One of my first memories learning my trade as a teenage personal trainer was a trend that began to gain some ground at the time for long distance runners to hit the gym and strength train. The reasoning varied depending on who you asked. Most commonly I heard that it would help with the final sprint more than anything. Some of the more sophisticated athletes or trainers might also note there is a component of strength in the expression of muscular endurance. Right up until now I liked the idea, if for no better reason then I think that being well rounded, even if your goal is at one far end of the athletic spectrum, is an important goal unto itself.
A study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning described the relationship between jumping power and runs of various lengths in competitive Division I track athletes. Interestingly, in the study researchers chose only one kind of leaping test, a triple jump. This means participants stood in one spot and jumped using both legs at once three times and then their distance was measured. The researchers then examined performance histories in recent races for the athletes in various distances.
Perhaps it’s uncontroversial, but the jumping performance correlated with waning strength the longer the race distance was. In other words, the athletes who performed best in the shortest sprints, like the 60 meter, also performed best in the triple jump. What’s more interesting, however, was that the correlation between jumping and running was significant for all race distances up to 5K, which was the longest distance. So even though the athletes running longer distances didn’t bear the strength of the relationship that the sprinters had, the relationship still existed.
The importance of being well rounded may still need to be major reason for developing strength and power as a runner. The difference between cause and effect is a convoluted mess in these scientifically muddy waters. While it stands incontrovertible that lower body power in some degree bears a relationship with running ability, we can’t really be sure to what extent this is important to us as a fitness goal.
Let me give you some examples of questions we can raise here. Is the correlation a result of good jumping ability predicting running success or good running ability predicting jumping success? Perhaps one runner is better than another because they are simply a better athlete, and so they perform better as a jumper as well. Or could it be they’ve put more time into training, making them a more serious athlete? Do some athletes already work on strength, hence why they are already better runners? Or could there be some tertiary trait that predisposes them to both better running and jumping? Is it possible that superior general fitness accounts for greater success at both, but the correlation would stop at the level of athlete selected?
You can see where we might wonder where to go from here. I think we should take studies like this as simply more fuel on the general fitness bonfire. It stands to reason being a better all-around athlete up to a point is a good goal to strive for even if your goals are very focused, and this is true for runners of any distance, and almost certainly every athlete in any sport.
1. Brandon Hudgins, et. al., “Relationship Between Jumping Ability and Running Performance in Events of Varying Distance,” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27:3 (2013)
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