Myth Busting Part 1 - Squats Are Useless!

Despite the scientific body of research showing benefits of strength training for running continuing to grow, many still debate and misunderstand how and why there is a positive effect. Only recently someone commented on our social media page that ’squats don’t really transfer to running’. No other explanation or offering of evidence, maybe just one persons opinion? Belief as to whether something works or not is often not founded on objectively looking at researched subjects. The whole area of sports performance science undertakes an effort to make people better at sports. The idea is, that if something is shown to be true in many different scenarios, we can use this information to our advantage and learn from the science.

Ignoring personal bias, let's take a look at what the squat is and does to understand why it may help us run faster for longer.

The Squat
Loaded squats are used frequently to improve whole body strength but they're primarily a leg exercise. The way they are executed and programmed will largely influence their effectiveness.

Done correctly, the squat is a sitting to standing motion (described anatomically as triple flexion followed by triple extension). At its most basic, we are bending and straightening the legs simultaneously in a symmetrical hip width stance against the resistance of gravity (at least).

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We can add external load (as Marc has above and as you can see, he's thoroughly enjoying himself!), we can slow parts of the movement down, speed parts of the movement up, pause at certain positions or even do it so fast that we leave the ground at the top.

This doesn’t sound much like running at first. But don’t jump to conclusions yet...

Why would it transfer to running?

The action of running is where one leg propels the body forward at a time, by, you guessed it, flexing and extending at the knee, hip and ankle (triple…). We do this against gravity and we try to do it quickly and many, many times. The amount of force you can absorb and return directly impacts your running speed and how efficient you are at doing it directly influences your endurance.

In sports science we can categorise aspects of gym based exercises that match with sporting actions according to their ‘DYNAMIC CORRESPONDENCE’. In other words, does the exercise have anything that matches what we need and give us some transfer to our sport. Squatting has at least one area of dynamic correspondence - the joint actions and muscles used are the same as those used during running.

This means that there is at least SOME influence from squatting on running. But how much and at what point does this transfer start and end?

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Evidence

Squats have been used in many studies, all showing improved running performance (listed below). Most studies used heavy squats that allowed only very few repetitions to be executed (think 4-6 reps with an appropriately heavy weight). Studies ranged from 6 to 12 weeks and the strength training programmes progressed as strength increased in subjects.

ALL showed improved running performance over a variety of medium to long distance runs.

It is important to note that these were runners, who performed squats 1-2 times per week as part of a structured and progressive strength programme. Not powerlifters who then ran a bit. Running training was still the priority but the test subjects always out performed the control groups who only ran.

If you don't want to squat, no one is going to come round your house and force you at gun point. But don't misinterpret the odd anecdotal story of someone who didn’t squat correctly, or as part of a programme that was flawed, for squats not having a benefit to running performance. Equally it is important to note that squats were not the only thing shown to improve running. They are simply one very effective tool in a much larger tool box.

By Alex Adams


References

Berryman, N., Mujika, I., Arvisais, D., Roubeix, M., Binet, C., & Bosquet, L. (2018). Strength training for middle-and long-distance performance: a meta-analysis. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 13(1), 57-64.

Blagrove, R. C., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. R. (2018). Effects of strength training on the physiological determinants of middle-and long-distance running performance: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 48(5), 1117-1149.

Storen, O., Helgerud, J. A. N., Stoa, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 40(6), 1087.

Millet, G, Jaouen, B, Borrani, F, and Candau, R. Effects of concurrent enduranceandstrengthtrainingonrunningeconomyandV_o2kinetics. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34: 1351–1359, 2002.

Yamamoto, L. M., Lopez, R. M., Klau, J. F., Casa, D. J., Kraemer, W. J., & Maresh, C. M. (2008). The effects of resistance training on endurance distance running performance among highly trained runners: a systematic review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(6), 2036-2044.