While You Wait for You Next Running Event Improve Your Running Form And Pace With These Workouts

hill sprints

Hello Runners,

I hope you are staying healthy, well, and positive!

This past week I went to the track for one of my workouts. This is a bit of a big deal for me because frankly, I’m not a fan of running on the track. However, I wanted to work on my running form and pace, so I performed twelve 200-meter bouts at slightly faster than 5k pace with a 200 meter slow jog recovery in between. It was a fairly tough workout, but a good one to work on improving my running form to optimize my performance for my next marathon.

One of the important ways to get better as a runner is by running faster. When we runner faster our bodies have to function more efficiently. Thus, we train our nervous system to better recruit our muscles so that we can run more efficiently and faster. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the silver linings of having events postponed or canceled is the opportunity to work on aspects of our running that could benefit from improvement. One area that many runners can benefit from, including myself, is running form. Therefore, I am making a focused effort to include workouts that will improve my running form and pace. In this post, I will discuss three different types of workouts you can perform to help you improve your running form, so that you can optimize your running performance. These workouts include strides, hill sprints, and 100-200 meter bouts. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Strides

Strides are short bouts performed in a primarily flat area lasting from 10-30 seconds, in which a runner gradually accelerates their pace over the duration of the stride. The speed that you perform strides depends on the event you are training for. In the case of marathon training, I would recommend performing strides at 5k pace or slightly faster.

To incorporate strides in a run, I would recommend running at an easy pace for 20-30 minutes. Then slowly accelerate your pace for 10-30 seconds, so that you are running at approximately your most recent 5k pace or slightly faster. During this time, focus on staying relaxed and maintaining proper form. See my previous post for cues for proper running form.

At the end of this increased bout, slowly decelerate to a slow jog for 60-90 seconds and repeat. Initially, perform 4-6 bouts of 10-20 seconds. Over time increase the duration of these bouts up to 30 seconds. Also, decrease your recovery time to 60 seconds.

Finish your run at an easy pace for at least 10 minutes.

Hill Sprints

In addition, to improving running form all three of these workouts also facilitate the use of muscles fibers typically not recruited when we run. These fibers are our fast twitch muscle fibers which will generate significant force, for speed and power, but are not be able to sustain contraction over a long period of time. This differs from our slow twitch muscle fibers mostly used when we run. It may not seem necessary to train fast twitch muscle fibers if we don’t use them much when running. However, these fibers can come in handy for speed, especially as we sprint to the finish line, and these fibers can be used during marathons and other long-distance events, as our slow twitch fibers fatigue and need to recover, allowing us to sustain our pace for a longer period of time.

Hill sprints are the best way to train the most difficult to recruit fast twitch muscle fibers, so that we have access to them during our long-distance event. Performing hill sprints has other benefits including strengthening the muscles around the ankles, which can result in decreased risk of plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and knee pain. Hill sprints are also great for overall leg strengthening.

I have a favorite hill nearby that I perform hill sprints on, which has an incline of about 8%. This hill has a dirt path as well, which makes this workout easier on my body. For performing hill sprints, I recommend finding a hill that has an incline of ~6-8% and the surface is grass or dirt. This will significantly reduce the impact on your joints.

Hill sprints should last 8-10 seconds and truly be sprints, in which you are running as fast as you can. Use short strides and a slight lean into the hill. Use arm swing to help power you up the hill. After the hill sprint recover by walking back down the hill. Continue to walk for 2-3 minutes to fully recover before performing the next hill sprint. Start with 1-2 hill sprints performed after running at an easy pace for at least 20-30 minutes. Gradually increase (adding no more than 1-2 hill sprints) the number of hill sprints each week. Increase until you can perform 8-10 hill sprints.

Bouts of Increased Pace for 100-200 meters

After performing strides and hill sprints for at least 4-6 weeks, I recommend replacing one of these workouts with one in which you perform 100-200 meter bouts at approximately 5k pace or slightly faster on a track or other flat area. While performing these bouts remember to focus on proper running form. This is a great opportunity to focus on maintaining proper running posture, incorporating the glutes, and breathing rhythmically. After performing one of these bouts recover with a slow jog of 100-200 meters and repeat. Initially, perform 4-6 of these bouts and then gradually (add up to 2 per week) increase to 10-12.

Be sure to perform a dynamic warmup and easy run for at least 10 minutes before performing the 100-200 meter bouts.

After performing the 100-200 meter bouts, cooldown with an easy jog for at least 10-15 minutes, and then perform cooldown exercises, such as stretching and/or foam/lacrosse ball rolling.

Final Thoughts

For now, I would recommend incorporating 1-2 of these workouts per week. I would start with strides and hill sprints and then you may want to transition to 100-200 meter bouts on a track or other flat area. Leave at least 2-3 days in between each of these of workouts for recovery.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of use in any way.

Be safe and enjoy your runs!

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

How To Strengthen Your Core To Improve Your Running Performance and Avoid Injury

lungewithtwist

 

 

 

 

Hello Runners,

I can distinctly remember my chipper and well-intended (although at times not seeming that way) physical therapist, Laura, leading our group of 5-8 every Wednesday evening. “Remember to come up one vertebra at a time, great job!” she would instruct and encourage us as we would inevitably, at some point during our Pilates workout, perform, or attempt to perform, a roll up. Some of my classmates would perform this exercise with somewhat relative ease. That was not the case for me. I could raise up to a certain point, the sticking point I seemed to encounter each week, and then “cheat” as I had to use other muscles to get past my sticking point. It was my weak core that was holding me back. The reality that my core was weak, was why I willingly tortured myself each week for several months. The rest of the each week’s Pilates class did get much better for me.

How could this be? Not many years ago my brother and I would religiously spend 2-3 hours at the gym, pushing each other through our brutal muscle-building routines. We performed plenty of weighted crunches, back extensions, and knee lifts. I’d had a decent “six pack.” How was my core so weak now?

This neglect of properly strengthening the muscles of the core that really mattered was the reason I landed in a physical therapy (PT) clinic. Earlier in the year I’d qualified and registered for the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, I would not be running it this time. Instead, I’d developed a painful and frustrating injury that would keep me from running for nine months.

I’d gone to another PT clinic, but opted for Laura’s torture, instead of the “quick fix” injections in my feet. I need to address the root cause of my injury and not just put a bandaid on the symptoms. So for months I would subject myself to two PT sessions with Laura (sometimes her co-torturer Wendy (another physical therapist) would gang up on me as well) to put me through a series of exercises to address my muscle weaknesses/imbalances and flexibility issues, using various setups and devices, including a Pilates reformer. Pure hell at times.

But over time it began to work and I was able to run again. Most importantly it made me aware that I needed to change my training to stay injury free and be successful in running. I am forever grateful to both Laura and Wendy.

Over the past few weeks I have provided recommendations for strengthening the glutes, outer hips, and muscles that support function of the ankle. Technically, these would all be considered core muscles. However, in this post I will focus on strengthening of muscles that many consider the “core,” specifically those muscles that support the pelvis, sacrum, and spine.

