Improve your reactive strength to increase your run economy.
We’ve all marveled at those runners who appear to be floating across the pavement in one fluid motion. While there are many factors that play into beautiful and efficient running form, reactive strength is chief among them. Optimal reactive strength allows you to fully take advantage of the elastic properties of your tendons, ligaments and muscles, giving your body the opportunity to store energy when you strike the ground and then apply it to the process of pushing off the ground. The worse your reactive strength, the more likely you’ll be a “plodder.” The better it is, the less time you’ll spend on the ground, as you spring forward with each quick step.
“Developing speed strength in runners—sometimes known as reactive or plyometric strength—helps a runner become faster, lighter on his feet, and more explosive and powerful,” explains Karen Meadows, a USA Triathlon- and USA Track and Field-certified coach based in Panama City Beach, Fla. “Explosive exercises help the legs function as stiffer springs upon ground contact, thereby increasing running economy.”
While there is still a place for traditional strength training, plyometric drills that build strength through specific movements help develop a more efficient running stride. By teaching the muscles to forcefully lengthen and contract repeatedly, you’ll get more bang for your buck upon each foot strike.
Since plyometric drills that build reactive strength often involve quick movements and increased loading on the joints and muscles, it’s important to work them into your training gradually. “Runners new to plyometrics should consider starting off with some basic running drills, like skipping, bounding and hopping,” suggests Meadows. “These are relatively low-impact exercises that are a good introduction to other plyometric drills.”
Once you’ve got the basics down, Meadows recommends trying the following exercises. Start with 2–3 sets of 15 repetitions of each move and increase the number of sets as you master each exercise.