Strength is in your BRAIN

This is a quote that was posted on Facebook, and I wanted to share it here.

There is a lot of talk in the running world about the importance of strength training for increasing performance and injury prevention. I agree with the current research that explosive and heavy resistance training increases stiffness within the muscle-tendon system resulting in increases in running economy, but running economy is measuring steady state oxygen uptake (VO˙ 2). Running economy is more a measure of physiology (performance measure) than pure mechanical efficiency. It is not looking at how the athlete gets from point A to B. General strength and the ability to generate force is extremely important, but only if produced in a coordinated and timely fashion to produce the desired outcome of the individual athlete. Most athletes are not structurally ready to handle explosive and/or heavy resistance training. Running with 2.5x body weight while on one leg, over time and distance at a given pace is hard enough. Data can show increases in power, reduction in contact times, increases in muscular stiffness, and even reductions in right/left asymmetries, but it doesn’t automatically preclude the athlete from injuries. Quantitative data is only useful if it helps improve the athletes “Running Resiliency”.

I believe it is important that runners understand MUSCLES are STUPID. Muscles need the brain to consciously and unconsciously tell them what to do, and at what time to do it in, in order to produce the muscular patterns that are appropriate for the desired task. I am not going to give the muscle, in isolation, that much credit and responsibility to automatically pull to body into the correct position when running. The brain needs to intrinsically understanding the goal of the desired movement, and then needs to organize a movement plan that will be sent to the musculoskeletal system in order to produce the desired task (running). This requires skill, are you training skill or just strength without purpose?

I truly Believe runners can run with fewer injuries. I Believe we are uniquely design to move/run, but culturally have devolved and are structurally less skillful. I Believe we have complete control over our bodies and movement, and thus ultimately the incidence rate of our injuries. Are you training better movement by training your brain to express more efficient and optimal movement patterns? Don’t get me wrong this can and needs to happen in conjunction with a specific plyometric and heavy resistance strength training program, but you better be in the right place at the right time when performing these exercises. Open for discussion. Please share and discuss!

Stephen Scott- Professor in Neuroscience, Queens University
Movement Skill: 3 Fundamental Components (3 B’s)
1. Brain
2. Biomechanics
3. Behavior

Train Better Movement!


Kyle is a running coach who works with people all over the world to help them run more consistently & be resilient to injury.

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Michael Baker - August 22, 2014

I very much agree with the quote. Runners don’t benefit from increased muscle mass, quite the contrary! Bigger muscles = decrease in the density of capillary and mitochondria (Brooks et al., 2004). Endurance athletes benefit most from strength work that focuses on neural & anaerobic factors, hence plyos and heavy training. It really comes down to functional strength, right? We don’t become better runners because of strength gains, per se, so much as we do from the increased muscle activation that results from goal-specific strength training. The goal is to have the muscle activation carry over to our running in the form of running efficiency. With this in mind, its about doing the right strength work to maximize muscle activation, not “weight room strength”

Tina Muir - August 21, 2014

Love this! So Very true! I had a real example of this a few weeks ago….actually I have had a few examples of this recently. The mind is so incredibly powerful, especially when coming back from injuries…your muscles remember what they are doing as you get back out there, but can only access those memories if your brain tells them they can.

A few weeks ago, I ran my flat as a pancake ,18 mile progression run as hard as I could, not feeling good, pretty negative the whole time thinking that I was in bad shape compared to last marathon…I averaged 6:39. On Monday, I ran “easy” on a hilly course for 20 miles, feeling relaxed and no pressure. I averaged 6:49 pace. It is amazing how in one week I ran 2 more miles only 10 seconds slower (and I definitely could have run much faster if I even pushed at all, especially removing the hills), because I felt relaxed and happy. Really showed me the difference the mind makes. Thanks for sharing!

    Kyle - August 21, 2014

    Thanks for the comment Tina 🙂

    Another example of strength NOT being muscular just came to me.

    Think about when a person new to lifting weights starts on a program. Their first month of progress is greater than any they will see in the future. Are they gaining muscle mass at an extra ordinary rate during this first month? No, of course not. This great gain in how much they can lift from their first session to their 5th to their 15th is almost completely neuromuscular improvements.

    Look at skinny elite endurance athletes. Their legs are incredibly strong but quite thin. It’s been shown quite well that the more experienced a runner, they greater number of muscle fibers they can recruit at any one time as well being able to cycling through tired ones and start using fresh ones better than your regular age grouper.

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