Muscles of the “Core”

We hear the term “core” a lot and we hear that it’s important to have a strong core. For our purposes in this post, I am going to discuss the “core” as being those muscles that support the pelvis, spine, and sacrum. Although most of us are familiar with muscles such as the rectus abdominus and erector spinae that get targeted when we use abdominal and lower back machines at the gym, these are more superficial muscles and the muscles that we want to primarily target are the deeper stabilizer muscles, such as the transverse abdominus and internal obliques. Our primary focus is not to have a nice “six pack”, such as if we focus on strengthening the rectus abdominus with crunches and abdominal weight machines. Instead, we want to focus on contracting the muscles that support our pelvis, sacrum and spine for longer periods of time with primarily our body weight.

What Exercises Should We Do?

So, what exercises will be most effective? Should we do a bunch of crunches or sit ups and back extensions? The answer is no. In fact, these exercises can be detrimental because they involve flexion of the spine.

Instead, here are some recommended exercises that should be performed at least three days per week, I typically perform these 5-6 days per week:

Prone plank

  • Position yourself as you would for a standard pushup
  • Raise to the top position and hold for 15-60 seconds, or until fatigue, while breathing normally
  • To increase the difficulty of this exercise rest on your forearms, instead of your hands, and position your arms so that you can interlace your fingers
  • While performing this exercise make sure not to round your lower back or allow it to sag

Side Plank

  • Position yourself so that you are lying on one side of your body
  • Now raise up by resting on the forearm of the side that you are lying on
  • Keep the other arm next to the body and keep the legs and the rest of the body straight. While breathing normally hold in this position for 15-60 seconds, or until fatigue
  • To increase the difficulty of this exercise extend the top arm so the fingers are pointing upward
  • Repeat on the other side

Supine plank

  • Position yourself so that you are supine (resting on your back) on the ground
  • Now raise up on your forearm and elbows, keeping the rest of your body straight
  • Try to keep your neck relaxed
  • While breathing normally, hold this position for 10-40 seconds, or until fatigue

supineplank

 

 

 

 

Reverse table

A variation of supine plank is the reverse table yoga pose. I interchange these exercises and you might consider doing the same.

  • From the side plank position with your left arm extended overhead, rotate 90 degrees to the left, and drop your left hand to the floor underneath you
  • Your two hands are now positioned palms down directly underneath your shoulders with the fingers pointing towards your feet, and your belly is open to the ceiling
  • Bend your knees 90 degrees, and position your feet flat on the floor directly underneath your knees
  • Draw your hips upward so that your body forms a straight line parallel to the floor from the knees to the shoulders
  • Hold your head in the position that is most comfortable
  • Concentrate on keeping your hips high as you hold this position
  • Breathe normally and hold until the pose becomes too uncomfortable to maintain

reversetablepose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quadruped

  • Position yourself so that you are on all fours (on hands and knees in table top position), with the hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips
  • Keep the back straight
  • Raise one arm and the opposite leg, extending the arm straight out in front and the leg straight out behind until both are parallel with the ground
  • Keep the head and neck in neutral (normal) alignment
  • Exhale while lifting arm and opposite leg, and pause briefly when the arm and leg are parallel with the ground
  • Inhale while slowly lowering both to the ground
  • Repeat with the opposite arm and leg
  • Continue until you have performed 5-15 repetitions for each side

QuadrupedAlternatingExtension

 

 

 

 

These exercises should be performed in addition to the previous exercises I recommended for the glutes and outer hips, as well as eccentric calf raises. Discontinue any exercises that cause pain.

Performing These Exercises Alone Is Not Enough

Just like I discussed with muscles of the glutes and outer hips, it’s important not only to strengthen them, but to properly engage them while we run and in our daily life. The exercises that I mentioned are great for building core strength initially. Once we have a good level of core strength it is then helpful to use our core strength for dynamic movement, such as activating the core when we perform an exercise like a walking lunge, or performing a walking lunge and then twisting to the side. While we are seated we should be conscious of engaging our core muscles to have better more active posture when we sit and not allow the core muscles to just slack off and be slumped in our chair. Also, it can be helpful (and initially challenging) to use a stability ball for a chair, instead of your regular desk chair.

Oh By The Way, How Do You Perform a Pilates Roll Up?

If you are interested in trying a Pilates Roll see below. This can be a good assessment of core strength that you can perform periodically. I still do this exercise on occasion.

How To Do a Roll Up

  1.  Lie on your back on the floor with your legs straight. Let your belly drop down toward the floor and make sure your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears.
  2. Take a few deep breaths as you check your alignment and tune into your body. When you are ready, leave your scapula anchored in your back and your ribs down as you bring your arms straight up over your head and back so that your fingertips are pointing to the wall behind you. This will be your beginning position. This first move is the Pilates arms over.
  3. Inhale: Leave your scapula down as you bring your arms up overhead. As your arms pass your ears, let the chin drop and the head and upper spine join the motion to curl up.
  4. Exhale: Continue in one smooth motion to curl your body in an “up and over” motion toward your toes. This is the “moment of truth” for many. Pull in your abs in and deepen the curve of your spine as you exhale. That’s what gets you up (not momentum).
  5. Reach for your toes keeping the head tucked, the abdominals deep, and the back rounded. Ideally, the legs are kept straight throughout this exercise with energy reaching out through the heels. However, a modification would be to allow the legs to bend, especially as you come up and reach toward the toes.
  6. Inhale: Bring the breath fully into your pelvis and back as you pull the lower abs in, reach your tailbone under, and begin to unfurl—vertebra by vertebra—down to the floor. The inhale initiates this motion until you are about half way down. Be sure to keep the legs on the floor and don’t let them fly up as you roll down. Check that your shoulders are relaxed and not creeping up.
  7. Exhale: Continue to set one vertebra after another down on the floor. Keep your upper body curve as you roll down slowly and with control. The arms are still outstretched and following the natural motion of the shoulders as you roll down. Once your shoulders come to the floor, the arms go with the head as you continue to roll down to the mat.

Full-Body-Roll-Up_Exercise

 

 

 

 

 

 

This exercise may seem similar to a sit up. However, one important difference is that the motion is slower and more controlled to avoid using momentum compared with a regular sit up. Also, I’m not recommending that you perform a bunch of roll ups. It’s good exercise to do on occasion to assess where you are at with your core strength.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-pilates-roll-up-2704679

runtastic.com

gethealthyu.com

bodybalancephysicaltherapy.com

 

 

 

 

 

How To Address Tightness In The Hips To Help Improve Running Performance

 

Hello Runners,

In the three previous posts I have discussed strengthening the glute and outer hips muscles and activation of these muscles to significantly improve running performance and minimize the risk of injury.

However, it is difficult to fully engage the glutes and other muscles of the hips if they are significantly tight. There are different approaches to reducing this muscle tightness, including active isolated stretching and foam rolling. Click on the links to access videos to use these techniques.

Another useful technique, which can also be relaxing, is to use yoga poses. In fact, I use some of the poses, which I will discuss, on a daily basis. When performing yoga poses it is important to breathe naturally and not hold your breath. You should only progress to as far as comfortable, using props such as blocks as necessary to support your knees, hips, or arms. Also, you should hold poses only as long as comfortable. Don’t worry about holding for 30 or 60 seconds, for example. You may only be able to hold a pose for a few seconds when beginning. That’s okay. It’s more important that you are performing the pose properly.

So, here are a few yoga poses you can use to reduce tightness in the hips. Discontinue any of these poses that cause significant discomfort or pain.

