Recreational Running and the importance of being mobile, strong and powerful.
It’s very common for the majority of people who want to get involved in a sport to find a local club, join and crack straight on with performing said sport week in week out in the hope that they’ll get fitter, and better at that chosen sport. Whilst initially that might happen, at some point performance will plateau and unfortunately acute or chronic injury will most likely follow. The following blog discusses a common activity relative to the above paragraph.
Running is one of the most popular recreational activities largely due to the fact it is so accessible….essentially a starter pack consists of trainers, shorts and a t shirt, and relentless pavement pounding to achieve running fitness.
However, therein lies the problem, let’s say you fancied getting yourself fit for a local 10km run/race the most common place to start for most people would be to strap on their Asics and start pounding the streets. The aim of course would be to clock up loads of miles in the hope that cardiovascular adaptations and specific running fitness comes about. Whilst this method has some carry over, this is a one dimensional
approach that negates some very important factors in running performance, and as stated earlier in the blog injury will potentially follow.
We need to think about getting ‘good’ at running in an integrated way and approach it with several fitness components in mind. So by all means, implement a sensible running based programme but also pay attention to the following aspects of fitness.
The movement, strength, skill pyramid sums up what a good program for any sport should look like, and training for your local 10km run is no different.
- Move well and often and create athleticism in a controlled environment.
- Add strength to these movements you’ve got, create stability and a surplus of it. Train fast and develop power to further enhance your ability.
- Now you can get fancy with your body by performing your sport, safe in the knowledge that your frame can handle the demands placed on it.
Unless you’re a full-time athlete, chances are you will have a job of some sort and therefore spend much of your day sitting, driving or involved in other largely sedentary positions. This poses a problem as running and training for running requires coordination, skill, and varied athletic movements, not to mention force absorption and production and therefore a good dose of reactive strength , so going from chair to a 5 miler plus after work week in week out is only going to end in pain or injury.
If you are going to go about your training for running in a multi-faceted approach you will need to squat, hinge, push, pull, brace, carry, lunge, reach, accelerate, decelerate, jump land, hop…the list goes on.
Therefore a large part of your training should contain a big dose of movement quality. This can usually be plumbed in at the beginning of your training session (gym based) or your running session (road/track based), and therefore form part of your warm up. However, you must get into the habit of thinking way beyond the term warm up, as drilling key movement patterns are a necessity when implementing any training program. They are needed to open up movement pathways that have been lying dormant and by doing these drills you are further reducing your chance of injury.
Whenever we commence working with any sport/athlete these mobility/activation drills are custom designed to fit the athletes movement deficits which we would have discovered via a detailed movement screening early in their program design. However to get you started, here are some links to some useful and simple exercises and remember the bigger your movement toolbox the more likely your gross athleticism will improve.
Here are some links to some movement quality drills that we currently use with our runners:
- Ankles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGjJkurZlGw
- Hips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6FRktRlNhM
- Glutes and spine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9BlJQQBaqo
- Thoracic spine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX21NOL61OE
- Hamstring activation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzdSDZZPtdE
- Trunk activation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbemelnkHag
- Single leg stability and hamstring mobility: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7WpA2hQe5g
There are hundreds of movement quality drills to choose from but the above are a few that we currently use.
Strength: (the ability to generate or control force)
Ask most runners what sort of strength and power training they are currently doing and we often get two answers. A) why do I need to be strong to run? B) I don’t want to end up bulky. The answer to A) you need to be strong to run and the answer to B) if done correctly you will not end up bulky.
In a nutshell, getting yourself strong and powerful with running in mind will only enhance your capability and unlock athletic potential whilst reducing (massively) your chance of injury
RE or running economy as it’s known is a key performance indicator where running is concerned and with the use of appropriate ST (strength training) this can be improved by 2-8% with regards to distance athletes. Correctly programmed strength training will provide an overload to the neuromuscular system which is what’s needed to allow the adaptations (increases) in strength. Motor unit recruitment, firing frequency, musculotendinous stiffness, and intra-muscular co-ordination will all adapt for the better when ST is performed with consistency (2-3 times per week).
Did you know that every time your foot hits the ground anywhere up to 2.5 times body weight has to be absorbed through each leg, and as you can imagine over the course of just one five miler, that’s a lot of load going through the lower limbs…..a rationale right there to be strong!
It’s also no secret that a huge performance enhancer for distance running is low body mass with regards to unwanted body fat. Essentially the lighter, yet stronger you are the more efficient your running will be and the more resilient you’ll be to the forces absorbed by the body each time the foot strikes the floor. Force production will also improve with strength gains and with increased ‘stiffness’ through your joints (musculotendinous junctions) your ability to react or bounce when you strike the ground will be enhanced.
