Why Burpees make athletes better runners


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An article of Jens Rossa

Question for you: Who thinks that you just walk with your legs? Okay, if you were the one thinking “Me”, then you are wrong! To walk upright is a complex process which we have developed over several centuries. Our body optimized itself for it. It’s an interaction of various muscle groups, which generates movement and gives us stability.

Ancient running wisdom says: “The best way to train running is running and the best way to train fast running is running fast.” Of course there’s a lot of truth in it, but some of the needed muscle groups can’t be trained only by running – and that is the reason why for one thing you don’t achieve your best possible performance and for another thing you become predisposed to injuries, because the muscles suffer fatigue and overload faster by more intensive or extensive strain.  Therefore, almost every book about running includes a guide with exercises for coordination and stabilization. Some examples: The movement for running emerges at the hip; it supports the leg lift and stabilizes the body in its forward motion. We all know the ideal running pose: The extended leg pushes off the ground while at the same time the other leg is bent in front of the body in its highest phase. The upper body forms an extended straight line of the pushing leg, so it is located above the anterior leg. This position is just possible with a strong musculature on the front and the red muscles in back and glutes.

The interaction of the muscular system is complex, and this is why you shouldn’t only train it with isolated exercises on a machine. The most effective way is functional training, and the simplest kind of functional training is the training without equipment, only with bodyweight. However, the exercises found in running books are bodyweight, too? Yes, sure, but still scarcely anybody does them!  They are boring, and you always have the latent feeling that you could do something much more sensible with this time, train “real”.

Small changes have significant effects

runnersAt this point I come back to the fast running. There are exactly two parameters influencing the running speed: Stride length and stride frequency. Nothing more! And every small change here has significant effects. Just think of a stride frequency of 180/minute, that means 90 steps with each leg. With a stride length of 1,10m we reach speeds of 5:03min per kilometer. If the stride length can be extended to 5 centimeters more, the pace already increases to 4:48min/km. A huge improvement – the time for marathon would decline from 3:33h to 3:23h!Or analogously from 3:10h to 3:00h. How can I achieve such an improvement? Clearly by pushing towards using your energy optimally, by using energy in the direction of motion, by developing a stable core and a strong body, by improving the swinging motion of backwards phase  of the leg and by keeping it closer to the body in return. Admittedly this will require additional strength for the movement, but it saves a lot of energy while moving the leg forward through a much shorter lever.

Normally both factors are combined: frequency and length. The frequency for example increases through shorter contact time. The results?  I waste less time on the ground but go dynamically in the next motion sequence instead. Often this can be achieved and combined mutually with a better pushing off, but also with less lateral wobbling, so a more economic running form. If I can increase my stride frequency to 182 at the same time, my pace improves to 4:46min/km. That means our marathoner of the upper example would come to the marker of 3:20h, the other one even sub 3:00h!

Everyone who practices Freeletics, Goliaz, Runtastic Results or something similar should have noticed by now:  “Hold it, these are all the things I practice through my workouts!” And that is exactly how it is! Bodyweight Exercises are ideal supplement training to running, because here you can train all the muscle groups needed for better running performance! And the HIIT variety (High Intensity Interval Training) also complies much more with the attitude of many runners: Challenge yourself and your cardiovascular system at the same time for maximum benefits.

When and in which phase of training in the running season I would recommend which kind of workouts and how generic training weeks could look like will be discussed and analysed in my next blog „Run faster with HIIT: A training plan„.


JensJens Rossa is a passionate runner since 37 years. He participated in lots of competitions from 800m up to 24hour runs. As skilled coach he engages himself with funtional training for more than 10 years now and practices this combination himself of conviction. 



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