Square pose

  • From a seated position, straighten your right leg out, and place your left ankle under your right knee
  • Bend the right leg (without moving the left and place the right foot in front of or on top of the left knee
  • Fold forward from the hips and allow your spine to round
  • Place your hands down, or rest on your elbows
  • Hold the pose for as long as feels comfortable
  • You are looking for sensations in the outer parts of the thighs, buttocks, hips and around the sacrum
  • To come out of the pose, lean back on your hands and straighten your legs
  • Repeat on the other side
  • Beginner tips:
    • If your knees stay high up, try sitting up on a cushion and place blocks or blankets under your knees.
    • Make sure you avoid any discomfort in your knees. If this occurs, try separating your knees further apart and supporting with blocks.
  • Variations:
    • Place a bolster across your legs to support your chest while folding over.
    • If the neck is sensitive, support your head with your hands by placing the elbows down. Use blocks or a bolster under the elbows if needed.
    • For deeper sensations, stack ankles and knees over each other. However, if your knees lift up, bring the shins back in front of each other.
    • You can bend sideways instead of folding forward to target the side body.
    • You can incorporate a gentle twist before coming out of the pose. Use your hands to slowly roll up, ground your sitting bones to find length in your spine and gently twist towards the side of your upper leg.
  • Here is a video demonstrating square pose:

https://www.google.com/search?q=square+pose+yin+yoga&rlz=1C1GCEV_en&oq=square+pose&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l7.6809j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_KotdXvESy9X6BKCtkogB28

squarepose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon or deer pose

  • Pigeon pose
    • To begin, come onto your back with your knees bent and your thighs parallel and hip-distance apart. Next, cross your left ankle over your right thigh, making sure that your anklebone clears your thigh. Actively flex your front foot by pulling your toes back. When you do this, the center of your foot will line up with your kneecap rather than curving into a sickle shape, which can stress the ligaments of the ankle and the knee.
    • Maintaining this alignment, pull your right knee in toward your chest, thread your left arm through the triangle between your legs and clasp your hands around the back of your right leg. If you can hold in front of your shin without lifting your shoulders off the floor or rounding the upper back, do so; otherwise, keep your hands clasped around your hamstring or use a strap. The goal is to avoid creating tension in the neck and shoulders as you open the hips, so choose a position that keeps your upper body relaxed. As you draw your right leg in toward you (making sure to aim it toward your right shoulder and not the center of your chest), simultaneously press your left knee away from you. This combination of actions should provide ample sensation, but if you don’t feel much, try releasing your pubic bone down away from your navel toward the floor. This will bring a bit more curve into your lumbar and should deepen the hip stretch.
    • Boost Your Bird
    • This variation moves more in the direction of the final shape but uses blankets to help maintain alignment. Come onto all fours with your hands shoulder-distance apart and about a hand span in front of your shoulders. Bring your left knee forward and place it on the floor just behind and slightly to the left of your left wrist, with your shin on a diagonal and your left heel pointing toward your right frontal hipbone. Now bring your attention to your back leg: Your right quadriceps should squarely face the floor so that your leg is in a “neutral” position—you want to avoid the common pitfall of externally rotating the back leg. Establish this neutral leg by tucking your right toes under and straightening your right leg so that the thigh and knee come off the floor. Lift your right inner thigh up toward the ceiling and move your right frontal hipbone forward so that it is parallel to your left frontal hipbone. You want to have your hipbones square toward the front of the mat. As you roll your right hipbone forward, draw your left outer hip back and in toward the midline of your body. Its natural tendency will be to swing forward and out away from you.
    • When the hipbones are parallel in Pigeon, the sacrum is less likely to be torqued, and you can practice the pose without straining your low back. Maintaining this hip alignment, shimmy your right toes back slightly and then point them so that your right thigh releases to the floor. Move your left foot and shin toward the front of your mat, aiming for your shin to be parallel to the front edge, and flex your foot to protect your knee.
    • Now observe your left outer hip. If, after you square your hips, the area where your thigh and buttock meet doesn’t rest on the floor, you need to add a blanket or two underneath. This is crucial to practicing the pose safely. If the outer hip doesn’t have support, the body will fall to the left, making the hips uneven and distorting the sacrum. Or, if the hips stay square but your left hip is free floating, you’ll put too much weight and pressure on the front knee. Neither scenario is good!
    • Get Even
    • Instead, use your arms for support as you organize your lower body. Adjust so that your hipbones are parallel to the wall you’re facing and your sacrum is even (meaning one side hasn’t dipped closer to the floor than the other) and place however many blankets are necessary to maintain this alignment beneath your left outer hip.
    • Place your hands in front of your left shin and use your arms to keep your torso upright. For the final version, keep moving your left foot forward, working to make your left shin parallel to the front edge of your mat. Make sure that in doing so you maintain the alignment in your hips and sacrum, continuing to use blankets if necessary. The left leg will be in external rotation, the right leg in neutral—each position giving access to a different type of hip opening. The right leg will stretch the psoas and other hip flexors, and the left side will get into the group of rotators in the buttocks and outer hip
    • It’s common to experience intense sensations in the left hip as the femur rotates outward in the hip socket. (For many people, this is in the fleshy part of the buttock; for others, it’s along the inner thigh.) Some feel a stretch along the front of the right hip as the psoas lengthens. You do not, however, want to feel any sensations in your left knee. If you do, this variation is not for you! Return to Eye of the Needle, where you can safely open your hips without strain.
    • If your knee is sensation free (hooray!), extend your torso forward across your left shin, walking your arms out in front of you and releasing your forehead toward the floor. Fold forward only after you’ve spent time checking your alignment and paying attention to your body. Your left knee will be to the left of your torso (with the left thigh on a bit of a diagonal), and your flexed left foot will be just alongside the right side of your rib cage. As you fold forward, turn your attention inward. We tend to hold this version of Pigeon longer than more active postures, so see if part of your practice in this pose can be to stay mentally focused once you have settled in. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali defines practice as “effort toward steadiness.” In these extended, quieter holds, you get to explore this idea, tethering your sometimes scattered attention by following the breath as it moves in and out, finding stillness as you open and expand.
    • Video:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQMsyrLowFw

Pigeon Pose Yoga Benefits_19.jpg

  • Deer pose (less intense alternative to pigeon pose)
    • Foundation-Begin seated with your legs in front of you.
    • Action- Bend you right knee into half butterfly with the heel about a foot away from the pelvis, then place your left knee into the arch of the right foot. Bend the left knee until the foot is closer to ninety degrees from the knee towards the bottom. (The legs will look a bit like a pinwheel) Rotate the torso in the direction of the right knee and walk thee torso forward until it rests on a bolster, blanket, or your mat. The arms can relax out to the side like goalposts. Turn your head to the side.
    • Boundary- Keep upright in the seated twist if there are hip issues. Adjust the bend of the knees to your own degree of comfort.
    • While You are There: Relax the front of the torso towards the ground. Remain for as long as comfortable on each side
    • Modify- The easiest option is to stay seated as you twist. The level of bolster/ blanket height can be adjusted to the degree of flexibility. Turning your head in the same direction as the knees will be the more gentle option for the neck.
    • Deepen- Take the chest all the way to the floor to increase the rotation and lower hip compression/ upper hip stretch. Send your arm that is on the same side as your knees up overhead and stretch from the hip all the way through the fingers to add shoulder opening. Turning the head in the direction away from the knees will increase the stretch on the neck.
    • Transition out of the Pose: Place your hands on the ground and use that support to slowly return to seated. Then unwind the twist. It is nice sometimes to lean back on the arms, place the feet in front of you and windshield wiper the knees before taking the second side.
    • Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAob8VDW_q4       

deerpose

 

