Category Archives: marathon

Foam Rolling?

We love to hate the foam roller. After a full round of strength training posts, I believe it is a good time to post about the benefits of the foam roller and how to do it correctly. I didn’t learn to love and value my foam roller until I had to walk backward down hills during the last five miles of a mountain marathon. Not pleasant. Since then, I have be come a huge advocate of foam rolling because I know it works. I know it keeps me running. If I slack off for a week, I can tell. My muscles start get tight and I start having some tension in the typical area’s in my quads and calves. And I know, if I don’t get serious with the rolling again, I’ll be wishing I had.
Rolling helps prevent injuries by keeping your muscles loose. Tight muscles do not move the way they are supposed to and then they get pulled, torn, or they cause injury to a supportive tendons/muscles that gets incorporated to help the tight ones than is typically would with a healthy muscle. Our muscles build up lactic acid which can make them sore, especially for new runners or runner conquering more distance. Rolling breaks this up and allows your body to flush out what it doesn’t use. Your muscles will eventually learn to burn the lactic acid as a form of fuel and you don’t get sore anymore (I know you don’t believe me, but as ultrarunners who have been running 100s a while if they get sore…). Tight muscles prevent us from using the most efficient running form we can because we don’t have the range of motion and we rely more heavily on support muscles. Running efficiently means more speed, more endurance, and less injury. Every runner wants those things, or at least the last one.
Can’t I just stretch to make sure I maintain mobility and range of motion? In my experience, no, Foam Rolling is the answer. Runners hear a lot about stretching and there is research saying stretching is helpful, pointless, or harmful to runners. Stretching done right, can be helpful (I’ve posted about yoga and it’s benefits to runners). But stretching done wrong can be very very bad for runners. Cold muscles should not be stretched. Muscles should not be stretched past the point of tension (not pain). If you do want to stretch, make sure your muscles are sufficiently warm, after a run is best. If you stretch without them being warm, you can tear them or strain them. How to stretch and which positions are best can be complicated. Foam rolling on the other hand is easy. I like easy.
Yes foam rolling is one more thing to consume your time. The thing with foam rolling is, you really can’t make an excuse not to, because you can do it and watch TV, talk on the phone, supervise children, help with homework, and play with the dogs. The one thing I don’t recommend is eating and foam rolling. It can be messy. The amount of time you spend rolling is going to depend on your body and the amount of running you do. I run 90 miles a week and do strength training on the days I don’t run, which means I’m pretty dedicated to my foam roller and we spend a lovely time together each evening.
For other runners, daily rolling isn’t going to be necessary. At a minimum runners should be rolling on days they run. It doesn’t have to be right after running, although that would likely  be best. I don’t have time to do it right after a run, because I have to get to work. I roll in the evenings before I go to bed.
How to foam roll:
  1. Purchase a foam roller. I like the foam rollers that are not actually foam. They are a hollow plastic tube about 18 inches long (45cm) and five inches (12.5cm) in diameter. They have contoured cushioning on the outside surface. You can use just a regular foam roller, which many gyms have if you want to try before you buy. You can try them at running stores too. The plastic tube ones are more durable.
  2. Find some floor space, light carpeting will be okay, but you don’t want super cushy.
  3. For the ITBand, place the roller on the floor and lay on the foam roller on the outside of your leg beginning at the him. Support yourself with your arms; you can put the other leg down if you need too. Slowly roll down to your knee and then back up. It’s important to go slow. Stop on any knots (bumps) you feel and rest here for 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Continue rolling that muscle for 1-2 minutes and then switch.
You can choose to roll just the muscles you typically have problems with, or you can roll all the muscles of the leg. I recommend all the muscles of the leg because they all work together and if you are having a problem with one, it could really be a problem with a different one that is merely impacting the one that is causing you concern. You can also choose to roll only when you are having tightness or tension in your muscles or you can choose to roll on a regular basis. I recommend rolling regularly because you will prevent issues from coming up. It also takes less time if you roll regularly than if you have to roll multiple times a day to fix something.
Runners roll routine. Roll for 1-2 minutes on each of the following muscles:
Glutes (butt)
Quads (make sure you get all three during the time you roll this group)
Rolling can make a world of difference. I know it has for me. I even take the roller to races with me and on vacation.


