention when running. It will likely still make you faster almost immediately, but it’s worth building up the practice rather than diving in full-time whilst the muscles of your lower leg build in strength through being worked harder. Start by working on it for around ¼ mile (400m) at a time, then ½ mile (800m) and so on.
My overall advice would be this; pick your battles in the early days of making strength and technique improvements, rest before big races only, but stay on the work in the build-up to less important races. Stick with this and you’ll soon be flying.
Written by Kyle Brooks, Running Coach based in Norwich Norfolk.