 

 

 

Low lunge

  • Start in Downward Facing Dog pose
  • As you exhale, step your right foot forward, between your hands. Lower your left knee to the floor, sliding the foot back until you feel a nice stretch in the left hip and thigh.
  • Keep the hips low and level with each other.
  • As you inhale, engage your lower belly and lift your chest away from the thigh, sweeping the arms up alongside your ears.
  • Look straight ahead or come into a gentle backbend with your gaze to your thumbs.
  • As you exhale, lower your hands back down and step back to Downward Facing Dog.
  • Beginner tips:
    • You can keep your hands on the floor, blocks or your hips and work on the stretch in the front thigh.
    • Scissor your hips together to keep them level with each other and find stability.
    • Use a folded blanket to pad your back knee.
  • Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOfniMZY2hk

lowlungepose

 

 

 

 

 

Be aware that there are several variations of each of these poses and that you can use the ones that work best for you. I recommend incorporating yoga poses at least 3-4 days per week.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/pigeon-pose

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/low-lunge

Address These Lower Leg Issues To Avoid Injury and Improve Running Performance

eccentric calf raises

Hello Runners,

In the last three posts I have discussed strengthening the glutes and outer hips muscles, as well as proper activation of these muscles, to significantly improve running performance and minimize the risk of injury.

Another factor that can adversely affect running performance and increase your risk of injury is muscle tightness. I had planned to address muscle tightness issues in this post. However, I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with massage therapist and ultra endurance runner, Aaron Lange. Aaron practices massage on athletes, include Olympic athletes, in Boulder, CO. In our conversation I asked Aaron about some of the most common issues that occur in runners and how to address these issues. The main issues Aaron encounters in runners are poor running mechanics, overtraining, improper function of the ankles, and lack of glute strength.

In a previous post I discussed proper running mechanics, and in another post I included cues that you can use for proper running mechanics. In addition, Aaron mentioned that running drills and performing strides, in which you are running faster, can help. To run faster you have to run more efficiently, so that is why performing strides and sprints are beneficial. I have discussed these previously, but will revisit these in a future post. I will also discuss overtraining and signs that you are overtraining in a future post. As far as glute strength, Aaron shared this is important to keep your feet from landing close to, or even crossing the midline of the body, because this promotes a turning outwards for the foot. When the foot turns inward or outward this can lead to the most common injuries that runners encounter including: IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, knee pain, Achilles tendon issues (tendonitis or tendinosis). Proper engagement of the glutes can minimize this outward movement of the foot.

In the rest of this post, I will talk about what Aaron shared with me regarding issues with the ankle and how to address these. Having proper control at the ankle without the foot turning outward or inward can significantly minimize the risk of injury and results in a more efficient stride, which means you can run faster. As with the muscles at the hip (glutes, outer hips, hip external rotators, etc.), muscle weakness and tightness of the muscles that control the ankle can result in the inward and outward movement of the foot upon landing and then push off of the ground.

Muscle Weakness Issues

The muscles that control the movement of the ankle include the gastrocnemius (outer calf muscle), soleus (deeper or inner calf muscle), peroneals (outside of lower leg), posterior tibialis (inside of lower leg), and flexor halluces longus. The best exercise to address weaknesses in any of these muscles is eccentric calf raises.

To perform eccentric calf raises:

  • Use a step with a hand railing, so that you can balance yourself as needed as you lower your foot so that it drops below the level of the step.
  • Position each foot so that approximately half the foot hangs over the edge of the step
  • Have your legs straight and engage the core so you are as tall as possible
  • While using the hand railing for support as needed, raise up on both feet
  • Then slower lower on one foot so that foot drops to below the level of the step
  • Raise back up on both feet
  • Perform 15 repetitions for each foot
  • Make sure to keeping breath throughout this exercise, ideally exhaling as you slower lower
  • Make sure the foot is pointed straight forward when lower and not turned to the side

I recommend starting with one set of 15 repetitions for each leg with a straight leg. Once you are comfortable with this then increase your frequency to 2-3 times per day. Then increase the number of sets to 2-3. Aaron also performs this exercise with a bent knee, which can better target the soleus muscle.

Muscle Tightness Issues

Most runners statically stretch the calf muscles, at least the outer, or gastrocnemius.  You should also be stretching the inner or deeper soleus muscle by bending the back leg (the one being stretched). Bending the knee will also stretch the Achilles tendon.

Although many runners are good about stretching the gastrocnemius and sometimes soleus, they ignore addressing tightness in the other muscles important for proper ankle function. Some of these muscles are referred at as the “stirrup muscles” and are found on the outside (peroneals) and inside (posterior tibialis) of the lower leg. These muscles can become tight, especially if a runner does not properly control at the ankle and has their foot turn inward or outward.

The best ways to address tightness in these muscles is through foam rolling (for the peroneals) and self-massage while flexing the ankle (for the posterior tibialis).

To reduce muscle tightness in the peroneals:

  • While lying on your side, place a foam roller directly underneath the outside of your lower leg between the knee and ankle
  • Support your upper body using your forearm and free hand. Adjust pressure into the roller with your free hand and foot.
  • Slowly roll up and down the length of the peroneals (outside of the lower leg between the knee and ankle) while slightly rotating the leg periodically for 20-30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Be sure to keep breathing while rolling
  • You may also want to apply pressure on the most tender area of the peroneals and hold for 20-30 seconds while you continue breathing

To reduce tightness in the posterior tibialis:

  • While seated cross one leg over the opposite knee.
  • Apply pressure with your thumbs on the muscle just on the inside of the ridge of the shin
  • Slowly flex and extend the ankle
  • Start for 30 seconds and gradually build up to 1-3 minutes daily
  • Repeat on the other leg

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, please feel free to share this with anyone you feel might benefit

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy for Runners. Skyhorse Publishing: New York, NY, 2012.

National Academy of Sports Medicine Essentials of Corrective Exercise. Ed. Michael Clark & Scott Lucent. Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins: Baltimore, MD, 2011.

If You Are Not Properly Activating the Glutes and Outer Hip Muscles While Running, You Are Wasting Time and Effort Strengthening the Glutes and Outer Hip Muscles

powerful runners

Hello Runners,

Have you ever worked hard and spent a bunch of time on a project that you thought your boss, co-workers, or significant other would appreciate, and then you presented your hard work and they weren’t impressed, and said something along the lines of, “thanks for your effort, but we’re going to do this instead.” How frustrating was that?

In the last two posts, I shared glute and outer hip strengthening exercises that can help you minimize the risk of injury and improve your running performance. I also provided a plan you can use to progressively incorporate more running-specific exercises once you have established a solid base of glute and outer hip strength that included dedicating at least 3 days per week for several months. That can be a lot of work!

Let’s say you’ve done these exercises consistently for a few months, and you still get an injury like plantar fasciitis, or your running pace isn’t really improving? You’d probably be mad at me!