Complete Running Strength

Adding strength training for your body overall is obviously going to help you as a runner. Strength training should be done for 30-60 minutes three days a week. You can do them after your run or on days you don’t run. I recommend the latter. If you can’t go through all of them during the time you have available (this whole program is about 1.5 hours), do some one day and then the others the next. You can even break it up into three shorter sessions and just rotate through them.
You don’t necessarily need a gym membership to do these exercises because they use a few free weights, which you can get at any sports store and many general stores. Most of them are inexpensive as well. For runners using free weights, body weight, and plyometrics are going to help you the most. Machines may seem ideal because they are easy and they will help you build strength. The issue is they are stationary and running is not stationary. You are working to strengthen patterns of movement.
Here is a list of the equipment you need to complete this comprehensive strength workout: Kettle bell, swiss ball, medicine ball, resistance band (loop) and dumbbells.
Many of the exercises we’ve looked at work more than one section of the body making this easier than it looks if you’ve read all of the prior blogs. I’ve compiled the list here for easy access . Please feel free to use this and share it with others. If you can’t remember how to do them, I’ve linked the post with the instructions. I’ve put them in supersets to make it less overwhelming. I string them together so you can move between them easily. To perform a superset complete all three rounds of the exercises in the set and then move to the next superset. Complete 10-20 repetitions of each exercise in each set. If it gives you a time then, do it for that duration three times. Try to move from exercise to exercise as quickly as possible.
Superset One
Tri-cep press
Bicep curls
Fire hydrants
Donkey kicks
Eccentric calf raises (double and single leg)
Squats sumo and narrow legged
Superset Two: 
Renegade rows
Shoulder press
Planks side and front
Leg lowers (with or without medicine ball)
Kettle bell swings
Bird dogs
Back extensions
Monopoly game
Chair on toes
Toe tug
Superset Three
Twisting crunch,
Modified bicycle,
Window wipers
Box jumps
Jane Fondas,
Piston squats
Split squat,
Side squat,
Farmer’s walk on toes
I highly recommend doing the complete program. It’s going to get you a more rounded and balanced body. However, I’m a realist. If you can only do one part, focus on your core. Here are the links to the core posts, abs, hips ,  and thighs.
We all want to become faster, stronger, and more efficient runners. And even if there are a few who don’t want those things, you still want to be able to run for the rest of your life. The best way to make sure you are able to continue running is to reduce the risk of injury and one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of injury is through strength training.
We’ve been making our way down the body considering how each muscle group helps us become faster, stronger and more efficient runners through strength training and as we’ve looked at each section something that has become a theme is injury prevention. Injury prevention is something all runners can get behind regardless of your distance or where you fall in the pack.
We’re all going to get slower as we age and it becomes more difficult to build muscle mass, not that we want a lot of mass as runners, but an area where we can continue to get better and balance out what we lose in strength is efficiency.

Feet and Running

Similar to our ankles, we don’t think much about strengthening our feet. It’s crazy that we spend so much of our life on our feet and they rarely get an aware thought, unless they are hurting and then we complain about them to no end. When was the last time you thought, “Good job feet! you worked hard today. You’re going to get some extra attention tonight.” Ummm never.
Runners have all kinds of problems with their feet: pronation, supination, flat feet, high arches, plantar faciitis,  blisters, black toe nails. We spend $12.00 or more for one  pair of socks because we love our feet so much and don’t even talk about how much our shoes cost. And yet, we don’t train our feet. Many don’t even actually wash their feet…
You can have incredibly strong legs, core and upper body, but it wont make up for weak feet. Over pronation or supination will misalign your entire leg and hip. If your arch collapses your knee comes in and your quad tries to compensate by pulling it out. This will lead to many different injuries and a very inefficient running form, aka wasted energy. Complete three sets with 10-15 repetitions of each of these, unless it gives a time and then do three sets of that time. If you aren’t able to do the full set that’s fine just back off to where you are and move forward again.
  1. Monopoly game.
  2. Chair on toes 20-60 seconds.
  3. Toe tug.
How to do it:
  1. Monopoly Game: put ten small objects on the floor like marbles, legos, or monopoly pieces.  Put a small cup near by. Use your toes to pick up each piece one at a time and place them in the cup.
  2. Chair on your toes: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Hold your arms out straight in front of you. Rise up on your toes as high as you can and bend at the knees lowering yourself like you’re in a chair. Try to stay up as high as you can on your toes.
  3. Toe tug:  Toe Tug: wrap a exercise band around a heavy object and then around your toes while you’re sitting on the floor facing the object.  The band should be anchored straight in front of you.
As your feet become stronger, you may want to get re-fitted for running shoes. When I first began running, I wore a motion control shoe, but now I wear a neutral shoe. Why? because my feet are much stronger. Having strong feet can also change the size of shoe you wear. We talk about having a strong base or foundation when we are increasing our miles during training and a strong foundation begins with our feet.

