Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Importance of Running Well

Is it more important to run well or run more?  When you show up to a half or full marathons there are many recreational runners out there who have trained to just finish. They will sludge through the event, shuffling their feet so they can cross the finish line.  The achievement of finishing an endurance event can be exhilarating but the damages it can have on a body can be debilitating.  66% of runners get injured. Why is this stat so high?  My opinion is that many people rush into running more and cause overuse problems that can hinder their overall performance.  

Notice the different techniques of these recreational runners.
As volume is an important component to the endurance world, we should not rush into more mileage. I say, get better at running.  Be smart with your training and don’t let volume be the only aspect you are focusing on.  Running well is the way to go. Focusing on improving your form, efficiency and economy are going to keep you running longer.  Look at these big marathons; you get thousands of people out there. You can see some horrific running technique.  Sloppy reps performed over and over creates bad behaviors, which in running will eventually cause injury.  That is why dialing in your technique is critical; it might be the most important component to an injury free program.  Here are simple tips that are very important to add to your training to create a more intellectual approach: 

Elite runners with efficient form and very similar styles.

Recreational runners shuffling their feet.

1.     Running drills: Take a 7-year-old soccer team.  Would it be smart to just put them on the playing field and say, “Play”?  Drills will be the main aspect these young kids ingrain in their skill set to become better at soccer.  It goes for running as well.  It’s poor thinking to just go out and run without attention to proper technique.  Running with sloppy form will eventually put you on the sideline because injury is destined to happen.  Running specific drills are needed (see video).  Performed consistently throughout the week, these drills will aid in improving your overall running performance.     

2.     Learn to run well first: don’t rush into running long.  This is a mistake I see many endurance athletes make.  They want to rush into a marathon training program without running a handful of 5k’s and 10k’s.  And in all actuality, this is a problem.  As I am all for setting ambitious goals, it’s imperative to be smart with the build up.  Get better at running shorter distances with good form first.  Go see if you can run with perfect technique for 10 seconds, walk for a bit and then repeat. Add some speed to the 10 second intervals to promote good running form and get good at this first before moving to longer durations.  Progress to 20 seconds, 30 seconds and so on.  Before you know it you will be running with great technique over longer durations. 

3.     Build your kinetic chain.  This might be my first priority when setting up a program for an endurance athlete.  If the kinetic chain has leaks and movement dysfunctions, running will just cause more harm than good.  But yet, many endurance athletes skip this component in their program.  Building the “chain” does not mean going to the gym and performing bicep curls and leg presses.  Implementing the “inside-out” approach is imperative to strengthening the body in a systematic way.  We need strong stabilizers in our hips, ankles and shoulders, adequate range of motion to move efficiently, a stable inner core to protect our spine and durable connective tissue to enable us to accept the demands of training loads.  For more details on a proper strength program, check out my article I wrote for here:   

Our body is connected from head to toe.  We are not isolated muscles, we are one chain.  This is how we should train.  

4.     Be patient.  Endurance for any sport takes time.  Years, in fact, to build a solid foundation of aerobic endurance.  So don’t expect to be running marathons your first year in the sport.  If you are patient and allow ample time to build technique, endurance, speed and strength, you will become a better runner.  Running is a lifestyle so allow yourself to be progressive and you will increase your longevity in the sport. 

5.     It’s ok to run fast.  You must know your level of course but running fast promotes good running technique.  Slow, methodical jogging forces bad patterns.  Running uphill or at a faster speed will force good form and will utilize the correct muscles.  Here is a simple way to periodize intervals into your training program:
                        (Remember to always go at your own level and modify the sets and                                                 repetitions accordingly.)
                        Week 1
                        5x200's at 5k goal race pace, jog 200 for recovery
                        Week 2
                        7x200's at 5k goal race pace, jog 200 for recovery
                        Week 3
                        9x200's at 5k goal race pace, jog 200 for recovery
                        Week 4
                        No intervals, light running for recovery
                        Week 5
                        4x400's at 5k goal race pace, jog 200 for recovery
                        Week 6
                        6x400's at 5k goal race pace, jog 200 for recovery
                        Week 7
                        7x400's at 5k goal race pace, jog 200 for recovery
                        Week 8
                        No intervals, light running for recovery

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Strength Training Principles for the Triathlete

You have all read that strength training is a positive element for triathletes to implement.  The question is what type of strength work is going to maximize triathlon fitness?  From P90x to Crossfit to Yoga and Pilates to “functional” strength, we can get a big confused as to what specific program can best fit the needs of our sport.  Let me give you some key principles to look for when deciding on a strength program:

1.     Working your soft tissue.  As a triathlete we are putting stress and impact on our body during training.  Our muscles become tight and inflamed and it can limit our performance and increase our chances of injury.  Soft tissue work using a foam roll, massage stick or a baseball should be part of your strength program.  Athletes that come through our facility start every workout with soft tissue work.  It’s the foundation of human movement.  With soft tissue and flexibility issues, strength gains will be limited if we don't solve the tissue problems first”, says Lee Burton, President of The Functional Movement Systems.   We will limit our triathlon performance if we do not improve our muscle tissue quality first.  

