This systematic review of five CT studies suggests that strength training (explosive and/or heavy weight) improves long-distance running performance and/or RE (an indicator of running performance). The moderate PEDro scale scores (5 or 6) should not diminish the quality of the reviewed studies, considering the constraints that training studies have in blinding subjects, therapists, and assessors to the treatment received. Despite the numerous CT studies (3,9,11,14,16,20,26,27,30,31,36,37,39), relatively few of these studies have looked at highly trained endurance runners. This review is unique because of its narrow focus on highly trained endurance runners. One limitation of this review was the small number of articles that met the inclusion criteria, but this further emphasizes that CT is used by distance running coaches with little empirical evidence. Although all studies included provide evidence that concurrent training may improve distance running performance, further research is needed to elucidate the most effective training programs.
Each researcher attempted to tightly control RT and reported workout regimens; however, aerobic training program descriptions were noticeably absent. The RT programs were all well-planned protocols that tested strength gains to adequately increase workout intensity for the duration of the study. Most competitive athletes engage in a myriad of aerobic workouts (steady state, tempo, interval, etc.), which also vary with different phases of training. Interpretation of CT results with ET would be more insightful if aerobic training programs had been defined.
To disseminate the results of CT, researchers must consider the different types of RT. Circuit training, which involves a variety of resistance exercises with minimal rest, has only been shown to improve endurance performance in untrained individuals (8,25). Traditional RT (e.g., squat, bench press) improved RE in trained cross-country runners, but it has not been researched in conjunction with performance per se (27). Explosive, or plyometric, training (loaded and unloaded) is the most frequently studied type of RT in endurance runners. The addition of plyometric exercises to ET consistently improved both distance running performance (30,37) and RE (26,36).
Current research supports increased RE with CT. The importance placed on RE in performance warrants the incorporation of sport-specific explosive strength or heavy weight training programs to current ET in highly trained runners. Additionally, the research presented showed improved 3K and 5K run times in trained distance runners who incorporated loaded and unloaded explosive strength training to their normal ET programs. The authors recommend the inclusion of well-structured, periodized RT programs in their athletes' training regimens based on the health and ability of individual athletes during each training phase. We believe that the positive benefits of CT cannot be overlooked despite the limited body of evidence. However, it is evident that there is a need for further research with trained distance runners on the potential benefits of various forms and on periodization of RT on distance running performance.
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