Monday, May 6, 2013

Building The Functional Runner

(On Saturday, June 15th, The Central Valley Running Seminar will be held in Visalia.  This workshop will be for runners, running coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists and anyone looking for cutting edge run training education.  Please call 334-8990 for more information.)  

Running is a primitive movement that many people can benefit from.  Unfortunately many people who enjoy running spend too much time recovering from injury and not enough time maximizing their performance.  Extrinsic factors that cause people to get injured and stop running might be improper shoes, increased volume too soon and random program design.  Intrinsic factors could be dysfunctional movement patterns, muscle imbalances, poor lifestyle habits, weight gain or poor running gait.  Running is a great activity to build aerobic capacity, stay lean and healthy and improve your mood.  But you shouldn’t just run to get fit.  Becoming the complete athlete will enable you to have longevity and excel in your running lifestyle.  If you are always injured, your training will be inconsistent.  When your training is inconsistent, progress will be halted.   To become a complete and functional runner, abide by the strategies below:

1.     Strengthen your core.  This is critical, as having a strong and stable core will create a more economical running stride.  Our core incorporates everything from our mid-thigh up to our rib cage.  Upper and lower body strength will be optimal when our core is strong.  When performing exercises for your core, don’t think sit-ups and twists.  These are old school movements that can actually harm your lower back.  Focus on stability movements like planks and side planks and carrying variations like farmer walks, suitcase walks and waiter walks.  Other core exercises like hip bridges, mini-band walks and birddogs will strengthen your hips and glutes to create this complete strength we are looking for.
Side Plank
Mini-band Walks

1-leg Hip Bridges

2.   Specific strength training.  Runners need single leg strength to improve balance, stability and proprioception.  Each foot strike during running sends 2-4 times your body weight worth of impact forces from your foot up through your body.  That is why it is so important to improve your lower body strength and stability so you can absorb these forces.  Single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, lunge variations and step-ups are all great strength movements to add to your routine.  Having adequate upper body strength will give you the ability to hold your form when running.  If your upper body breaks down, your technique will get sloppy, which then increases your chances of injury.  Simple bodyweight strength moves like push-ups, inverted rows and chin-ups can give you plenty of upper body strength that is needed for enhanced running.  

FE Split Squat
Single Led Deadlifts

3.     Think quality over quantity.  You need a base level of aerobic foundation to be a successful runner.  This takes months, sometimes years of consistent training to build.  But when you are constantly focused on running volume, overuse injury can quickly occur.  Instead, make your prime objective quality running miles and eliminate all junk mileage from your training program.  As an alternative, create a schedule where you have a goal every training session.  For example: Workout #1, 10 minute warm up, 15 minute tempo run, 5 minute race pace run, 10 minutes cool down.  Workout #2, 2 mile warm up, 6x400 yards on the track, 1 mile cool down.  Workout #3, 2 mile warm up, 8x1 minute pick ups at 5k race pace, 20 minutes endurance pace run.  This set up creates quality and focused running mileage, instead of just going out and slugging miles away.  Plus, it’s gives you more motivation knowing you have a plan of action every training session.  

      Example #1:
      50 minute LEVEL 2/3 run;
Start with easy (LEVEL 2) run the first 10-15 minutes. You will then perform 4x2 minute LEVEL 3 intervals/3 minute LEVEL 2 recover (remember LEVEL 3 is not all out; it's the pace right up from your long run race pace; HR is still controlled)
Finish with 10-15 minutes of endurance running

      Example #2:
      Treadmill workout; Start with 5-10 minutes of LEVEL 2 running; Then perform 5x30 second pick ups at 10k race pace to warm up
      Main set: 10x30 second at 5k race pace/30 second easy jog, 5x60 seconds at 5k race pace/30 second easy jog, 2x2 minutes at 5k race pace/30 seconds easy jog, 5x20 sprints/40 seconds walk; finish with 10 minute cool down jog

4.     Smart program design:  Random training might get you results in the short term but eventually this type of training will not be the solution to improved performance levels.  I see many recreational runners with no plan of action.  They wake up and say, “I feel like running 5 miles today”.  This unstructured plan will lead to frustration, as your performance will not improve.  Ideally you would want to build a long-term training plan that will progressively build your fitness as you prepare for your top race or event.  This structured plan will lie out specific training blocks during the weeks, months and even years of your preparation.  Along with this detailed plan, understanding proper volume loads will keep you moving forward.  You do not want to increase training volume (# of miles or # of hours) more than 10% each month of training.  For example, if month #1 you ran 50 miles, month #2 should be no more than 55 miles.  This is a conservative approach to building your mileage as your prepare for your big race.  Eventually your volume will reach its capacity so dropping mile volume and adding in intensity (speed work, hill training, etc) will give you more quality miles.  

