Being stronger makes you faster

Being stronger makes you faster

Apparently runners over the age of 60 are the fastest-growing group in the sport, and a study from the University of New Hampshire suggests that their running can remain fast as they age.

The study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that the running economy – how efficiently the body uses oxygen at a certain pace – of older runners was no different than that of younger runners.

However, moderating the good news about running economy, the researchers found that maintaining this running economy came at a higher “cost” to older runners. Their VO2 max, which measures the body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise, was significantly lower than their younger peers, as were their maximal heart rates.


For the runners over age 60, it’s physiologically more difficult to run at that speed, even though the absolute oxygen uptake value is the same as a younger runner. In other words, it will feel harder. (No surprise to us older folk there!)

Working with competitive male and female distance runners who had all finished first, second or third place in their age categories in large local road races, the researchers grouped their subjects as young (18-39 years), master (40-59 years) and older (60 years and over).

In addition to running economy, the researchers looked at other factors – strength, power, and flexibility ˜ that might explain how running performance declines with age.

The older runners fared significantly worse than younger ones on all three measures, helping pinpoint the sources of age-related performance declines.

Strength, in particular upper-body strength, is necessary to propel runners uphill and to hasten leg turnover.

Muscle power – how fast that strength is generated – governs the speed at which runners can change speed or direction or run up hills.

Flexibility, measured in this study with a sit-and-reach test to assess hamstring and lower back flexibility, correlates with stride length and step frequency.

These findings should by no means suggest that older runners should hang up their running shoes, the researchers say. “Strength declines with age, but you can minimize that if you do strength training. It doesn’t take a lot to maintain strength.” Older athletes especially need programs that enhance strength, especially upper-body strength, and power.

So if you’re finding your regular walk or run is getting harder, try adding some strength and flexibility training to your routine. It might make the difference.

The researchers hope to measure this same group of runners over time, launching a longitudinal study that will shed new light on the performance of runners as they age.

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David Beard
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