Training Framework

Training has many different aspects to it, but I think we all have a tendency to focus on the physical running part more than anything else. Running is definitely one of the defining aspects of our training, but our training should include much more than just running.

When anyone asks us what our training looks like, we immediately go to how many miles we’re running and how many days a week. They might as what we’re training for and we’ll throw out the name of our goal race or possibly just the next one on the schedule.

Even if you’ve never really thought of it, our training encompasses more than just running. Training can be broken down into physical, psychological, and nutritional. Making sure you take the time to consider each of these separate from the other, guarantees you’ll be thinking about them and adding them to your training plan in some form.  You can set goals related to each of these different aspects of your training.

Physical training includes your running, strength training and rest days. Running is at the core of our training and it is our goal. We want to run for life not just for the next race and because of that goal all of these other aspects of training get pulled in. Being the best runners, we can be means we need to address speed, endurance, and strength in our training schedule. If you want your training to mean anything, you have to rest. Without rest our body cannot adapt and get stronger.

Psychological training includes strategies for dealing with down times during a race, lack of motivation in training, boredom, going out too fast, and rest. Ultrarunners know finishing a race hinges on pushing past the low points, and there will be low points. Getting through months of training and any injuries takes mental fortitude like you wouldn’t believe. Being prepared for these challenges is critical to getting to the starting line let alone the finish line. Psychological rest is being able to find other things you enjoy that reduce your stress level because if you get injured and have to take time off, you need to have other things you can focus on to get you through and back to running.

Nutritional training includes day to day nutrition and hydration, race day nutrition and hydration, and recovery nutrition and hydration. All runners think about race day nutrition, but not all of them think about their day to day nutrition or their recovery nutrition. The same goes for hydration. Yeah, we all laugh and say we run so we can eat whatever we want, but for most runners eating ice cream, fatty burgers, pizza, and French fries is not going to help you reach your running goals. There may be an argument for recovery though, at least for your postrace meal. Our body gives what it gets. Try different ways of fueling and hydrating your body during training, and you’ll be able to dial it in making your race a success.

Limiting our definition of training to just our weekly running schedule or our next goal race is short sighted and won’t get us what most of us want, which is to run healthy and strong for the rest of our lives.

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.

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?

Shoulder Strenght and Running

This is the second 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.
Weak shoulders tend to become rounded and collapse inward as you get tired toward the end of a race. Collapsing in this way impedes your diaphragm’s ability to expand and bring in sufficient air to continue to fuel your muscles. You need to have enough flexibility and strength in your shoulders to maintain proper form and allow your diaphragm to function. Your shoulders assist in maintaining a smooth and efficient arm swing (covered in the last post). Shoulders also help you maintain proper form, which impacts your efficiency. Efficiency means your body is burning the least amount of energy in can to maintain the movement and speed you need to perform well.
Running is more complex than people think. It’s not just a forward motion. There is rotation involved as well and over rotation wastes energy and throws off your running form increasing the risk of injury in another part of the body. Strong shoulders prevent over rotation. Your shoulders should be held back opening up your chest and not compressing your diaphragm You should be upright and not hunched over. I often tell runners to imagine there is a string from the center of your sternum reaching up to the moon or sun. This will get you in the proper from.
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.
Exercises that will help you strengthen your shoulders include: push-ups perform three sets of 10-12; Renegade rows three sets of 10-12 repetitions; shoulder press three sets, 10-12 reps
How to perform renegade rows: place light weight dumbbells on the floor shoulder width apart. Get into the starting push-up position with one hand gripping a dumbbell. Pull your arm up through your elbow, pointing your elbow up toward the ceiling.
How to perform shoulder press: Take two light weight dumbbells and hold them at shoulder height press them over your head until your arm is fully extended. Lower them slowly.

Arm Strength and Running

This post is the first in a series of posts on what role various parts of our bodies play in running and how giving them some attention can improve our running. I’m going to work from the top to the bottom. So, what role do your arms play in running?
Your arms are important in running. Try running without them moving and you’ll find out just how important they are. Our arms propel us forward and help us maintain balance. They also catch us when we fall, hold our handheld water bottles, and make it much easier to eat and carry a hydration pack. It’s good to have arms.
Our legs move in relation to our arms. The faster we move our arms the faster our legs move. I often tell triathletes and ultraunners to focus on their arms as specific points in their races. For triathletes, it is after the transition from the bike to the run when you feel like a newborn baby giraffe.  For ultrarunners, it when you just don’t think you can take another step.
Holding our arms in the proper form is going to improve our efficiency andendurance as runners. Runners arms should be bent at about a 90 degree angle and swing pretty much straight back and forward without crossing the mid-line of your chest. Your arm should go back until your hand passes just above the hips and come forward until your elbow is close to your waist. Elbows should point backward. Your arms and hands should be held loose, but not flopping around like rubber.
If you don’t have an efficient arm swing you’re going to burn more energy than someone who does. In distance running, you want to burn as little energy with each step as you can at the speed you want to go. Too much crossover causes you to over rotate your torso. Over rotation of the torso wastes energy and can cause injuries down the kinetic chain by changing your foot plant and the alignment in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Your arms help with balance, especially, during a trail descent. Hold them out from your body and assist your core a bit to stabilize you.
Strengthening your arms will help you maintain the proper arm swing and running form throughout your run and keeps your legs moving forward when they are tired. You don’t want large arm muscles because they just add weight you have to haul around. It’s a balance. Strive for lean muscle rather than bulk. To maintain lean muscle complete more repetitions and use less weight.
The exercise shouldn’t be easy and you should feel it by the time you finish a set and the last set should be hard. If you can’t do the number of reps listed below do what you can and work up. If it’s too easy, add more reps before you add more weight.
Here are some easy things you can do to increase and maintain arm strength: push-ups 3 sets of 12-15 reps; tricep press 3 sets 10-12 reps; bicep curls 3 sets 12-15 reps; flies with arms straight and then bent 3 sets 10-12 reps.

