07 Sep Plyometric Exercises For Distance Runners
“We knew we could run in the mud because of our strength training,” reported by Coach Keith Andrew who led his high school boys cross country team to a 2006 Nike Team Nationals on a very waterlogged Portland course. (4) Often times, strength training is feared in the world of distance running. Well, I’m here today to bust that myth! Let’s dive into the importance of resistance training, specifically using plyometrics as a way to further develop as a runner. Keep reading to find the plyometric exercises for distance runners you didn’t even know you needed.
What Are Plyometrics?
Let’s first discuss what plyometrics are and why the heck research is showing that they are so important. Plyometric training is defined as the ability to move quickly due to rapid stretching and contracting of your muscles as they utilize stored energy in your body (1). Typically, plyometrics involve just you and your body, no weights are required. It’s important to recognize that just because you aren’t throwing iron around at the gym with plyometric training, doesn’t mean that plyometrics do not improve muscle strength. Current research shows that plyometrics have similar effects as resistance training on both muscle hypertrophy and growth factor. Don’t believe me? A recent review published in 2020 concluded that plyometric training and resistance training had similar effects in regards to whole muscle hypertrophy of the lower extremity in untrained or recreationally active participants (6). In addition, plyometrics provide several added benefits as compared to resistance training that are beneficial to distance runners, let’s get into that below.
So What Do Plyometrics Do For Runners?
You’ve heard it before, as a distance runner you probably shouldn’t be partaking in strength training. To bust this myth, let us first take a look at what traditional heavy resistance training does to your body. Heavy resistance training leads to neural and hypertrophic changes, meaning we see an increase in muscle mass but also an increase in muscle activation. When the goal of distance running is to get your body from point A to point B as quickly as possible, having excessive muscle mass doesn’t sound like the best scenario which is why the “interference phenomenon” became a well known phrase in the running community for some time (3).
This is where plyometrics come in, while research has shown that we see some similar effects in regards to muscle hypertrophy in resistance training and plyometrics, plyometrics also provide distance runners with added benefits. These added benefits include improved recruitment of motor pathways, improved reactive speed, increased tendon cross sectional area, and improved bone mass in some populations (6,7,8,9,10).
With all this being said, plyometrics serve as a way to improve muscle strength, keep you healthy and on the course, and make you a better runner.
Due to current research and advancements in our knowledge of appropriate training for endurance athletes, we now know that it’s very important to perform complex training (plyometric training + resistance training) as a runner to stay injury free and become more efficient in your sport. Here’s why…
Complex training (plyometric training + resistance training) results in:
- Positive muscular adaption that lead to improved force production
- Improved muscle health and strength
- Improved neuromotor control
- Less injuries
- Improved tendon cross sectional area
- Improved bone mineral content and bone mass in some populations
- Improved reactive speed
- Improved tendon stiffness and rate force development
When we see all these benefits, we need to recognize that complex training for runners is key, and it’s our job to develop a smart strength training program for these athletes (4). Plyometric training can and should play a crucial role in smart program design and we need to think of plyometrics as a healthy and needed addition to programming for runners because of the added benefits! Need more convincing? A recent systematic review revealed that short-term plyometric training had positive effects on running economy. Running economy is the relationship between O2 consumption at a given velocity and distance traveled. Improvements in running economy mean increased distance traveled at a given speed with decreased oxygen consumption, improving your overall running performance (4). Plyometric training does lead to improved running performance, so let’s make it happen!
A big shoutout is in order for our [P]Rehab teammate, Dr. Craig Lindell, who recently completed his FIRST half marathon! Listen to this awesome podcast episode as Craig reflects on his training journey, which includes excellent training tips for runners.
Give Us the Plyo’s
Now that we know how plyometrics can be beneficial to training for distance runners how do we go about adding plyometrics into our training program? A systematic review published in 2015 found that performing complex training 2-3x/week for 8-12 weeks resulted in improved running economy (3). Resistance training and plyometric training was performed at low to moderate/high intensity (40-70% of 1 RM/200 jumps) for a majority of the studies that were reviewed (3). It should be noted that this is a recommendation and should vary based on the athlete, their training background, history with resistance training, history with plyometric training, and where they are at in their training schedule. Partaking in complex training 2-3x/week as a distance runner is a great starting point and should be considered when beginning to integrate resistance training and plyometric work into a training schedule.
Ok we’ve got the facts, know the research, understand the “why”…so let’s do it! Let us show you some “go-to” plyometrics for runners!
Calf strength and stiffness should be a staple of any running program! The pogo is a great exercise that can be progressed in many ways.
Plyometrics are all about quick, powerful movements. Think about exploding away from the ground and taking all the momentum at the bottom of your squat with you to jump up!
