What's the Most Important Muscle to Train in Runners?
This series focuses on a number of myths we often hear at Sycamore Health relating to physiotherapy and exercise. Our goal is not that you become discouraged from exercising, but rather that you train safely, effectively and often!
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to heavy strength training and running. We know there’s strong evidence that resistance training has a myriad of health benefits and reduces the risk of overuse injury in athletes by approximately 50% (Lauersen et al., 2014). Despite strong evidence of strength trainings utility for runners, many simply avoid lifting heavy things and instead just run more!
"...a comprehensive heavy resistance training program is appropriate..."
The glutes are definitely important for running – there’s no doubt about that! However, it seems that the calf and thigh muscles are actually more important for supporting the body during running. In fact, for endurance-type running the calf muscles supply approximately 50% of the total torque needed for propulsion (2, 4).
The ability to push off with our calves declines approximately 31% between the ages of 20 and 60 years of age (1). Interestingly, this reduced ability of the calf complex to push-off as we age is a major contributor to the shorter stride lengths observed in older runners, as well as partially accounting for the shuffling pattern observed in the elderly.
We take all this to mean that a comprehensive heavy resistance training program that targets the calf, thigh and hip muscles is appropriate, with the calf complex demanding more attention in the masters runner. Lastly, it’s also been suggested that maintaining running volume and intensity as we age can help reduce the age-related decline in ankle push-off during running (3).
If you’re unsure where to start or how to maximise your running performance, contact us. Physiotherapists are specialists in exercise and would love to help you take control of your health. We can even address any underlying or lingering injuries or pain you may have.
Next up in this series: Running Myths Part 4: Will Strength Training Fix Poor Running Technique
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1. Devita, P., Fellin, R. E., Seay, J. F., Ip, E., Stavro, N., & Messier, S. P. (2016). The Relationships between Age and Running Biomechanics. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 48(1), 98-106. doi: 10.1249/mss.0000000000000744
2. Hamner, S. R., Seth, A., & Delp, S. L. (2010). Muscle contributions to propulsion and support during running. J Biomech, 43(14), 2709-2716. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2010.06.025
3. Paquette, M. R., Devita, P., & Williams, D. S. B., 3rd. (2018). Biomechanical Implications of Training Volume and Intensity in Aging Runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 50(3), 510-515. doi: 10.1249/mss.0000000000001452
4. Willy, R. W., Bigelow, M. A., Kolesar, A., Willson, J. D., & Thomas, J. S. (2017). Knee contact forces and lower extremity support moments during running in young individuals post-partial meniscectomy. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 25(1), 115-122. doi: 10.1007/s00167-016-4143-9