As a runner, we want to think of strength as the amount of force or pressure a muscle group can produce. To run quickly, we need to produce a large mount of force against the ground (in a very short period of time!).
There are 4 types of strength, Maxium, Relative, Explosive and Reactive. As a runner, we want to focus on Relative Strength rather than Maximum Strength. Relative strength is the maximum force you can generate per kg of body weight. We need to look at both Reactive Strength and Explosive Strength. Explosive Strength will encourage you to leave the ground with a high amount of force over a very short period of time, and Reactive Strength allows you to use the elastic properties of tendons and connective tissue to produce force.
Strength work doesn't mean watching Pumping Iron (amateur and professional bodybuilders prepare for the 1975 Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe contests with five-time champion Arnold Schwarzenegger defending his title!) and becoming a gym monster.
We want to avoid bulk as a runner, and weights do not mean bulk (hypertrophy). You'll be working towards doing set of 5 - 7 reps at 70 - 85% of 1RM. If you are doing a squat, it might be that to start with, you can only manage 12 own body weight reps before your form starts to go. That means you'll be starting with a very low weight when strength training. There is nothing wrong with that. It is all relative to you.
What exercisers should we be doing? Generally, bilateral (two legs) and involving a triple extension (ankle, knee and hip extending) are appropriate for running. We will look at these exercises in more detail over time, but you can go wrong with a squat and a deadlift!
To work on explosive strength, you can work in medicine balls and throwing exercises.
Reactive Strength is developed with Plyometrics. A plyometric muscles action involves a fast coupling together of the stretch-shortening cycle. When the foot lands during the running action, the muscles have to stretch as gravity pushes down on the body. The faster the muscles can hold this force pushing against them (become static), the better they can prevent the leg collapsing. The final stage of the stretch-shortening cycle is the part that moves you forwards. The muscles shortening you go forwards. The stretch-shortening cycle is what allows us to move forwards.
We have to be very careful when doing plyometric exercises, because they can put a lot of force through the muscles. Simple exercises such as hoping and bounding will help develop you as a runner.
When doing any exercise, it is so important that you perform them with the correct technique. If you can get someone to watch you do them and correct your technique that is so important. Focus on getting your form right before adding weights!
We'll be adding more information into our strength section over time