Beyond the Road
Spring is upon us, and for many runners this brings the start of Race Season! With this will come moreÂ outdoor runs, longer bouts on the treadmill, and miles, miles, miles. What better way to train for that 10KÂ but to run, right?
Runners of all shapes, sizes, and levels have long felt that if they were pounding the pavement, they were doing the best they could to improve their running. After all, exercise is very specific, right? In order to get better at running, you had to run, and run, and run some more! However, many found that, with time, this constant pounding on their joints led to injuries, burnout, and slower race times. It was then and only then that cross-training activities such as yoga, biking, and strength training would come into the picture. Because doing something was better than nothing at all, right? Once healed and road-ready, the cross training would stop and running would resume. These exercises were looked at as a form of rehabilitation, rather than a way to improve their running.
Thankfully, the running community is starting to march to a new tune and cross training is becoming more and more prevalent in training programs, especially at the elite level. This crucial restructuring has helped runners reduce injury, as well as improve aerobic fitness and power; together this leads to better runs and faster race times!
Let’s take a look at some cross-training activities and how they can help in the areas of injury prevention, improved aerobic fitness, and more power.
Many running injuries stem from overuse and are caused by instability in the knees, hips, and ankles. The instability of these joints can be due to weakness of the important stabilizing muscles around these joints. To offer the best support, stabilizing muscles need to be strengthened and trained in multiple planes of motion, e.g., front to back, left to right. Incorporating exercises such as a stability ball hip bridge or resistance band side steps can strengthen these muscles groups and help support your joints. Consider adding some stabilizing exercises 2-3 times per week. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps to moderate fatigue.
Many runners also suffer from tight muscles, which can lead to greater risk of injury. By incorporating gentle static stretching after your run, you will help lengthen the muscles that are stressed, and are therefore more likely to prevent injury. Be sure to warm muscles up to make them more elastic and easier to stretch. Remember the motto, “Run to stretch, don’t stretch to run.” Consider adding the runner’s lunge or hamstring and sumo stretches shown below. These target the hardworking hamstrings, quads and glutes that are primarily used as we run. Hold each stretch to tension, not pain. Hold for at least 30 seconds. Can’t seem to fit your stretching in on your own? FitMe Wellness offers a number of weekly yoga classes that can help get you started!
Improved Aerobic Fitness
Let’s face it; running is tough on our joints. The constant pounding places nearly three times a person’s body weight on his or her joints. The high impact that running elicits makes it difficult for even elite athletes to run more than 15 hrs/week. Cyclists, swimmers, and rowers on the other hand can easily put in twice as much training due to the low-impact nature of their sport. By adding non-impact cardio to your weekly routine, you are offering your joints a break from the pounding while still improving your aerobic fitness. Consider swapping out 1-2 training runs a week for a non-impact activity such as cycling, rowing, or the
Who doesn’t want to run faster? Power is imperative to improvingÂ speed. We become more powerful in our stride by having a greaterÂ stride length with reduced ground contact time, i.e., quickerÂ turnover. In other words, we take bigger steps while playing “hotÂ potato” with the ground. You have to have BOTH to increaseÂ speed. If you just increase your stride length, you’ll probably haveÂ a lot of vertical motion or “air time.” This is not making you veryÂ efficient as a runner since your goal is to move FORWARD, notÂ up. Any vertical movement is therefore lost energy. Also, if youÂ don’t reduce your ground contact time, you lose a lot of dynamicÂ energy to the ground rather than using it to help propelÂ you forward.
One form of exercise that is superb at improving power isÂ plyometric training. Also called jump training, plyometric trainingÂ focuses on using a quick stretch/shortening action on the muscle.Â These explosive movement patterns generate dynamic power.Â This means that every time you land from a jump, your musclesÂ get a stretch that gives your next jump even more power. But
there’s a catch: you need to be quick! Jump, land, and wait tooÂ long and all of that dynamic energy is lost to the floor. Try it withÂ a calf raise. Raise up onto your toes, lower quickly to the floor,Â and wait 3 seconds before your next lift. Repeat this 8-10x. YouÂ will likely find you only cover the same distance or perhaps lessÂ as you go on during your runs. Then try the plyometric version:Â raise up quickly onto your toes, lower quickly, and try to raise upÂ again and again as quickly as you can. Eventually you should seeÂ yourself getting higher andÂ perhaps even jumping a bit. This isÂ dynamic energy at work!
Since plyometric training is also high impact, adding a sessionÂ of plyometric training once a week at first and working up to twoÂ sessions a week is plenty. As with any strength training,Â incorporateÂ plyometric training on non-consecutive days to otherÂ strength training workouts. If you are new to strength trainingÂ all together, consider adding a basic strength routine using freeÂ weights and machines for a few weeks before adding plyometricÂ training. Here are some basic plyometric exercises to get youÂ started; try 1-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. If form or performanceÂ start to wane, be sure to rest.
Working with a trainer can be beneficial, as these exercises canÂ be more challenging than what you are used to doing. A trainerÂ can guide you through proper form and technique to help keepÂ your workout safe and effective. Trainers can also motivate andÂ encourage you when those muscles start to burn….because ifÂ you’re doing it right, they will!
Whether you’re a long distance runner getting ready for the RockfordÂ Half Marathon, or just running to run, adding cross-trainingÂ activities such as those mentioned above will help you to run
faster, stronger, and hopefully injury-free!