Ankles and Running

It seems pretty obvious that having strong ankles would be beneficial to runners, but never in my life as a runner (or before) have I heard one runner say to another runner:
“What’d you do at the gym today?”
You laugh but it’s true. And yet we rely heavily on our ankles to make sure we stay upright and moving forward. Our ankles have to be both flexible and strong. We need them to be able to bend and move with the variations of trails and other surfaces, and to hold strong stabilizing our feet and lower leg on these precarious surfaces too. Ankles, like many of the other muscle groups we’ve covered, play a role in our efficiency as runners because of how they can impact our form. Their position on the body makes them important because they are going to throw things off from your feet all the way up.
An ankle injury will take you out of running completely and it can take a long time of physical therapy to come back from. While in physical therapy you’ll work on strength, mobility, and proprioception, so why not work on those things before and protect our ankles from the beginning. Complete three sets with 10-15 repetitions of each of these, unless it gives a time and then do three sets of that time. If you aren’t able to do the full set that’s fine just back off to where you are and move forward again.
  1. Drunk Flamingo 30-60 seconds.
  2. Four Directional hop.
  3. Ankle Rotations with toes tucked in and weight bearing.
  4. ABC’s.
How to do:
  1. Drunk Flamingo: stand on one leg with your eyes open. Once you can do it with your eyes open, stand on an unstable surface like a pillow or mini-trampoline, a bosu trainer. When you’re good at that, close your eyes.
  2. Four directional hop: stand on one leg and hop forward then back to center, hop back then back to center, hop left then back to center, hop right and then back to center.
  3. Ankle rotation: hold your foot up off the ground and rotate your ankle one way and then the other. Pull your toes toward you and then place your heal on the ground and spread your toes while you rotate.
  4. ABC’s Stand on one leg, hold the other one in the air about 6-10 inches off the ground and write the ABC’s with your toes.
We don’t think too much about our ankles, but strong ankles is going to help prevent injuries all the way up to your head.

