The Simplest Way To Improve Your Running #RunFormFriday

If a new runner wants to get faster, what’s the best way to improve on their race times? Surprisingly, beginners should not focus on difficult workouts or faster paces during easy runs. These training strategies have their place, but new runners are most limited by two factors:

1. Endurance is low since they haven’t been running for long.
2. Injury risks are high.

Shoe-Tie

So to improve, beginners must maximise their endurance while limiting their risk of injury – two goals that are often at odds with one another. After all, the best way to increase endurance is to run more mileage. But mileage increases are the most common time period for injuries. Therefore, it’s critical to build endurance in a safer, less risky manner.

Two strategies can be used by beginners to both boost endurance and limit injury risk so they can continue improving.

 

Train the Heart Without Damaging the Legs

Running is a contact sport—there’s no doubt about it. It’s your legs versus the ground and those impact forces are what damage muscles and connective tissues. A little damage is a good thing because this is what prompts your body to adapt and get stronger. But too much damage without enough recovery can cause injuries.

This risk can be virtually eliminated by alternative aerobic exercise—also known more simply as cross-training. There are two types of exercise that give runners many of the same aerobic benefits of running but with none of the damaging impact forces: aqua jogging and cycling.

 

Aqua running and cycling are the preferred types of aerobic cross-training for runners because they’re more specific to running itself—they challenge your body in similar ways and most of the fitness gains are transferrable to running. While you should never expect cross-training to replace running, it can greatly enhance your training efforts and increase endurance with very little injury risk.

 

Run Consistently by Reducing the Risk of Injury

Even though higher and higher mileage weeks often cause injuries for new runners, there are ways to mitigate this risk to ensure you’re still getting in great shape while staying healthy. First, make sure you’re increasing mileage at a conservative rate. You may have heard of the 10 Percent Rule, but new runners should limit their mileage increases to about 2-4 miles every other week. That means some weeks your mileage won’t increase at all—and that’s ok! Your body takes time to adjust and adapt to new training stresses.

Learning how to increase mileage is one of the best skills a runner can develop, after all. Even with slow, gradual jumps in distance, runners can often succumb to injuries if they run those miles too quickly or lack strength. It’s critical to build “armour” that helps protect you from overuse injuries—and you do that with a strong dose of strength workouts. Running fast too often puts an unnecessary burden on the muscles, bones and joints and doesn’t allow the body to recover sufficiently – and this fatigue along with a lack of strength means that injury is more likely.

 

These exercises are classics—and for good reason! They’re compound, multi-joint exercises that train movements, not muscles. They’ll help beginner runners move more efficiently and develop the strength necessary to handle the rigours of running more and more mileage.

Most new runners simply don’t do enough strength training and the results are often injury or chronic aches and pains that derail consistent training over a long time period. It’s this consistency—what I call the “secret sauce” to successful running—that builds monster endurance over the long-term. By injecting a healthy amount of aerobic cross-training and strength training, runners will not only dramatically increase their endurance in the short-term, but will gradually build stamina over the long-term by consistent, injury-free training.

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about cadence and technique in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Why Track Sessions Make You Run Faster #RunFormFriday

Why Track Sessions Make You Run Faster #RunFormFriday

Track Sessions Make You Faster!

If done correctly! As most experienced runners will tell you, the best way to learn how to run faster times is to get used to running fast. A one-paced strategy just won’t nibble away at that PB, whatever distance you like to run; so the best thing to do is practice. This means speed interval training and the track is the best place to execute these specific speed-enhancing sessions. For new runners, getting immediate and consistent feedback is critical to improving your ability to execute a specific skill. On the track, you can easily and accurately measure your pace every 100, 200, 300 or 400 meters. Once you start to develop a sense for the effort needed to run a certain pace, there is nothing to distract you.

 

Overall benefits of speed training

A lot of runners like to incorporate track sessions into their programme to focus on speed. Although it might not be everyone’s favourite session in terms of location and content, it is the perfect environment in which to focus on structured high intensity intervals to really hone your speed, fitness and running economy. The science behind the benefits of speed sessions include improved aerobic fitness and an enhanced ability to distribute oxygen-rich blood around the body to key muscle groups. Getting used to the bio-mechanical demands of running at speed will allow your body to adapt and improve your running economy and stride power, particularly over shorter distances. Plus the fact it will make those slower longer distance runs seem easy by comparison and over time, as you hone your sprinting skills, that natural speed will start to show up in your longer runs.

