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Training & advice

Developing elastic strength

Running is plyometric activity that requires you to have good elastic strength but what does that mean and how do you achieve it?

A plyometric movement requires an eccentric (lengthening) contraction followed by a concentric (shortening) contraction of the same muscle. When the concentric contraction immediately follows the eccentric contraction it is much more dynamic and is stonger than an isometric movement from a static position. The difference is in the elasticity of the muscle. Examples of activities that use a stretch/reflex of the muscle and so store elastic energy to produce dynamic movement are jumping activities.
Endurance running is less dynamic than jumping but your running can be more dynamic if you train to gain more elastic strength. The more  elastic strength you have, the more energy you can store and release in the muscles and tendons and so your technique will improve and you will become more efficient and faster. Imagine the muscular-tendon system as an elastic band. While stretching it, energy will be stored (eccentric phase) and that energy is regained at shortening (concentric phase). Muscle fibres should be able to store more elastic energy and transfer more quickly and powerfully from the eccentric to the concentric phase if you train them to do this. 
Activities that develop elastic strength for running are hopping, bounding and jumping. You should always keep in mind that plyometric activity is high impact and so these sessions should be kept short and sweet otherwise your legs will be very sore for several days afterwards. Plyometrics incorporated into a circuit session  would work well. For example, a couple of the stations could be set up for skipping or hopping over a 10 metre distance (out on one leg and back on the other).
Below are some other ideas for exercises. They progress in terms of intensity so you should start with a programme that incorporates the first couple and progress it gradually as you adapt to this training.
  • Hop Scotch and other games that involve combination jumping with different foot patterns
  • Skipping with a rope
  • Double footed jumps over 10 metres
  • Hops over 10 metres
  • Repetions of tuck jumps
  • Repetitions of split jumps
  • Double footed jumps up steps
  • Double footed jumps over low hurdles
  • Bounding on the flat
  • Bounding uphill
  • Jumping off one box/bench and immediately up onto another
  • Drop and hold or hop and hold drills. This involves holding yourself at the point of amortisation (where the muscle switches from stretch to shorten) for a split second before springing into the next jump or hop.