Yes, performing these exercises consistently and in a progress manner to more running-specific exercises is important. However, that’s not the whole picture. If you are not properly engaging the glutes and outer hip muscles when you run, all your hard work and dedication is for naught.

So, in this post I will share with you what you can do to properly engage these muscles and get the benefit of all your hard work.

Activation of the Glutes and Outer Hip Muscles Before Running

I can’t stress enough the importance of a warmup before your runs. When I say warmup, I mean a dynamic warmup that engages the muscles that your need to utilize during running. Click here for a previous post on a dynamic warmup that can help with engaging the glute and outer hips muscles.

In addition to a dynamic warmup, I also recommend performing neuromuscular activation (NMA) exercises. I recommend performing these exercises before your dynamic warmup. NMA exercises should take less than five minutes to perform.

NMA Exercises:

These exercises teach your brain how to send signals to the glute and outer hip muscles so they can be activated when you run.

  • Single-leg stands:
    • While standing on one leg, raise the other leg in front of you with the knee bent until the thigh is parallel with the ground
    • Hold for 5 seconds and then do the same on the other leg
  • Single-leg stands with arms crossed:
    • While standing on one leg, raise the other leg in front of you with the knee bent until the thigh is parallel with the ground
    • Start with both arms straight out to the side and palms up
    • Bring the arms in front of you, so that the cross, bending at the elbows and flipping the hands over so the palms face down
    • Perform for 5 seconds on each leg, switching the arm that is on top as you cross to the front
  • Single-leg stands with foot abducted in back:
    • While standing on one leg, have the other leg straight out in back of you with the foot just slightly off the ground
    • Slightly turn the foot outward an hold for 5 seconds
    • Repeat with the other leg
  • Calf raises with abduction:
    • While standing on both feet, raise straight up on your toes
    • Then turn your heels out to the side and hold for one second
    • Then bring your heels back and lower them back down to the ground
    • Perform 8-10 repetitions
  • Single-leg stands with leg swings:
    • While standing on one leg slowly swing the other leg forward and back
    • Make sure the toes are pointing forward throughout the range of motion, correct if necessary
    • Perform 10-15 repetitions for each leg
    • Note: The range of motion doesn’t need to be as great as when you do leg swings for the dynamic warm-up
    • Bonus exercise to activate inner thighs – Single-leg stands with foot abducted in front:
      • While standing on one leg, have the other leg straight out in front of you with the foot just slightly off the ground
      • Slightly turn the foot outward and hold for 5 seconds
      • Repeat with the other leg

After performing NMA exercises, you should then perform a dynamic warmup exercise, which will more fully engage the glutes and outer hips muscles, as blood flow and the temperature of these muscles is increased.

Activation of the Glutes and Outer Hip Muscles While Running

All right, so you’ve woken up the muscles of the glutes and outer hips and they are ready to work for you. You’ve also increased blood flow and the temperature of these muscles so they have oxygen and nutrients for contraction and are pliable.

Now you’ve got to keep them engage while you are actually running.

In a previous post, I discussed several cues that can help remind you to engage the glutes and outer hips muscles. These included:

  • “Imagine someone in front of you grabbing you by your shirt and lifting you up at the chest”
  • “Extend the hips”
  • “Think of knees as headlights that you shine straight ahead”
  • “Put your foot down underneath you”

These cues will all help you better engage the muscles of the glutes and outer hips while you run, allowing you to run with more power, while helping you reduce the risk of injury.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy for Runners. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2012.

Triathlon Training Series. Strength Training with Bob Seebohar. Endurance Filsm, Inc, 2010.

Running-Specific Glute and Outer Hip Strengthening Exercises To Significantly Improve Your Running Power and Pace

 

running performance

Hello Runners,

In my last post, I discussed some exercises that you can perform in start improving your glute and outer hip strength, which can help you improve running performance and minimize the risk of injury.

These exercises are a great place to start, especially if your glutes and outer hip muscles are weak. In order to continue to benefit, and better translate this strength to running performance, it is important to perform glute and outer hip strengthening exercises that are more running specific. However, I would not incorporate these until you have performed the exercises in the last post on a consistent basis for at least two to three months.

Once you have done so, you may want to perform the assessments I discussed in a previous post to reassess your glute and outer hip strength. If you are reasonably stable while performing these assessments, then let’s focus on more running-specific exercise to really help your running performance!

Running Specific Strengthening Exercises To Improve Running Performance

I would classify these exercises as more running-specific because they are primarily single-leg exercises or exercises in which you are more in a running positon. The exception would be the first exercise, which is still very challenging and great for improving your running power.

Glute Squats (or Chair of Death)

Regular squats tend to focus on strengthening the quadriceps muscles. A variation is the glute squat, which forces increased utilization of the glute muscles. This exercise can will help improve your power when you run, which can translate into a faster running pace. Here’s how to perform the glute squat, or chair of death:

  • Use a wooden dowel, yardstick, broomstick or pipe so that it is touching your tailbone, your back, and the middle of your head
  • Stand facing a chair with the front of your knees touching the chair
  • Squat down, hinging from your hip, moving your butt backwards, like you are hovering over a toilet
  • Make sure the object you are holding behind you does not come off the back of your body
  • It’s okay to lean the trunk forward until you develop stronger glutes and can have your torso more upright
  • The goal is to squat down far enough so that your thighs are parallel with the ground
  • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions

 

chair of death

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Jay Dicharry “Anatomy for Runners”

 

Glute Marching

In the last post I discussed glute bridge hip lifts. A progression of this exercise is glute marching. Here is how to perform glute marching:

  • With your head, shoulders, and both feet on the floor, push up into a bridge position
  • While in the up position, begin “marching” – alternating lifting each foot several inches off the ground, while keeping your pelvis steady and facing straight up
  • Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions (10 on each leg), with a short break between sets
  • You should feel this exercise in the glutes. If not, have a partner place their hands on the front of your pelvis and push very firmly down into the ground

glute bridge marching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Jay Dicharry “Anatomy for Runners”

 

Multidirectional Lunges

Lunges are another great exercise for strengthening the glutes. Lunges performed in different directions can strengthen more of the outer hip muscles as well as the glutes. Here are a series of lunges that you can perform to strengthen both the glutes and outer hip muscles:

  • Front lunge:
    • Start in a standing position with proper posture and feet together.
    • Take a step forward about half the distance that you are tall.
    • Keep upper body tall and back straight.
    • Keep knee in line with ankle not over the toe.
    • Keep foot and toes pointing straight ahead.
    • Push upward and return to the starting position.
    • Repeat with the other leg.
    • Repeat for a total of 5-10 repetitions for each leg.
  • Front V-lunge:
    • Stand in an upright position
    • Step forward at a 45 degree angle with the right foot and lunge down so that you form approximately a 90 degree angle with the upper and lower leg
    • Maintain proper posture in the upper body
    • Step back to the starting position and repeat 5-10 times on both the right and left side
  • Lunge with twist:
    • Step forward with one leg and perform a partial or half lunge, making sure the knee does not come over the toes
    • Slowly twist the upper body towards the same side as the forward leg
    • Twist the upper body back to its normal position
    • Repeat on the other side for a total of 5-10 partial lunges for each side
  • Side lunge:
    • Start in a standing position with proper posture and feet together.
    • Step about 1/3 distance as you are tall to the side.
    • Keep both feet pointing forward and lean over that knee so that the other leg is straight.
    • Push upward with the leg that you stepped to the side with and return to the starting position.
    • Repeat with the other leg.
    • Perform 5-10 repetitions for each leg.
    • Maintain proper posture throughout this exercise.
  • Back V-lunge:
    • Stand in an upright position
    • Step backward at a 45 degree angle with the right foot and lunge down so that you form approximately a 90 degree angle with the upper and lower leg
    • Maintain proper posture in the upper body
    • Perform 5-10 repetitions for each leg
  • Back lunge:
    • Start in a standing position with proper posture and feet together.
    • Take a step backward about half the distance that you are tall.
    • Position knee over the ankle.
    • Keep feet pointed straight ahead.
    • Maintain proper posture with back straight.
    • Step backward and repeat for the other leg.
    • Perform 5-10 repetitions for each leg.