There are several ways you can work on speed at the track. You can either choose short, middle or long distance intervals, depending on your target race and current ability. The length and duration of those intervals depend entirely on your fitness, running level and requirements. And please don’t forget to warm up properly, especially before sprint sessions, or your hamstrings might not thank you for it.

Short speed intervals and why they work

Typically short intervals involve sprints of 100m, 200m or 400m with a suitable recovery in between. The idea is to boost your power and economy over a burst of short distance sprinting, which will ultimately help you maintain your marathon or longer distance race pace for longer. Over time you can extend the intervals and increase the number of repetitions, which will certainly improve your 5k speed. The key to success here is to make sure that you leave sufficient recovery time between intervals because each interval has to be run at the same flat out speed and intensity. If you don’t leave enough time to recover your speed will decrease and your ability to build power will be diminished. How you choose to recover between each sprint is up to you. You can either walk or jog as you prepare for your next sprint.

Beginner Short Interval Workouts
6 x 100 meters

6 x 200 meters

6 x 300 meters

6 x 400 meters

 

Middle distance speed intervals

Middle distance sessions are generally anything from 400m to around 1200m and these intervals should be run at something close to your 5k race pace. These sessions are all about improving your lactic acid recycling capability and your ability to resist the effects of fatigue. Muscles that are tired just don’t perform as efficiently, so the longer you can maintain a certain pace without getting tired, the greater the likelihood of achieving a PB. As a general rule after each of these intervals, give yourself a recovery period of around 3 minutes to allow the body to recover sufficiently and then repeat the interval with the same intensity as the first. But again, the duration of your intervals and recovery periods will be dictated by your level and ability.

Beginner Middle-Distance Interval Workouts
5 x 600 meters

4 x 800 meters

3 x 1000 meters

2 x 1200 meters

 

Long distance intervals

Long distance sessions tend to be anything from 1600m upwards and they should be run at something approaching your 10k race pace. This is primarily an exercise in lactate threshold running, which means running at such a challenging pace that lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood. It’s not like an eye-bulging sprint, but a sustained pace that makes conversation difficult and feels hard. If you can maintain that pace over a sustained period, the body’s ability to recycle lactic acid increases. Over time this will enable you to be able to run further, faster and for longer. Just as with all of the other intervals though, it’s important to incorporate a suitable recovery period before going again.

Beginner Middle-Distance Interval Workouts
4 x 1600 meters

3 x 2000 meters

3 x 2400 meters

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about cadence and technique in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Improving Your Running Cadence Range #RunFormFriday

Improving Your Running Cadence Range #RunFormFriday

Frequently when working with athletes to improve running efficiency, one of the main considerations is to reduce impact and braking forces on foot strike, by reducing the tendency to overstride (land the foot ahead of the centre of mass).

One of the most simple and highly effective ways to achieve this is to increase running cadence at a given pace.

Running Cadence Range

We often refer to an athlete’s cadence range. This refers to the natural differences shown in running cadence of an individual’s gait at an easy pace compared to a hard pace.

As discussed in a previous blog post, the “magic number” approach of striving to hit 90-92 strides per minute, regardless of running pace is fundamentally flawed when applied to endurance running: A runner will naturally run with a slightly slower rate of cadence when running “easy” compared to when running at a “hard” pace.

This is shown on the graphically represented example below.

running cadence

Cadence plotted against speed from various studies.

The key to improving efficiency through manipulating cadence is to shift the cadence range to the right by initially increasing it by 5%. One way to do this would be running on a treadmill at a set speed and using a metronome to set your rhythm.

A lot of watches these days will take a reading of your cadence, but you could also just count your strides. For example, you may run easily at 8 min/mile and do 160 strides/80rpm. If you were to increase this cadence by 5% it becomes 168 strides or 84rpm. Set your metronome to this beat and aim to run on the rhythm.

The “Easy Pace” cadence, previously 82spm will become 86spm, while the “Hard Pace” changes from 88spm to 92spm.

All of which will result in less overstriding at a given pace, compared to the lower cadence version of the same pace. This means less vertical movement so hopefully less force through your legs and body.

Rather than trying to make major changes to you your cadence, 5% is a manageable change that won’t cause major muscle trauma and should be more maintainable.

** Proper running technique is not “one size fits all” **

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about cadence and technique in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in-depth understanding on how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Heel Pick Up #RunFormFriday

One of the technique cues that runners sometimes struggle to master at first when changing their technique is the “Heel Pull”.

Heel pull running

Jeff Grant of Hillseeker Fitness has shared a great drill for mastering the “Heel Pull” in the short video below.