It’s common to hear recreational runners mention the need for ‘core’ strength frequently. Whilst this might be true, the core is often misinterpreted as the ‘tummy’ area….well core to us means everything from just above the knee to the neck. In truth, not just one area of the body needs to be strong to run, the entire kinetic chain requires robustness for all the reasons stated earlier….force absorption and production, reactivity, and force transfer from upper to lower to upper body. Leaking force due to week hips or a torso that moves incorrectly will add to inefficient running.
So with this in mind a ‘whole’ body approach needs to be applied when developing strength to run and it also needs to be appropriate for the individual involved. Please refrain from rocking up to your nearest gym and tackling back squats, deadlifts and bench presses without careful consideration about what will be appropriate for your ability and needs. This is where a good personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach can pay dividends with a systematic approach utilising a ‘minimum dose ‘ method to training adaptations. In other words, create just enough stress each training session to bring about the desired effect further down the line…..think BIGGER PICTURE.
However to get you started, here are some links to some ‘beginner’ type exercises that are going to get the body tuned up with a view to being a more robust and efficient runner.
Below is an example of a ‘knee’ dominant session with some accessory and trunk work added on.
Hip thrust: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9NbwDdtdKs
Half kneeling landmine press: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ArzG9qz-yM
Below is an example of a hip dominant training session with added accessory work.
Split squat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWDaU3KIKQ4
Facepull : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caLm1T6CaIw
Half kneeling pallof press: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7GbuPS-6VM
Power:( the maximum amount of force that can be produced in a short amount of time)
Power is definitely an element of training for running that needs to be addressed, but you can’t expect to be powerful without a foundation of strength and yes even endurance events require explosive strength. Explosive strength can actually increase by 20-50 % just through heavy resistance training alone, but to really get fast, you have to train fast….in other words, move your body or external load quickly for desired amount of sets and reps. Obviously a little more complicated than that but essentially, like strength training, power development has to be appropriate to the sport and individual involved, but in general we should look to ‘surf’ the curve (see graph above) and programme in aspects of training all the way along this curve (max strength to sprinting)
It’s also worth mentioning ‘reactive’ strength. Reactive strength when trained correctly allows the individual to tap into the stretch shortening cycle that we all possess to some degree. It’s our own ‘rubber band’ mechanism that allows us to absorb impact on ground contact (think jumping, running etc) like a spring, and then explode rapidly in the opposite direction (up or forwards). Train this element correctly and it will not only decrease your ground contact time, bearing in mind that the longer you spend on the ground the slower you’ll be, but it will also increase joint stiffness and therefore reduce your chance of injury.
Below is an example of some plyometric progressions that we would potentially use with anyone involved in running based activities, all the while enhancing the capability of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC)
Like any training though, plyo based interventions need careful thought and programming, with an extensive to intensive approach, definitely best performed under the watchful eye of a coach.
Any well thought out training program where a running event is the main goal and requires the body to go through increasing amounts of stress , will also require planned recovery. Most of us, unless we are full time athletes, work and have family/life commitments. Add in training stress and unless recovery is allowed for, the potential for ‘burn out’ is a real issue.
To improve, we have to employ a ‘progressive overload’ strategy, but to reap the rewards of adaptation the body has to be able to recover before more ‘stress’ is placed upon it. The diagram below is a visual example of the process that we should adhere to.
If training takes place too soon during restoration or supercompensation then the likelihood of added fatigue is high, and therefore the potential for reduced performance in the subsequent session.
Fatigue can show itself in several ways depending on the type of stress you are placing on the body.
Metabolic stress, tissue damage, neurological and psychological fatigue all play apart in the need to recover and therefore effective strategies need to be implemented.
Nutrition, massage, flexibility and mobility are great ways of looking after the body before training commences.
Nutrition, Rest (active/passive), and massage are some of the strategies that are effective post training.
Ongoing monitoring as well as a well designed program will go a long way to ensure that fatigue and burn out are a low risk.
If you’ve taken the time to read this blog, both of us at Cornwall High Performance appreciate your time.
More importantly though, we hope it sends a message and is a help if you plan on taking up running….or any sport for that matter.
The bottom line is, way too many recreational athletes are skipping (in our eyes) the most important part of any training program, and that’s building a surplus of movement, functional strength and power. We are constantly coming across runners and others that are injured….an injured athlete is not a happy athlete, and besides that, if performance can also be enhanced via correct training strategies….what’s not to like??
So next time you or anyone you know decides to train for a long distance event, or any other sport, show them this blog, and then tell them to get in touch with Cornwall High Performance.
All the best
Rob and Sam