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Authors of a brand new study published this month in the journal Sports Medicine sought to understand which was more effective for improving running performance and economy (the amount of oxygen utilized at a given speed – running economy is one of the key predictors of 5k or marathon time): strength training with very heavy weight or performing plyometrics (exercises involving bouncing, hopping, and jumping).

To be clear, runners of all distances have utilized plyometrics for decades in an attempt to enhance performance. On the other hand, strength training, especially with heavy weights, has been shunned by long-distance runners and their coaches (the assumption was that heavy weights make our muscles bigger and bulkier).

The results? The scientists concluded that strength training with heavy weights was more effective for improving running economy than plyometrics. The authors performed a meta-analysis; they examined 22 studies that compared heavy strength training to plyometrics and applied statistical tools to delineate a performance benefit. A meta-analysis is often more compelling than a single study with 10-20 subjects.

Take home message: If you are training for the Boston in April or your first 5k this spring, shun decades of “how we’ve always done it” and opt for heavy resistance training rather than plyometric training for improving running performance.

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