Making A Better Runner – Power

Last time I set out a stall saying that runners need a combination of different attributes in order to be faster, better and more efficient at what they do. There was a brief discussion about Strength, and how if you are stronger, then, within reason, you should be able to run faster.

However, as mentioned, if you have monstrous strength but weigh a huge amount, that does not translate into speed. I’ll say it again, you need strength relative to weight. In answer to the un-asked question, Yes, you can become stronger without adding on slabs of muscle. This is not the place to delve into the whys and wherefores of it though. I’ll talk about it in another blog if there is any interest – it’s to do with neurology rather than hypertrophy.

Now – to Power…

When you run, your feet should be touching the floor for short amounts of time. The faster you go, the faster the footstrike. Look at Mo Farah when he runs. Quick foot strike. Look at Bekele and other marathon greats – quick foot strike.

If you have a heap of strength, but can’t express that strength in a short amount of time, a lot of your hard earned strength is simply going to go to waste. The amount of time your foot is on the floor just won’t be enough for you to transfer that strength from your muscles through your legs into the floor, creating speed.

What we need, then, in addition to Strength, is Power. The ability to transfer the strength that you possess into the floor as fast as you possibly can.

Power in terms of running can be seen as one of two things – either the speed that your muscles transfer the load, or the ability to rebound from the floor – which is more of a tendon recoil issue – which will be addressed in another blog later.

Lets think about Muscle Power first.

The simplest way to measure leg power (and incidentally a good way to practice power transfer in a way that can be related to running) is the squat jump. Go into a squat. Pause. Jump as fast and as high as possible. This is a measure of how much power you can bring to bear through two legs from a squat position. Lovely.

However, we don’t run on two legs at the same time.

To increase power on one leg, as you may expect, single leg jumps may well hold the key. Note that a hop takes a lot more strength than a jump – indeed, going up, or downhill, your legs individually take a lot more weight than you might think. Practising jumping and landing on one leg is a very useful thing to be doing, but don’t overdo it. You are likely to be surprisingly weak, and it is a very easy thing to overdo and injure yourself.

Once you can jump from standing and can happily land on one leg a number of times without problem, the next stage is the drop. This is a controlled landing from height onto two feet or one foot.

A brief word of warning – don’t try doing this on one leg straight away. It will hurt and you probably won’t be running for a while. Start with both legs from a low step. Slowly increase the size of the step you are dropping from, and once you think you are ready, start from the lowest step again, but this time with one foot. This is less about power in the take off and more about the ability to safely absorb your weight as you run down hill. The ability to decelerate is just as important as the ability to go up hills fast. (In case you’re wondering, we’ll talk about rebounds and stretch-shorten-cycles in a later blog).

So you have the power to absorb force as you run down hill, how about power to go uphill? As mentioned before, the box jump, starting low, and with a two footed jump is a good a place to start as any, progressing in terms of height, and then, once strength and power allows, doing the same with one foot, bringing to bear the power you possess to propel you from the floor upwards at as high a rate as possible.

Again – a word of caution: all of these exercises are just suggestions – they are things to work up to, they are not advice to just go out and do it. Use the ideas as food for thought, rather than a recipe or a menu. Don’t go injuring yourself in training, it’s the stupidest thing you can do.

Now you think, OK, so I have the strength to do a single leg stand from a chair. I can hop onto a box as well – so I have some power…but I need to be able to run up a hill yet I can’t do more than a single jump at a time… what about that?

Well, that is where the whole Power Endurance comes into play. We’re now getting further and further from Strength, and closer to Endurance as a specific training goal. The better you get at one end of the continuum the worse you will get at the other, hence compromises need to be made.

The next thing we’ll look at will be Power Endurance – think 400m runner. Think anaerobic, think really hard work.

Specific Power exercises:

  1. Double footed jump onto a box.
  2. Single foot hop onto a box.
  3. Double footed drop and land.
  4. Single footed drop and land.






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