WHY MASTER THE MOVEMENT?

Successfully learning to pick the foot up under the hip engages the Hamstrings during early-to-mid swing phase, and offloads the work of the Hip Flexors to pull the swing leg through under the body, on to the next stride.

A common flaw in many runners is to run with a Hip Flexor dominant (knee drive orientated) swing phase. In particular resulting in overactivity in the Hip Flexors (specifically Rectus Femoris), tightness in the ITB (sometimes) and altered pelvic posture (almost always).

Learning to use the Hamstrings to contribute more in the swing phase, by picking (or “Pulling”) the heel up under the body, rather than overly relying on the Hip Flexors, creates a more balanced and efficient distribution of the effort around the hip and knee, especially given the strong and powerful nature of the Hamstrings as a muscle group – they are positioned and aligned to be powerful, prime movers.

A signature feature of POSE Technique is the specific focus on getting the Hamstrings working in this way. However we find that many athletes over-do this cue, with counterproductive results, as they start flicking their legs back in an effort to force the movement.

This drill will help to keep the heel pull movement under the body as desired, rather than becoming more of a flick.

 

IN RELATION TO PROPER RUNNING FORM

When we speak about proper running form, we look to encourage muscle balance around the hips and pelvis in particular, combined with good posture, staying “long” rather than “sitting back”. Getting the Hamstrings engaging during the swing phase helps to achieve these two goals specifically by sharing the effort with the Hip Flexors, and keeping the whole leg motion neatly under the body (rather than over striding.

We are not POSE Technique coaches.

** Proper running technique is not “one size fits all” **

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about cadence and technique in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Running Hydration #RunFormFriday

Running Hydration #RunFormFriday

People are not well designed to deal with heat or limited water. While we can survive for as long as a month in a moderate climate without food, we would struggle to stay alive for longer than two days in desert conditions without water. After oxygen, water is a close second on the list of essentials for life. Water makes up 60 per cent of your total body weight and performs many crucial functions, including nourishing cells; carrying food through the body; eliminating waste; regulating body temperature; cushioning and lubricating joints, and maintaining blood volume and pressure.

Every day we lose fluid by sweating, breathing and urinating. It’s the sweating in particular that runners need to pay attention to because as soon as you start to run, you start to dehydrate. About 75 per cent of the energy you put into exercise is converted into heat and is then lost. This is why exercise makes you feel warmer. Extra heat has to be dissipated to keep your core body temperature within safe limits – around 37-38°C. Your body keeps cool by sweating, which makes the replacement of fluids crucial. Fail to consume enough fluid and your blood will thicken, reducing your heart’s efficiency, increasing your heart rate and raising your body temperature.

Running hydration

Dehydration is normal

A one per cent loss in body weight from dehydration can significantly diminish the performance of some individuals. It’s important to limit dehydration as you run, but you must also be aware of drinking too much.

Ultra-distance runner, Professor Tim Noakes, author of The Lore of Running and leading researcher at the University of Cape Town, is worried that runners are following out-dated hydration plans: “The reason why athletes drink too much is almost certainly due to hysteria attached to the supposed dangers that dehydration poses to athletes and to the belief that fatigue is caused by dehydration so that replacing more fluid than is lost will ensure optimum performance. I find no scientific support for either belief,” he says.

Modest dehydration is a normal and temporary condition for many runners and doesn’t lead to any serious medical conditions. Elite athletes, for example, don’t have time to drink very much at sub-five-minute mile pace and are probably the most dehydrated runners on the course – a state that is easily and quickly reversed within minutes of finishing, by ingesting fluid.

Since running requires you to support your body’s weight while trying to complete a race in the shortest possible time, Noakes believes it could be more useful to measure whether keeping levels of dehydration at less than five per cent of body weight would lead to better performance.

Not everyone would agree with Noakes but all researchers do agree on one thing: you need to start a run or race hydrated. By drinking 500ml of fluid two hours before a run – try water, a sports drink or diluted fruit juice – and another 150ml of fluid just before you run, you’ll have enough time for your body to clear what you don’t need before you set off.

Replacing fluid after a run is just as important. For every kilogram of bodyweight you lose, you need to drink one-and-a-half litres of fluid. Try to drink around 500ml in the first 30 minutes after your run and keep gulping every five to 10 minutes until you have reached your target. If you pass only a small volume of dark yellow urine, or if you have a headache or feel nauseous you need to keep drinking – a sports drinks or diluted juice (with a pinch of added salt) are your best options.