Jumping Scissor Lunges
The scissor lunge is an absolute burner! You will have all the feels in your legs with this exercise, trust me!
Forward Step Up-Hop, Knee Drive
Simulating running movements is also essential for strengthening and plyometric based exercise, as exemplified by this knee drive.
Looking to further your development as a runner and really get after those PR’s? Check out our running program!
Our running [P]Rehab Program has been designed to not only prevent injuries commonly associated with running, but to help you become a more efficient runner, by improving strength, resilience, and control of your entire body! Click HERE and take your running to the next level today!
Stay Injury Free
Injuries happen, but they don’t have to. Research has shown time and time again that the introduction of complex training (resistance training + plyometrics) can lead to decreased injuries in runners and athletes alike! To learn a few other strength exercises that are beneficial for runners check out the YouTube video below!
What Are The Most Important Exercises For Runners? Watch And Find Out!
Typically running related injuries are a result of too much repetitive load too soon. It is reported that 70% of runner’s sustain overuse injuries during any one year period (2). Appropriately teaching our bodies to absorb force and improve our motor patterns are just two ways that we can stay injury free and hey, plyometrics help us do that! A common overuse and repetitive load injury that we see in runners is shin splints. If you are currently dealing with shin splints, feast your eyes on the blog below!
Resistance training continues to help improve running economy and efficiency in distance runners. Plyometrics need to serve as a healthy addition to resistance training due to the added benefits we see for distance runners from plyometric training. Let’s bust the myth that distance runner’s shouldn’t partake in resistance training and instead develop appropriate training programs that include both resistance training and plyometric training for distances runners! Give these exercises a go, we can’t wait to see you at the finish line!
- Barnes KR, Kilding AE. Strategies to improve running economy. Sports Med. 2015 Jan;45(1):37-56. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0246-y. PMID: 25164465.
- Hreljac, A. (2004). Impact and overuse injuries in runners. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 36(5), 845-849.
- Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Santos-Concejero, J., & Grivas, G. V. (2016). Effects of strength training on running economy in highly trained runners: a systematic review with meta-analysis of controlled trials. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 30(8), 2361-2368.
- Yamamoto, Linda M; Lopez, Rebecca M; Klau, Jennifer F; Casa, Douglas J; Kraemer, William J; Maresh, Carl M The Effects of Resistance Training on Endurance Distance Running Performance Among Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 6 – p 2036-2044 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318185f2f0
- Spurrs RW, Murphy AJ, Watsford ML. The effect of plyometric training on distance running performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Mar;89(1):1-7. doi: 10.1007/s00421-002-0741-y. Epub 2002 Dec 24. PMID: 12627298.
- Jozo Grgic, Brad J. Schoenfeld, Pavle Mikulic, Effects of plyometric vs. resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A review, Journal of Sport and Health Science, 2020, ISSN 2095-2546,
- Houghton, Laurence A.; Dawson, Brian T.; Rubenson, Jonas Effects of Plyometric Training on Achilles Tendon Properties and Shuttle Running During a Simulated Cricket Batting Innings, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: April 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 4 – p 1036-1046 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182651e7
- Witzke, K. A., & Snow, C. M. (2000). Effects of plyometric jump training on bone mass in adolescent girls. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 32(6), 1051-1057.
- Ramírez-Campillo, R., Álvarez, C., Henríquez-Olguín, C., Baez, E. B., Martínez, C., Andrade, D. C., & Izquierdo, M. (2014). Effects of plyometric training on endurance and explosive strength performance in competitive middle-and long-distance runners. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 97-104
- Markovic, G., & Mikulic, P. (2010). Neuro-musculoskeletal and performance adaptations to lower-extremity plyometric training. Sports medicine, 40(10), 859-895.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lauren Lynass PT, DPT, CSCS
[P]rehab Writer & Content Creator
Dr. Lauren Lynass is a Colorado girl at heart. While she grew up skiing, snowshoeing, and building snowman, she has traded in her snowy mountains for California beach life and currently lives with her husband and dog in their travel trailer “The Burrito.” As a physical therapist, Lauren has experience working with pediatrics, runners, geriatrics, athletes, and itty bitty newborns. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Level 1 Certified Running Gait Analyst, Dry Needling Certified, and uses her expertise to host sport specific strength and conditioning classes for local high school athletes. When Lauren isn’t treating patients, you can find her running along the Cali coast, hiking with the pup and husband, or simply swinging in a hammock lost in a good book. She considers herself a life long learner and loves that being a physical therapist provides her with the opportunity to do so! She enjoys being a part of the [P]rehab Team as it allows her to collaborate with some of the very best in the field and empower others to take charge and ownership of their wellbeing.