Walking Lunges

A progression of the front lunge discussed above is the walking lunge. This variation will be more challenging due to it being a more dynamic movement. Start with only your body weight and then you may want to progress to adding dumbbells in each hand. When performing this exercise with dumbbells, perform no more than 6 repetitions for each leg. The purpose is to better activate the muscle fibers of the glutes, as well as quadriceps, not to develop big muscles (which would occur by performing 8-12 repetitions with weight).

  • Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart.
  • Check your posture before starting—your torso should be upright and tall, core engaged, your shoulders back and chin lifted. Look straight ahead.
  • Take a wide step forward with your right foot—plant it roughly two feet ahead, allowing your left heel to lift naturally as you step forward. You may want to put your hands on your hips, or you may want to swing your arms naturally—elbows bent at 90-degrees—as you take each step.
  • Keep your core engaged and upright. Bend both knees and lower your back knee toward the floor. Stop just before it touches down. Breathe in during the lowering phase of the exercise.
  • Press firmly through your right heel and extend your right knee to rise to stand as you lift your left foot from the ground, swinging your left foot forward to plant it about two feet ahead of your right foot. Avoid leaning your torso forward from your hips as you take this step. Breathe out as you rise to stand.
  • Continue stepping forward with each lunge, alternating sides as you do. If you find yourself losing balance as you walk, pause at the top of each lunge when your feet are next to each other. Gather your balance, then continue.
  • Finish your set by bringing your back foot to meet your front foot on the final lunge.
  • If using only your body weight perform 5-10 repetitions for each leg.

Here is a video demonstration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYWhkctnP2o

 

Split Squats

Split squats are another glute strengthening, which puts you into more of a runner’s position. To make this more difficult you can use dumbbells, but only perform up to 6 repetitions for each leg with dumbbells.

  • From a standing position, take a long step forwards as if performing a lunge. The heel of your back foot should be raised.
  • Keeping your torso straight, lower slowly until your back knee almost touches the floor, then push back up.
  • Complete 5-10 repetitions on one leg, then switch to the other.
  • Keep your knees in line with your toes, especially on the front leg, and don’t let the front knee stray past your foot as you lower.

Here is a video demonstration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGHnCftrZkA

 

Bulgarian Squats

Once you can easily perform split squats, then progress to Bulgarian split squats, which will be challenging because you only have one foot on the ground. However, this exercise will more closely mimic running than the regular split squat.

  • Find yourself a step, bench or chair you can rest a foot on, it needs to be about knee height.
  • Get into a forward lunge position with torso upright, core braced and hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench. Your leading leg should be about 1-2 feet in front of bench.
  • Lower until your front thigh is almost horizontal, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Don’t let your front knee travel beyond your toes.
  • Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position, again keeping your movements measured.
  • Repeat 5-10 times then switch to the other leg.

Here is a video demonstration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlQb-Ya1YD0

 

Single-Leg Squat

The last exercise in the progression would be single-leg squats, which truly are the exercise that most mimics running. Before including this exercise be sure that you can correctly and comfortably perform the other exercises above. It’s critical to keep good form and not allow the hips, knees, or ankles to collapse inward while you are performing this exercise.

  • Stand on one leg with your foot pointing straight ahead and the knee of the other leg slightly bent.
  • Place your hips on your hips
  • Roll your shoulder blades back and keep your back straight.
  • Keep your weight centered over the ball of your foot, your upper body erect, and your head facing forward.
  • Raise the non-supporting foot from the floor slightly.
  • Lower to a squat position, keeping the knee of the supporting leg centered over the ball of the foot. Start with shallow squats and work your way closer to the ground.
  • Repeat for 5-10 squats on each leg. Aim for three sets for each leg.

What Should You Do

Start with multidirectional lunges, glute squats (chair of death), and glute marching and perform these three days per week. Once you can correctly and comfortably perform 10 repetitions for each leg, progress to walking lunges and split squats. Once you can correctly and comfortably perform these exercises, add Bulgarian split squats and then finally single-leg squats.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can be of help in any way.

Please share this with anyone that you feel might benefit.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy for Runners. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2012.

https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-walking-lunges-4588048

https://www.coachmag.co.uk/leg-exercises/7016/how-to-do-the-split-squat

https://www.coachmag.co.uk/leg-exercises/199/bulgarian-split-squat-instructions-form-tips-and-variations

https://www.verywellfit.com/build-balance-and-strength-with-single-leg-squats-3119147

 

 

Avoid the Frustration of Injury and Disappointing Performance Caused By Weak Glutes

clamshell exercise

Hello Runners,

In my last post I talked about how weak glutes and outer hip muscles are common in runners, and lead to increased risk of injury and negatively affect running performance. I also included assessments you can perform for your glute and outer hip muscle strength.

In this post, and the following post, I will discuss exercises you can incorporate into your training plan, that won’t take much time, and will be effective in increasing your glute and outer hip muscles strength.

What Are The Important Glute and Outer Hip Muscles and What Do They Do?

First, before going into these exercises, what are the glute and outer hip muscles and why are they important? The muscles that are primarily involved include the muscles of the glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimize), tensor fascia latae (TFL), and deep lateral rotators (quadratus femoris, piriformis, gemellus superior, gemellus inferior, and obturator internus). Basically these are muscles of the buttocks and the outer hips important for speed and injury prevention. They are important for extending the hip (puts power in your stride!) and stabilizing the pelvis and hips when you have one foot on the ground. Without this stability your leg will be shaky when you have one foot on the ground (you may have experienced this if you tried the assessments in the last post). This shakiness makes you less efficient because your body has to use extra energy to try to stabilize and makes you more prone to the common injuries that runners experience.

Exercises for Strengthening Glute and Outer Hip Muscles

Since most runners have weak glutes and outer hip muscles, it will be best to start with basic exercises to build strength, endurance and then move into more running-specific and functional exercises, so that you can perform the more running-specific exercises properly. So, here are some basic exercises to start with:

  1. Clamshells

Most physical therapists who are treating runners with weak glute muscles will have runners perform clamshells. You’re probably familiar with clamshells and hopefully you do them! If not, here’s how to peform clamshells:

  • Lie on your side with your torso and pelvis both perpendicular to the ground
  • Straighten the spine
  • Slowly lift the belly up off the floor to create a stable core position
  • Squeeze your glutes tight like you have a quarter stuck between your butt cheeks
  • With your feet resting on each other, lift only the knee up until it’s level with the hip
  • Lower the knee down keeping the glute contracted the entire time
  • Perform 8-20 repetitions on each side

 

  1. Side Lying Leg Raises and Hip Circles

Several years ago when I was going to physical therapy to address my own plantar fasciitis issue, the clinic I was being treated at incorporated pilates into their treatment plans. They even had the pilates reformers, which look and feel like torture machines! But they are effective.