Overdrinking

Your body has a finely tuned thirst mechanism that lets you know when you need to drink, but how do you know if you’re drinking too much? Excessive consumption is also a potential danger and has started to become an issue as marathon running has broadened its appeal to attract more recreational runners. Hyponatraemia means “low blood sodium” and is caused by excessive water consumption, which lowers the concentration of sodium in the blood. In its mild form, hyponatraemia will cause bloating and nausea; in extreme cases, it can lead to brain seizure and death.

The group most at risk are women. Why? They’re smaller and less muscular than men, on average, so they sweat less and need to drink less. “Women may be more fastidious in following rules,” says Noakes. “So if they’re told to drink as much as they can, they may be more likely to do that than men.” An average woman needs to drink up to 30 per cent less than an average man – this will ensure blood doesn’t become diluted, lowering sodium to a dangerous level.

Anyone running for more than four hours should be guided by thirst, avoid drinking huge amounts of water, and use sports drinks that contain sodium. You can also increase your risk of hyponatraemia by using drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston studying marathon runners concluded that these drugs impair the body’s ability to excrete water.

How To Replace Fluids

You will undoubtedly need to replace sweat with fluids during some training runs and races so what should you drink and when? Water, diluted juice and sports drinks are all good fluid replacers. If you’ve been running for less than an hour, plain water is a good choice, but, if you have been running hard for longer than an hour, drinks containing sugar or maltodextrin (a slow-release carbohydrate) and sodium may speed your recovery. Researchers at Loughborough University found that when runners drank a sports drink (5.5g carbohydrate/100ml), they improved their running time by 3.9 minutes over 42km compared with drinking water.

Sports drinks containing carbohydrate also increase water absorption into your bloodstream, according to research at the University of Iowa, and that counts when you’re sweating heavily. Researchers found that drinks containing approximately 6g carbohydrate/100ml are absorbed the most rapidly. The taste of a flavoured sports drink will also encourage you to drink more of it – compared to plain water – according to a study at the McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

Researchers at the University of Iowa originally thought that sodium speeds water absorption in the intestines, but they discovered that after you consume any kind of drink, sodium passes from the blood plasma into the intestine where it stimulates water absorption. In other words, the body sorts out the sodium concentration of the liquid in your intestines all by itself, so the addition of sodium to sports drinks is unnecessary.

While sodium in sports drinks does not have a direct effect on performance, it does have one key benefit: it increases the urge to drink and improves palatability. That’s because the increase in sodium concentration and decrease in blood volume that occurs when you exercise increases your thirst sensation, with the result that you want to drink. If you drink plain water it dilutes the sodium, thus reducing your urge to drink before you’re fully hydrated.

Despite growing concerns about hyponatraemia, it’s important to remember that for most runners, there is a bigger risk of dehydration than overhydration. Each of us sweats at a different rate, produces varying amounts of sodium in our sweat, and reacts differently to heat. Exactly how much you need to drink depends on how heavily you are sweating. The harder and longer you are working out, the more you sweat. Training in hot humid conditions also makes you sweat more, and some people simply sweat more than others.

Current guidelines recommend drinking anything from 300ml to 800ml of fluids per hour when you’re exercising. The upper end of that scale is almost certainly more than you need. However, you need to try different approaches to hydration in your training to establish a strategy that works for you and remember: you’re an experiment of one.

Exactly how much is enough?

So how do you know if you’re hydrated before you start a run? The easiest, most practical test is to check the colour of your urine. Researchers suggest that urine colour correlates very accurately with hydration status. Pale yellow urine indicates you’re within one per cent of optimal hydration.

Try to drink one litre of water for every 1,000kcal you burn daily. (An average male burns around 2,500kcal a day, a runner covering five miles a day more like 3,000kcal.) In general, we need two to three litres of liquid a day – half from food and half from fluids. This is a minimum: if you live somewhere hot or you know you sweat a lot, you’ll obviously need more.

You can work out how much fluid you lose in a typical run by weighing yourself before and after. Remember to go to the toilet and remove your clothes before you weigh yourself, then remove your clothes and weigh yourself as soon as possible after you return. You can then assume that all of your weight loss is fluid.

The recommendation to drink one-and-a-half times the fluid loss accounts for the fact that you continue sweating after exercise (and losing fluid) and that urination is usually increased during this time. This method of calculating dehydration does not take into account water that is metabolised from glycogen stores when you exercise. “This does not need to be replaced,” says Professor Noakes. “According to one study, drinking to prevent any weight loss during a marathon would have caused the athletes to be overhydrated by 2.2kg.” Some researchers have, however, concluded that you should aim to match your fluid loss with intake during exercise. A study at the University of Aberdeen, for example, revealed that by replacing at least 80 per cent of the fluid lost or keeping within one per cent of your body weight, performance is not affected.