(Notice this simple training template.  Volume slowly increases each week.)

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
Stretch & 10x100 30' base run 20' tempo Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 40' long run
Stretch & 12x100 30' base run 4x30 sec. hills Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 45' long run
Stretch & 14x100 35' base run 25' tempo Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 55' long run
Stretch & 8x100 25' base run 5x30 sec. hills Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 35' long run
Stretch & 6x200 40'base run 30' tempo Rest 1 hour 10 long run Cross training
Stretch & 7x200 45' base run 6x30 sec. hills Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 1 hour 20 long run
Stretch & 8x200 50' base run 35' tempo Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 60' long run
Stretch & 8x100 30' base run 3x60 sec. hills Rest   Cross training
Strengthen 1 hour 15 long run
Stretch & 4x400 50' base run 40' tempo Rest 1 hour 30 long run, pushing the last 1/4 Cross training
Strengthen pushing last 1/4
Stretch & 5x400 55' base run 4x60 sec. hills Rest 1 hour long run, pushing the last 1/4 Cross training
Stretch & Strengthen 6x400 60' base run   Rest   OFF
  25' tempo 1 hour 20 long run, pushing last 1/4
Foam roll/stretch 4x200 OFF running drills, 15 min. easy run OFF 10-15 mins. of light running with some pick ups. Trail of 2 Cities       Half Marathon

5.     Specific nutrition:  Nutrition is a component that is tough for people to stay on track with.  But it’s also the piece to the performance puzzle that can tremendously affect your body composition, physiology, recovery, oxygen uptake and energy.   It's a myth to think endurance athletes should be eating unlimited amounts of pastas, breads and other starchy grains.  As fueling the muscles with adequate carbohydrates is very important, knowing what foods to be consuming during the week is crucial.  In my opinion, the most important foods for endurance athletes are going to be dark, leafy green vegetables (kale, broccoli, red leaf lettuce, spinach) and dark fruit like blueberries and blackberries due to their power packed nutrient content.  These foods literally aid our body’s ability to transport oxygen to the working muscles and decrease inflammation in the body.  This literally improves performance.  Just like my advice for general nutrition, creating a healthy lifestyle is imperative for endurance athletes.  Once you start executing a healthy and consistent plan, nothing new needs to be added as your big race approaches.  Stick to what you have been doing and execute!

      Try this Kale/Blueberry Smoothie:
      Add these ingredients to a blender...
      1 Cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
      1 cup of vanilla greek yogurt
      1 cup of Kale
      1/4 cup of flax seed
      1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
      4 oz. of whole milk
      1 cup of ice


6.     It’s all about recovery!  Rest.  This four-letter word is often ignored and many endurance athletes suffer overuse injury or burnout due to their lack of rest and recovery.  As you train, build fitness and improve as a runner, you are constantly pushing the envelope to reach your individual goals.  During training the body breaks down and micro tears occur in the muscles.  If there is minimal awareness to recovery, many negative affects can happen.  Overuse injury, burnout, lack of motivation, chronic pain, vitamin/nutrient deficiency or decline in performance can all happen.  Add these recovery strategies to create a smarter program: active recovery weeks, rest days, cold therapy after intense training sessions, soft tissue and flexibility work, light training days following hard training days, consistent sleep habits, proper nutritional principles (see above) and massage.  

Ice Massage Therapy

Soft Tissue work with a Foam Roll
      Adding the strategies above will not only make you a better and more complete runner but you will improve your overall strength and athletic performance.  Sounds good right?  

      Now, let's get to work!

      If you have any questions regarding this article, feel free to email me at

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