Runners seeking to improve their performance do strength training, as it protects against injuries, improves theirs speeds and – paradoxically – also their stamina. Sports scientists at St. Francis University in the US discovered that the same applies to runners as to strength athletes: they get more out of their squats if they perform them properly.
Strength training is more useful for endurance athletes than trainers believed for many years. Weight training makes endurance athletes' muscles faster and more efficient. Weight training also protects cyclists against osteoporosis.
Intelligent endurance athletes already know this, which is why you'll find them more and more in gyms doing squats, front squats and split squats.
Strength athletes get more out of their exercises – we realise this sounds obvious – the more precisely they perform them. Complete movements stimulate more muscle fibres and result in more muscle growth than incomplete movements. So does this apply to runners too? This is the question that the sports scientists at St. Francis University set out to answer.
It's not such a strange question. Much research has been done on the effect of doing squats in different ways [at the bottom of the page we give a few examples], but most of the research has been done on strength athletes and not on runners.
So the researchers got 10 male and 10 female experienced runners to do squats. The subjects did 6 reps with a weight with which they were capable of doing 10 reps. The researchers placed electrodes on the runners' muscles so they could measure how hard the muscles had to work.
The subjects performed the squats once with heavy weights and messily, which meant they were unable to form a right angle with their knee joint [Partial] and they performed them once less with less weights and reasonably precisely, so that their knee joint did make a right angle [Parallel].
The figure below shows the electrical activity in the subjects’ muscles. The higher the activity the better the exercise stimulated the muscle fibres. RF = rectus femoris; ES = erector spinae; BF = biceps femoris; GN = gastrocnemius.
So runners get more out of parallel squats than partial squats the researchers conclude.
J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Dec 18. [Epub ahead of print].