2.     Movement quality versus movement quantity.  Just because you get sore and tired from a specific strength workout doesn’t mean you are improving your triathlon fitness.  In fact, hard, aggressive and random program design can actually lead you down the path of chronic pain and injury, and then you cannot do anything.  If you train to absolute failure, your form breaks down, the wrong muscles are being utilized and your movement will be impaired.  This sets you up for injury and bad patterning down the road.  Think technical failure.  Do as many repetitions as you can with absolute perfect form.  Stop when the movement is no longer perfect.  I can have someone do 100 squats; think they will feel a burn?  Absolutely.  Is there a point to performing 100 squats?  Not really.   Like I said above, a sore body doesn’t necessarily mean you did something right.  Clean movement enhances your functionality which sets you up to push harder in your swim, bike and run workouts, which then improves total performance.  Quality over quantity!

  This is an example of quantity versus quality.  The goal of this workout is to get the reps done as fast as they can.  There is no attention to clean movement.  Remember if your form breaks down, the wrong muscles will be utilized and your movement will be impaired, which will lead to injury.  

3.     Working your “core” through smart training.  This word is probably one of the most used words in the fitness industry.  Proper core development teaches the entire body to cohesively work together.  If our “core” has weakness, we will limit the use of our lower and upper body strength and power.  The inner core incorporates the Multifidis (small spinal muscles), transverse abdominals (built in “weight belt”), pelvic floor (small muscles lining the pelvis) and the diaphragm (skeletal muscle used for respiration function).  These are muscles that we will never see but when functioning properly can aide in athletic development, optimal recovery, deep strength and stability and total body strength development.  Working your core is not just isometric “ab” training.  Performing thousands of crunches is not considered smart “core” training.  Researchers like Dr. Stuart McGill and Dr. Craig Liebenson are providing the world of athletics information on smart core training.  

 This is the "back expert" and all fitness professionals should learn from Dr. McGill. 

4.     Look for a system.  Your strength program should have a similar system each day you workout.  There should be a recipe that you follow each day.  If you are doing something completely different every workout you will increase your chances of injury and progress will be stagnated.  You shouldn’t just randomly run through a workout without detailed attention to progressions, appropriate sets and repetitions based on your triathlon-training schedule and proper functional training. 

A system that we use in our facility could look like this:

Soft tissue work with foam roll
Activation/mobility (glutes and shoulder stabilizers/t-spine and ankles)
Movement Preparation
(Series of drills to prepare the body for the work ahead)
Power Work
(Olympic lifts or Jump training; 2-leg and 1-leg drills can be used and medicine ball throws for upper body explosiveness)
Strength Work
1a) Knee dominant
1b) Loaded carry movement
1c) Upper body pull

2a) Hip dominant
2b) Core stability
2c) Upper body push

This system is consistent every workout for the endurance athletes that we train.  

5.     Stretching for everyone?  Flexibility training improves muscle length by going through specific range of motion movements and allowing the muscle to increase elasticity.  It also increases the circulation and supply of oxygen and nutrients the muscles need to work effectively.  If flexibility is limited, our movement and range of motion will be inhibited, thus making us more susceptible to injury.  Increasing flexibility through stretching is one of the basic principles of physical fitness.  Does everyone need to stretch?  In my opinion, the answer is no.   Hyperflexibility is an issue.  Individuals who participate in dance, martial arts, cheerleading and gymnastics can generally have extreme flexibility.  When muscles are overly stretched, the affected joint will lose the ability to control movement during activity.  This will cause abuse to the joint, which can cause debilitating injury (shoulder and hip labrum tears, rotator cuff trauma, ankle sprains, etc).  We need adequate range of motion, not extreme.  These overly flexible individuals need to focus on building stability and strength to support their joints.   Now if flexibility is an issue then yes, you need to stretch throughout the week.  Your range of motion limits your movement; thus causing a lack of performance.  

This young lady has extreme flexibility which can actually cause more issues than someone who limits range of motion.  She needs strength and stability work to protect her joints.

6.     How does your body feel after a workout?  This is a key indicator of a smart strength training program.  If you are having trouble walking the morning after a strength workout, you did too much.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t be sore, but having minor muscle soreness and having trouble sitting and standing are two totally different effects from training.  As triathletes, we are not looking for extreme soreness after strength work.  In fact, you should feel really good after a strength session because you have worked on the above principles.  You didn’t just go to the gym and bang out endless repetitions of squats and lunges.  There was a balanced attack of full body, multi-joint movements implemented to improve your athleticism. 

A little extreme.  This is not what you should look like after a workout.

Triathletes should be strength training.  Triathletes shouldn’t be extreme in the gym.  The #1 goal of a strength program for triathletes should be injury prevention.  If you are getting hurt inside the gym, you should reconsider what you are doing.  If you are constantly getting hurt outside the gym, you should reconsider what you are doing.  There is a smart way to implement strength training into your program.  Abide by the above principles and you will set yourself up for a successful triathlon season. 

Past writings