Thigh Strength and Running

 If you’ve been following this series of posts about why strength training is important to runners and how to do it, you know that strengthening your core muscles is really important. And if you have to choose one area, because of your limited time or whatever, chose your core muscle group, especially your hips.
Given that, my ultimate recommendation is to strengthen your entire body with running specific exercises. Using stationary machines may get you stronger, but they are not the most beneficial for runners. Using body weight and light weights while moving really focuses on all the muscles you use to run. Running, after all, is not a stationary movement. These exercises are not meant to increase the size of your muscles. You don’t have to be big to be strong. Size only adds weight and slows you down.
What do your thighs do when you run and why is it important to make sure they are strong? Your thighs (and hamstrings) get you up and down hills. They also make sure your knee cap tracks as it should. A knee that does not track properly is painful and can put a complete stop to your running. I’m going to touch on your hamstrings a little here as well because your thighs, aka quadriceps, and hamstrings work together to move your leg forward and back. Many runners have weak hamstrings. An imbalance between hamstrings and quads can lead to over use injuries, muscle strains, and tendon inflammation. All bad. As you strengthen your quads, make sure you are also strengthening your hamstrings.
Quadriceps push you up hills and take most of the impact when you run down hill stabilizing you with each foot step. Your hamstrings and glutes should be working in conjunction with your quads to push you up the hill and stabilize on the down hills. If you have weak hamstrings and glutes, make sure you are focusing on them while you climb and descend, think engage the glutes and feel them flex and push. This is called proprioception or knowing where and what your body is doing. If you read the last post on hips, you can alternate between your hip awareness and your hamstring/glute awareness. For exercises that strengthen your hamstrings see Tuesdays post here.
When runners come to me with sore knees and shins after a long run or race, I always ask how much down hill there was. People think that downhill running is easier than uphill and it is mentally and aerobically easier for most. The issue is the impact to your quads. If you don’t train your quads to absorb that impact, you’re going to hurt, and you’re going to end up injured.
Your quads consist of four major muscles on the front of the leg, one pretty much straight down the front, one that attaches to the inside of your knee, one that attaches to the outside of your knee, and the last one hides underneath the first one is said. Do the following exercises three to four days a week. Complete three sets of 10-20 repetitions. You don’t need a lot of weight because we are not trying to get bigger.
  1. Split leg squat.
  2. Narrow leg squat.
  3. Chair.
  4. Kettle bell squat.
  5. Side squat
How to:
  1. Spit leg squat. From a standing position step forward and lower down until your knees are at ninety degree angles (both front and back so make sure your stance is not too wide or narrow). Hold at the bottom for 2-3 seconds. Come back up and repeat. Don’t alternate. Just stay in that position until the set is finished. Keep your knees straight forward.
  2. Narrow leg squat. From a standing position, place your feet about six inches apart (you can put your hands into fists side by side to measure). Raise your arms straight out and lower down as far as you can. Keep your knees straight forward and behind your toes.
  3. Chair: Same position as the narrow leg squat. The difference is hold at the bottom for 30-60 seconds.
  4. Kettle bell squat. From a standing position, step out so your feet are about the length of your leg apart. Turn your feet out a bit, forty-five degrees-ish.  Hold a kettle bell below your chin and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your back neutral not bending forward over your legs.To add some arms to this you can lower the kettle bell as you stand and raise it as you squat down.
  5. Side squat. From a standing position. Step out with one leg and two to three feet. Squat down with the one leg keeping the other straight. Repeat on the other side. You can add a kettle bell to this one too.
Balanced strength in all four quads will prevent improper tracking of your knee cap. An important concept to come way with, for this whole series really, is that our muscles don’t work alone and we need to keep them balanced.


Hips and Running

    Running is a whole body exercise and because of this, you need to strengthen your entire body.  If you don’t do any other strength training, do hip strengthening. Your hips drive you forward. There is a bunch of research out there that supports the importance of hip strength in preventing injuries in runners. Additionally, the fastest and surest way to improve your efficiency and speed is by doing hip strengthening. Why is hip strength so important? Your hips are a part of your core muscle group which is where all of your movements, upstream and downstream, originate from.
Weak hips are actually fairly common among runners of all distances. And of course the farther you run the more likely you are to end up with an injury related to your weak hips. Your hips help stabilize your pelvis as you run. When I say hips, the muscles I’m including are: hip flexors, the outside and inside of your upper leg, your glutes, and your hamstrings. Hip flexors and hamstrings work together to move your leg back and forth. The inner and outer upper leg muscles make sure those leg swings are aligned properly with the rest of your body.  Runners hip flexors and hamstrings tend to be tight exacerbating the problem of the weak hips.
So what does weak hips cause? ITBand syndrome, runners knee, shin splints, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, and low back pain. As it turns out, hip strength alone is only one part of this equation. Don’t throw up your hands thinking, “this is too much!” just yet because this part is easy and doesn’t require work outside of your running. It’s a matter of being aware, aka proprioception; it’s knowing where your body is in space in relation to the other parts of your body. Sounds complicated. It’s not. It’s a matter of knowing what it feels like for your hips to be in the right position and then making sure they are while you are running. Your spine and hips should be in a neutral balanced position. To keep your hips in a neutral balanced position, think of your pelvis as a bowl. As you run, don’t let your bowl spill out the front, tipping too far forward, or the back, tipping too far back. During your training runs check in with your hips and spine asking yourself, are they were they are supposed to be. You can even do this throughout the day as you move around. Obviously, if they are not, correct them. Pretty soon this will become your form and you won’t have to think about it.
Alright so back to strengthening those hips. Whenever you are doing strength exercises you should focus on the body part you are using and use slow controlled movements. Using proper form during the exercise is more important than pushing your body to exhaustion. Perform these exercises three to four times a week. You want to do three sets of 10-20 repetitions.
  1. Bridges
  2. Jane Fonda’s
  3. inner thigh lift
  4. lunges
  5. piston squats
How to:
  1. Bridges: lay on your back with your arms down at your sides. Raise your hips as high as you can and hold for 2-3 seconds. You can progress to doing them with one leg, then two legs on a swiss ball, then single leg on the swiss ball.
  2. Jane Fonda’s: Lay on your side and lift the leg on top as high as you can. Hold your leg at the top for 2-3 seconds. Remember this should be a slow controlled movement. Don’t throw your leg up there because you could pull a groin.
  3. Inner thigh lift: stay on your side. Bend your upper leg and place your foot on the floor at your hips or knee. Lift your lower leg. Hold at the top for 2-3 second.
  4. Lunges: From a standing position, step forward and lower down until your front knee is bent at a 90 degree angle. Your knee should not be in front of your toes. Hold for 2-3 seconds and then do the other leg. You should be moving forward.
  5. Piston Squats. From a standing position, hold your arms out in front of you 90 degrees with your torso. Hold one leg up keeping it straight. Your foot should be 6-8 inches off the floor to start with. Bend your other leg, keeping your knee behind your toes. This one is difficult, so don’t be surprised if you can’t lower your self very far. Keep working at it.
Your hips are the key to injury prevention and improving your running in both speed and efficiency and what runner doesn’t want those three things?