In addition to strengthening my core, which was pretty wimpy at the time, my physical therapist, Laura, had me do a lot of side lying single leg raises and hip circles (killers!).

I recommend incorporating these into your training plan. You might do these in place of clamshells on some days. Here’s how to do these:

For side-lying leg raises:

  • Lie on your side with your legs straight and one leg on top of the other so the hips are lined up and stacked on top of each other. Your shoulders should be lined up and stacked on top of each other, as well.  You can rest your bottom hand under your head and the top hand can rest on the mat in front of your ribs.
  • Adjust your legs so that they are at a 45 degree angle with your upper body.
  • Flex the outer hip muscles of the top leg and lift that leg while having the toes on that foot pointing upwards. Keep the knee relaxed.
  • Kick the top leg up toward the ceiling, and then pull the leg down, lengthening the leg. When pulling down imagine pulling a great weight off the ceiling as the leg lowers.
  • Perform 5-10 repetitions
  • Repeat with the toes in neutral position (pointed out to the side, instead of up) and with toes pointing down
  • Repeat with the other leg

 

For hip circles:

  • Lift the top leg to hip level, with the hip turned out and the heel pointing toward the floor. Keep the knee relaxed. This is the top of the circle.
  • Circle the leg down toward the bottom ankle, around and back to the top.
  • Perform 5-10 circles in one direction and then reverse directions.
  • Focus on keeping the trunk stable while doing the circles.
  • Repeat with other leg on top.

 

  1. Monster Walks

This is another favorite exercise prescribed by physical therapists to strengthen the glutes and outer hip muscles. You might start without a resistance band, but then later start incorporating one to make this exercise more challenging. I recommend performing monster walks both side-to-side and forward-to-back. Here’s how to perform these exercises:

For Monster walks side-to-side:

  • While standing place a resistance band just above your knees (if you don’t have a resistance band you can still perform the exercise without a band)
  • Start with both feet about shoulder width distance apart and parallel to each other
  • Engage your abdominal muscles and bend at the knees like you were sitting in a chair
  • Make sure the knees don’t go over the toes
  • Take a step to the right with your right foot so that you feel the resistance
  • Take a small step with your left foot so that the tension remains in the resistance band (feet should be about shoulder width distance apart)
  • Repeat this motion to the right for 5-10 steps
  • Then repeat in the left direction
  • Breathe normally during this exercise

For Monster walks forward and backward:

  • While standing place a resistance band just above your knees (if you don’t have a resistance band you can still perform the exercise without a band)
  • Start with both feet about shoulder width distance apart and parallel to each other
  • Engage your abdominal muscles and bend at the knees like you were sitting in a chair
  • Make sure the knees don’t go over the toes
  • Take a wide step forward with your left leg
  • Take a wide step forward with your right leg so that it passes your left leg and you have tension on the resistance band
  • Repeat for 5-10 steps for each leg
  • Repeat this exercise, except now taking steps backward

 

  1. Glute Bridge Hip Lifts

You’ll want to pay attention to where you are feeling this exercise. The glute muscles, and possibly the hamstring muscles, should be doing the work. Runners with weak glutes, or glutes that aren’t being properly engaged, may feel this exercise in other muscles, including the muscles of the lower back. If this is the case for you, discontinue this exercise for now, and revisit it when your glutes are stronger and instead, focus on the other exercises.

Here’s how to do this exercise:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Clasp your hands together and raise them up towards the sky
  • Lift the hips off of the ground and hold briefly and then slower lower, trying not to arch your back
  • Perform 10 repetitions and on the last repetition hold at the top of the lift for up to 30 seconds.
  1. Fire Hydrants and Hip Circles Forward and Backward

These exercises are great for the deep lateral rotator muscles, which don’t get mentioned, like the glute muscles, but play an important role in stabilizing the hips when one foot is on the ground.

Fire hydrants:

  • Position yourself so that you are on all fours (on hands and knees in table top position), with the hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips
  • Keep the back straight
  • Use the outer hip muscles to raise the left leg out to the side keeping the knee bent, only raise as high as feels comfortable and for which you can still keep the back straight
  • Slowly lower the left
  • Repeat with the right leg
  • Perform 5-10 repetitions for each leg

Hip circles forward (clockwise) and backward (counter-clockwise):

  • Position yourself so that you are on all fours (on hands and knees in table top position), with the hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips
  • Keep the back straight
  • Use the outer hip muscles to raise the left leg out to the side keeping the knee bent
  • Now make circles in a clockwise direction from the hip
  • Perform 5-10 repetitions
  • Repeat these circles in the counter-clockwise direction
  • Repeat for the other leg

 

How Often and When Should These Exercises Be Performed

I recommend performing these exercises at least three days per week. Ideally, you should perform these right after your run and before your cool down. However, if time does not permit, you could perform them at another time during the day. For example, you could perform them at work, or while watching television, or you could perform them with your kids when you get home.

Video Demonstrating These Exercises

Here is a video with several exercises including most of the exercises I just described:

 

 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

In the next post, I will discussed more advanced exercises to improve glute and outer hip strength, which are more running specific.

 

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Bob Seebohar. Triathlon Specific Strength Training. USA Triathlon Level I Coaching Certification Clinic, Englewood, CO, 2013

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy for Runners. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2012.

Jay Johnson.

 

These Issues Can Increase Your Risk of Injury and Ruin Your Chances of Achieving Your Running Goals

single leg stand assessment

Hello Runners,

Last week my friend Sam and I were doing our weekly easy run together in beautiful Chautauqua Park (photo of Chautauqua Park) and we get talking about a common injury we’ve both had, plantar fasciitis. Several years ago, this condition kept me from running for nine months. This injury really hit Sam, an ultradistance runner, at the end of last year and he is continuing to struggle with it now. Recently, this injury has crept up on me again, since I haven’t been as diligent with my strengthening exercises and recovery.

During our conversation, Sam mentioned that he had recently met with massage therapist, Josh Shadle with TRI-Massage (tri-massage.com). Josh provided some deep tissue massage, for muscles that were tight and plantar fascia, and he assessed that Sam needed to strengthen his glutes and provided some exercises to help Sam.

Weak glutes and outer hips muscles are a common issue among runners. One of the big reasons is that we sit on our butts for hour after hour, day after day. Having weak glutes and outer hip muscles is a problem because when we run we don’t have sufficient strength to stabilize the leg when we have one foot on the ground. As a result, the hip and then the rest of the leg internally rotates (basically inward collapsing of the hip, knee, and ankle) leading to overpronation of the foot. As this is repeated, we significantly increase our chances of developing plantar fasciitis, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, and issues with the knee, including patellofemoral syndrome. Yikes!

Over the next couple of blogs I will discuss assessments for areas commonly weak in runners, and ways to functionally strengthen these areas to help you minimize the risk of developing the aforementioned injuries. Also, increasing glute strength, as well as core strength, will also increase your power and allow you to run faster.