Ways for Those with Disabilities to Live Fun, Active Lives and Why It’s So Important

Guest Post by Travis White

Many with disabilities fear exercise because they feel they can’t do it, or that it will make their disability worse, or that every physical activity open to them is boring or limited. In reality, those with disabilities can help battle the symptoms and complications of their disability and improve their overall mental and physical wellness by staying active. On top of that, it doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of fun, exciting ways to fill your daily exercise quota. Here are some tips.

Get involved in adaptive sports

You don’t have to get your exercise by sitting on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill for hours. There are dozens upon dozens of adaptive sports (sports modified, through rules and equipment, to accommodate those with disabilities) that you can participate in – no matter if your disability is moderate, severe, physical, mental, or visual.

Wheelchair sports are becoming increasingly popular – so much so that there’s a good chance that there is at least one recreational league available in your city (maybe more!). Basketball, handball, polo, tennis, and volleyball are all sports that have been adapted to suit those in wheelchairs.

For a more extreme sporting experience, skiing, surfing, and rock climbing have all been made highly accessible to those with disabilities through modern equipment and other technology.

Look for exercise in non-traditional places

There are tons of ways to stay active that you may not think of as exercise. Swimming is a great way to have fun and get exercise as a disabled person. Water’s natural buoyancy allows for those with certain types of disabilities to perform motions that they can’t perform on land. Being in the water really opens up a whole world of exercise for those living with a disability.

“Swimming strengthens muscles that enhance the postural stability necessary for locomotor and object-control skills. Water supports the body, enabling a person to possibly walk for the first time, thus increasing strength for ambulation on land. Adapted aquatics also enhances breath control and cardiorespiratory fitness,” says HumanKinetics.com.

Getting out in nature and going for a walk, taking a hike, and even gardening are all ways to have fun while working out. Power chairs, service dogs, and trail companions are all options if you suffer from extremely limited mobility.

Why staying active is good for your whole body (and mind)

The benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated. Not only does it help prevent a myriad of health problems and obesity, but it can help manage chronic pain – something that oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with disability. The most important benefit of staying active, however, may take place in your head.

“There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,” James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University, tells the American Psychological Association.

Exercise may even be a top line defense strategy against the effects of PTSD in veterans with disabilities. Not only does the physical act of exercise release brain-boosting chemicals, but exercise serves as an alternative coping mechanism to less-healthy habits like drinking, which can lead to addiction and worsen the mental problems associated with physical disabilities.

Lack of exercise may not just be a symptom of physical disability, but it can be a major exacerbating factor. By staying active, you’ll not only feel better physically but you’ll be better equipped to cope with the mental aspects of dealing with your disability.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Are You Strong?

All you have to do to train for a race is run, right? Wrong.

Wait a minute, my legs are really strong. I mean check out these calves, quads and glutes. I used to think the same thing. The number one reason to incorporate strength training into your running training is injury prevention. The other reasons are increasing your speed during your long runs.

Running beats up your body, if you haven’t noticed. If you don’t have a lot of time to add in strength training, and who does, work on your hips. Strong hips are essential to preventing injuries. There is tons of research that supports this. You can prevent some of the most common running injuries such as runners knee, shin splints, and ITband issues.

Your hips stabilize your upper and lower body. The muscles surrounding the hips are recruited when other muscles become tired which can cause overuse injuries and compensation injuries. Weak hips throw off your gait, causing your knee and ankles to be unstable, in addition to your hips. You can develop mid-line crossover of your arms and feet. Cross over is an over rotation of your upper body during running. This twisting action wastes energy and can cause you to fall if you’re running on an technical surface.

You don’t need to do strength training every day, three days a week is best, more is not better. Your body needs a chance to build after you work the muscles. It doesn’t take a long time to add in some hip strengthening either, you can throw in 20 minutes after a run or on your cross training days. Let’s eliminate one more excuse too, you don’t need any equipment or a gym.

Here are some exercises that will get you started:

Fire hydrants: Get down on all fours. Lift your right leg out keeping the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Lift slow for four counts and then lower for two counts. Repeat this for 10-20 times and three sets. Repeat on your left side.

Side Leg Raises: Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of one another. Lift your top leg to about 45 degrees and then lower it back down. Repeat 15 to 20 times per leg.

Bird Dog: Get on all fours on the ground. Focusing on balance, lift your right arm and extend it straight out in front of your body. Simultaneously, lift your left leg and extend it out behind your body. Bring your extended arm and bent knee back to center under your body, and then extend them both out again. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

Hip Hikes: Standing on one foot, drop the right side of your pelvis a few inches downwards while keeping the left side in a neutral position. Activate your left hip muscles and lift your right side back to the starting position. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

Single-Leg Bridge: Lie on your back with both legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your left leg off the ground and extend it while you raise your lower back and butt. Hold the position for two seconds and lower back downwards in a controlled manner. Repeat 10 to 15 times on each leg.

Donkey Kicks: Get on all fours again, but this time you will only be lifting and extending your legs, keeping your hands on the ground. Instead of extending the leg backwards like you did during Bird Dogs, keep the knee slightly bent and kick upwards, with the bottom of your shoe facing the sky. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.