Category Archives: triathlon

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:
ITBands
Hamstrings
Glutes (butt)
Quads (make sure you get all three during the time you roll this group)
Calf
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
Push-ups
Tri-cep press
Bicep curls
Flies
Bridges
Fire hydrants
Donkey kicks
Eccentric calf raises (double and single leg)
Lunges
Squats sumo and narrow legged
Superset Two: 
Push-ups
Renegade rows
Shoulder press
Planks side and front
Leg lowers (with or without medicine ball)
Kettle bell swings
Bird dogs
Back extensions
ABC’s
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.

Calves and Running

All runners have strong legs right? well yes, but some times they type of running you do impacts the amount of development you see in your leg muscles. The calf muscle is one area where this is most pronounced. Sprinters use explosive speed to get ahead of their competitors, leading to larger calf muscles  Long distance runners don’t use that explosive power as much and their calves tend to be lean and toned. Trail runners tend to fall in the middle because of the mountains they climb.
Our calf is composed of two muscles the inner and outer. These muscles extend and flex to control our foot movement as we land and push off. They absorb a lot of impact and put a spring in our step.  Our calf is attached to the Achilles tendon, which as we all know, can be a problematic and temperamental little tendon. Calf strain/pulls are one of the most common injuries runners experience. Usually the place that it injured is where the calf muscles are inserted into the achilles tendon. Having weak or tight calf muscles can lead to ruptures, strains, and tears in this favorite tendon. Your calf also helps stabilize your ankle and your knee. As this wasn’t enough for the calf to do, it also helps with blood flow. When it flexes it pushes blood back to the heart, when it relaxes blood flows back into the calf to be propelled up with the next flexation.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how we can strengthen our calves, we’re going to lean about two stretches for the calf because of the potential injury to the achilles if this is neglected. To stretch the calf properly, you need to stretch both the inner and outer muscle. Stretch ONE: Stand at your arm’s length from a wall(facing the wall) and step back with one foot. Put your hands on the wall and lean your chest toward the wall, keeping the leg that’s extended straight. Hold for 30-40 seconds and do the other side. Do both sides twice. Stretch TWO:  Stay in the same position, but move the back leg forward about 6 inches and bend your knees (the back more than the font). Keep your heel on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and then do the other side. Do both sides twice. Whenever you are stretching, stop before it is painful. You should feel tightness but not pain. You can tear your muscles and even rupture them if you use too much force. Stretching your calf muscles everyday is a good idea, especially if you can take the five minutes after a run and do it. For all my Yoga runners, down dog is a great way to stretch your calves.
Regardless of which body part you are trying to strengthen, as a runner, you don’t want bulk. It slows you down. Because of this, we train with lighter weights or body weight and higher repetitions.  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. We all start somewhere.
  1. Farmer’s Walk on toes sixty seconds.
  2. Eccentric Calf Raise
  3. Jump squats (make sure your muscles are warm before doing any plyometric aka explosive exercises)
How to do:
  1. Farmers walk: hold a pair of dumbbells straight down at your sides. Rise up on your toes and walk forward while standing tall. This is the one exception to using light weight. You want to have pretty heavy weight here.
  2. Eccentric calf raise: stand on a step with your heels hanging over. Rise up on your toes and then slowly(ten second count) sink down until your heels are below the step.
  3. Jump squat: stand tall with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Toes should be turned out a bit. Hold your arms out in front of you, squat down, pushing your butt back while keeping your upper body tall. Try to lower your but below the knees if you can, but don’t skip this if you can’t. Now explode up as high as you can and land softly.
Your calves are pretty important when it comes to running, but they don’t have to look big to be strong.

Ab Strength and Running

This is the fourth blog post in a series about how each major muscle group in your body plays a roll in your running. Strength throughout our body has the benefit of increasing our efficiency as runners and reducing the risk of injury. Your abdominals are part of a bigger system called your core. The muscles that make up your core run from the bottom of your rib cage to mid thigh. I want to address each section individually because the exercises for each are different. Those that are the same, I’ll note that they contribute to the others and not repeat them in the other core posts.
Abdominal strength is important in our daily lives and for our running. Abs and lower back work together to maintain our posture and reduce the risk of injury and chronic back pain in our overall life. As a runner, your abdominal muscles, including obiques, lower and upper abs, stabilize your body and reduce rotation of the upper body, which can throw off your alignment from your hips down to your toes.
Our running form is what makes us more efficient runners by reducing the energy output for every step we take. This is going to increase your speed and ability to run longer distance, thus helping both short distance (half marathon and lower) along with longer distance runners (marathon and up). We all know that between 65 and 80% of runners end up injured each year. This can be injuries that require a week off or months off. There are a lot of factors that go into how injuries occur and what you can do to reduce the risk of them and strength training is a big part of it.
Your abdominals don’t run the same risk of getting big and bulky as your legs, shoulders and arms do. The exercises here will keep your abs tight, lean and strong rather than building them out. While you are performing these, focus on pulling your belly button through to your back. These can be performed in a superset with three sets of the repetition range. You need to keep your back pretty flat on the ground when performing abdominal exercises. There should be no more space than your hand between your lower back and the floor.
  1. Twisting crunch with or without weighted ball or dumbbell 3x 50- 100.
  2. Modified bicycle 3x 20-100 (half each side)
  3. Leg lowers with or without a weighted ball between your feet or knees10-15
  4. Planks 3x 30-90 seconds
  5. Window wipers 3x 10-20 each side.
How To:
  1. Twisting crunch: sit down on the floor with your knees up. Lift your legs to a 90 degree angle and cross your ankles, if this is too hard start with them on the floor. Switch legs on the crossed ankles half way through. Hold a weighted ball or dumbbell and twist to touch it to the ground on each side at your hip. If the weight is too much, start without.
  2. Modified bicycle: lay on your back pull one leg up with your knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Your hip and the same leg should be at 90 as well. Hold your other leg out straight about 2-3 inches off the floor. You can set your hands on your stomach to make it harder or on the floor next to you for added stability. Hold that position for 3-5 second and then switch.
  3. Leg lowers: Lay on your back with your legs up at 90 degrees with your hips. Hold a weighted ball between your feet (harder) or knees and lower your legs until they are 2-3 inches off the floor. Bring them back up until the are at 90 degrees with your hips.
  4. Planks: get on your hands and knees. Stretch your legs out behind you, staying up on your toes. Keep your body lifted off the floor and straight as a board. You can lower yourself to your forearms or lift opposite arm and leg to make this more difficult.
  5. Window wipers: Lay on your back. Hold your legs up at a 90 degree angle with your hips. Lower your legs toward the ground at your side keeping them straight. Don’t touch the ground with your feet. Keep them 2-3 inches off the floor.
I know these posts might seem overwhelming to some. Don’t freak out on me. I’m going to make this simple when we get through each section. Start working these into your training as soon as you can, even before we complete this series, so you can start reducing your risk of injury sooner and give you body time to start building.

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. Keep in mind the first goal is to make sure you keep running and strength will help prevent injuries.

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.