Back Strength and Running

This is the third blog post in a series about how each major muscle group in your body plays a role in your running. Runners definitely don’t want a bulky upper body to weigh them down, but our upper body plays a significant role in our running form and our efficiency. If you don’t pay attention to muscle groups other than the legs, you set the stage for injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Our muscles don’t work in isolation.
Strength in our back is not only important in running but in daily life. Many people who sit for long durations of time at their job inevitably develop back pain. As a runner it is important to have strength in your mid and lower back to stabilize the spin and pelvis. A strong back is able to evenly distribute the force of you hitting the ground with each foot plant because of this even distribution of force you are less likely to suffer an injury. Back strength also contributes to maintaining good running form without over rotation, and, as we know, good running form, not only reduces injury risk, but it increases running efficiency (are we catching the theme here from the last two posts?).
As you increase your miles a strong back becomes more important because the increase means you will be running farther while your body is tired. This is also true for ultrarunners who train with back to back long runs. Soft tissues break down as we run and there are two things you need to do to reduce this and to help your body recover. First is rest. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, only increase your miles by 10% a week, and every fourth week reduce your miles by 20-25%. The second is strength. Soft tissue breakdown in your back can lead to injuries, especially in your hips and lower legs.
Over rotation of your torso due to a weak upper body causes your hips and legs to turn as well. They need to maintain a forward motion. A weak lower back also puts extra strain on your hamstrings, which can alter your stride and cause injuries in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Using high repetitions and low weight will help prevent building bulky shoulders. If theses are too easy for you, increase repetitions and keep the weight as low as you can. If these are too hard, lower the weight and then the repetitions as needed. By the end of the third set you should feel a burn in your shoulders and it should be difficult to perform the last repetitions.
Here are some exercises to help increase your mid and low back strength. Back extensions three repetitions hold for 15-45 seconds. Planks three repetitions 15-60 seconds. Bird dogs three sets 10-12 repetitions hold for 3-5 seconds at the top
How to perform back extensions: lay on your belly and lift your legs and upper body, hold it.
How to perform planks: get into the beginning push up position and hold. Your stomach should be held tight and your back straight. You can also lower yourself on your forearms.
How to perform bird dogs: get on your hands and knees lift your right arm and left leg straight out. Do the same thing with the left arm and right leg.
Adding strength workouts to your training program can be difficult because you just want to run and it can be hard to find the time. Thirty minutes three to four days a week will make a major difference. Keep in mind the first goal is to make sure you keep running and strength will help prevent injuries.