In the past, many of the studies that set out to measure dehydration and performance were poorly designed and impossible to reproduce. Some studies do show that perceived exertion is lower when fluid is ingested, but in these tests, athletes are asked to exercise at a fixed intensity for as long as they can; their performance may change from day to day and may be influenced by external factors such as boredom. “Drinking fluid might enhance performance simply because it alleviates boredom,” Noakes concludes.

Studies where athletes are asked to complete a fixed amount of exercise in the shortest time possible – simulating a race situation, for example – do not show any beneficial effects of drinking at different rates. One study, led by Glenn McConell, senior lecturer at the School of Physiology at the University of Melbourne, found that replacing 100 per cent of the sweat lost during exercise did not improve exercise performance more than replacing only 50 per cent of fluid lost – which, again, suggests that if you follow accepted hydration wisdom you could be drinking too much.

So, while drinking might not lead to any physiological benefits that help you to produce a better performance, the majority of studies do agree that there may be psychological benefits. “The most consistent finding is that fluid ingestion markedly reduces the perception of effort during exercise at both low and high intensities,” says Professor Noakes, adding that, “all the evidence indicates that ad libitum fluid ingestion during exercise appears to be as beneficial as higher rates of forced ingestion.”

In other words, you should drink when you’re thirsty. By experimenting in training and races, ingesting varying amounts of fluid, you will establish how your body responds to dehydration and find out what works best for you. Just be sure, as you crest a sand dune in the Marathon des Sables and spy a watery oasis in the distance, that you outpace any camels in the vicinity. After they’ve had their 200 litres, there won’t be much left for you to slake your thirst, let alone refill your back-borne water bladder.

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about cadence and technique in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in-depth understanding on how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

Breathing While Running #RunFormFriday

Breathing While Running #RunFormFriday

Just before you crest a hill or reach the end of a speed interval, your lungs go into overdrive. Your breath becomes shallow and rapid. You think if only you could pull in more air, you could surge up that hill or maintain your pace. But the more your chest heaves, the more you struggle. You may even end up exhausted, bent over, gasping for air.

Runners think about training their heart and legs, but they rarely think about training their lungs. A strong respiratory system can improve your running. It’s a simple equation: Better breathing equals more oxygen for your muscles, and that equals more endurance.

Just as we strength-train our hamstrings and calves to improve our ability to power over hills, we can tone the muscles used for breathing. Exercise improves the conditioning of the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, and the intercostal muscles, which lie between the ribs and enable you to inhale and exhale. When you take a breath, 80 percent of the work is done by the diaphragm. If you strengthen your diaphragm, you may improve your endurance and be less likely to become fatigued.”

This was backed up by researchers from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in England, who recently measured fatigue levels of marathoners’ respiratory muscles and leg muscles. They found a direct link-runners whose breathing was the most strained showed the most leg weakness-and concluded in their study that the harder the respiratory muscles had to work, the more the legs would struggle in a race.

The key to preventing lung-and leg-fatigue is breathing more fully. When you take deeper breaths, you use more air sacs in your lungs, which allows you to take in more oxygen to feed your muscles. When I’m running, I concentrate on taking slow and deep breaths to strengthen my diaphragm.

Most runners are “chest breathers”-not “belly breathers.” Try and run a mile at a pace that gets you blowing a bit. Then stop and place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest and watch. The lower hand should move with each breath, while the upper hand should remain relatively still (usually the opposite occurs). Every time you breathe in, your belly should fill up like a balloon. And every time you breathe out, that balloon should deflate. When you chest breathe, your shoulders get tense and move up and down. That’s wasted energy-energy you should conserve for running.

Chest breathing can be a hard habit to break-especially while you’re preoccupied with keeping pace or calculating splits. One way to make the switch easier is to work on belly breathing when you’re not running, and the skill will eventually carry over to your running. To make this happen, some elite runners turn to Pilates, a program originally developed as a rehabilitation program for World War I soldiers. Pilates aims to increase flexibility, strengthen the core, and improve breathing. “I try to do Pilates twice a week,” says 2004 Olympic marathon runner Colleen de Reuck. “It stretches my intercostal muscles and lengthens my spine, which helps my breathing and my running.”

As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about breathing while running in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in-depth understanding on how to put this into practice, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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