For most athletes interested in building strength and power, distance running may be both not useful and actually counterproductive. This is for the vast majority of youth, high school, and college athletes who participate in team sports (other than cross country or the longer distances in track competition).
One of the main problems with long distance running is that injuries are frequent. Runners alternate between two states: that of training, and that of recovering from an injury. Furthermore, even in the sports, such as cross country and longer track events, that involve distance running, there is only so much endurance that is necessary.
There is a point at which an athlete’s endurance crosses a threshold to be “good enough,” and it becomes necessary to work on other aspects of their performance. This is the time to begin or continue to work on speed, power, agility, and strength, rather than simply adding more miles.
Steady state aerobic exercise like distance running is a useful precursor to speed training, but it should be done only to increase an athlete’s ability to handle more intense workouts. Once an athlete can run for 20-30 minutes without stopping or experiencing soreness, it is time to stop working on quantity.
Quality becomes the main issue at that point, and workouts should revolve around speed training. This, of course, does not have to involve simply running. The main component of an athlete’s running form is how much force they can produce and put into the ground to propel them forward.
With the increase of force production the main goal of a speed training program, activities such as lifting weights and plyometrics should be considered. Deceleration training, or learning the ability to absorb greater and greater amounts of force, should also be used to develop speed.
The two main lifts that should be included in any strength program are the deadlift and the squat. The deadlift may be the most important for developing speed, as the ability to put force directly into the ground is necessary to lift heavy weights. Also, the deadlift targets the muscles of the hips and hamstrings, which are used primarily in running.
Another benefit of interval training is the increased lean body mass that sprinters have, in comparison to long distance runners. In fact, sprinters, even though they are heavier and more muscular in appearance, often have less body fat than the leanest distance runners. The larger muscles that are required for fast running take more energy to maintain than the shorter muscle fibers used in distance.
Developing endurance is relatively very easy compared to developing true speed. This is one reason why hundreds or thousands of people may sign up for a 5k or marathon and complete it. Very few people would be willing to sign up for a 100 meter race, however.