Assessments for Glute and Outer Hip Muscle Strength

One way to assess glute and outer hip muscle strength is to assess it statically. That is, while not running.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand without shoes, preferably in bare feet
  • Put your hands on your hips
  • Stand with your right foot on the floor and raise your leg off the floor in front of you until the upper leg is approximately parallel with the ground
  • Relax the shoulders and look straight ahead
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds, have someone recording (video) you as you are standing
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Then repeat bringing the leg in back of you until the lower leg is approximately parallel with the floor (this will probably be a little easier)

How did you do? Were you solid as a rock with your one foot on the floor, or was it a struggle?

If you weren’t able to stay steady for 30 seconds, your glutes and outer hip muscles are either weak and/or not been properly activated.

In the next post, I will discuss what you can do to strengthen the glutes, so that you can be more stable on one foot, and prevent injuries from occurring while you run.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy for Runners. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2012.

Richard Hansen. “Injuries” Sports Medicine Clinic, Boulder, CO, February 2015.

 

Goals Set the Direction, But Habits Are Best For Becoming The Runner You Want to Become

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year Runners!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit, and will probably make the same resolution next January. Why weren’t they successful? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop, that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few insights that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to become a better runner and achieve your running goals.

Goals are helpful in that they provide us direction. Such as if we were flying from Los Angeles to Maui, it is helpful to know which direction we need to go. However, if we set a course starting from Los Angeles to land in Maui we would not arrive, if we did not make adjustments along the way. Similar with our running goals. We may have a goal of completing our first marathon, or breaking four hours, or qualifying for Boston, however if we don’t develop the proper plan, get in the runs and support work (dynamic warmup, cool down, strengthening exercises, and cross-training) and develop other important habits, we’ll not optimize our training. Instead, we may develop an injury and we won’t develop the endurance and/or speed necessary to achieve our goal.

Take Small Steps with a System-Focused Approach, Instead of Goal-Focused

One important principle from Atomic Habits is developing systems that set you up to become the person necessary to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Thus, to become a better runner such things as: proper training and nutrition plans, running form, support work, sleep, and hydration are important. If these are implemented on a consistent basis, incremental progress will be made leading to improved running performance, which then lead to better race results.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is the late Coach John Wooden, who had his players focus on making some small improvement each day that would help improve their game. These small improvements compound over time, like when you invest in mutual funds. Wooden put the emphasis on improvement and not on winning basketball games and national championships. As a result, some of Wooden’s players became some of the best basketball players in history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton), and his teams won ten national championships, including seven in a row.

It is interesting to note that Wooden did not win his first national championship until he had been coaching at UCLA for 16 years! So, it took him a while to develop and successfully implement a system that would maximize his players’ performance, as well as his own coaching abilities. Similarly, if you are growing bamboo. It takes a significant amount of time for a bamboo plant to lay down an extensive root system. Then, all of sudden, a whole bunch of bamboo appears!

A systems-first mentality also allows you to fall in love with the process rather than the product/goal and you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. This is important because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. The goal-first mentality forces us to delay gratification until the next milestone is reached. The goal-first mentality also creates an “either-or” conflict in which you are either successful or a failure. Also, a goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo” effect, which once the goal is achieved, you revert back to old habits. This is common with those trying to achieve weight loss.

So, it can be more beneficial to focus on what you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, and develop the habits or systems to do so. If instead of waiting until we achieve our goal, we can achieve satisfaction in performing the steps along the way, we will be much happier and are more likely to make good habits automatic. Early on we may want to set up a rewards system for when we are completing the habits that we need to become the runner we need to become. Therefore, if we complete our run and the important support work, then we reward ourselves appropriately. For example, I reward myself with ten minutes of additional guitar-playing time. Over time you may not need the reward system because you automatically include support work on your run days.

So, again even though your goals will direct you, what’s most importance is the system you implement to become the runner necessary to achieve those goals. If you develop the habits and put in the work, the results will follow, just as they did for Coach Wooden.

 Identity Focus

Another important aspect of Atomic Habits is to become identity-focused, instead of goal-focused. Your habits are consistent with the identity you have for yourself. So, in order to change your habits, you have to change your identity. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, they could change their identity to that of a healthy person, instead of focusing on losing a certain number of pounds. They can then focus on making decisions consistent with what a healthy person does, and could ask themselves, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”

Similarly, if you have a time goal and/or want to be a Boston qualifier, your identity could be I’m a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or a “Boston qualifier” and put your focus on the habits necessary or consistent with being a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or “Boston qualifier”. You can then ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that would get these results?” Therefore, you would begin developing the sleep habits (such as 7-9 hours of sleep per night, because while you are sleeping the important adaptations to your training are occurring), nutrition habits (proper nutrients to fuel you and support adaptations), and support work habits necessary. You may also determine that it is necessary to work with a coach, so that you optimize your running form for performance and have an optimal training plan.  You may also need to develop the mind-set of focusing on improving as a runner from year-to-year, and appreciate that it may take a couple of years to break 3:45 in a marathon, or qualify for Boston.

Habit Stacking and Designing Your Environment

Techniques such as habit stacking and designing your environment (make it obvious) may help you facilitate the habits consistent with your identity of being a “sub-3:45 marathoner”, for example. After my runs I grab a glass of water to begin hydrating and focus on “relaxing my legs” by doing gentle leg swings, gradually increasing the range of motion. I perform these close to our designated workout room, which has my yoga mat, resistance band, dumbbells, foam roller, and lacrosse ball all laid out in full view (designing my environment). This cues me to perform the rest of my support work, including my strengthening exercises and cool down (habit stacking). Also, I usually play music I enjoy while performing these, which makes it easier to perform. I’ve performed this routine so many times that it has become automatic, and I recommend setting up a similar situation for yourself.

I will touch upon other important principles from Atomic Habits and other behavior change strategies in future blogs, to help you become the runner you want to become and help you achieve your goals along the way.

Summary of Key Points

  • Success is the product of daily habits
  • Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results
  • Identity the person you want to become and develop the habits consistent with that identity
  • Consistency of habits is important. Start small and implement a proper reward system for immediate gratification once you’ve completed these habits. These habits should soon become automatic.
  • Focus on improvement over time, such as year-to-year, as a runner, not just a one-time goal

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that goals aren’t important. They have their place, as far as providing direction. Also, there are other steps you should take before beginning your training. Click here for a post from last year on goal setting and here to learn of other steps you should take before you begin training.

Also, it’s not too late to get started on training, if you are planning to run a spring half- or full-marathon. I began my formal training for the Colfax marathon last week.

Finally, I plan to lead a half- and full-marathon training group this year for fall half- and full-marathons. The group will meet once per week in Louisville (CO) for a run, and participants will be provided with a 16-week training plan. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, please contact me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  Avery: New York, 2018.

Use Proper Stress and Rest To Achieve Your Maximum Potential

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“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle”

I will add to this quote proper recovery.

Recently, I have been reading Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and (running coach) Steve Magness. It’s a book I highly recommend. As an 18-year old Steve Magness competed against several Olympians in the mile in an event called the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon. This was quite remarkable considering that Magness was competing against such high caliber runners at such a young age. He did not win that day, but he still ran the mile in 4:01. Unfortunately for Magness, his running career plateaued that day and he was never able to run a faster mile. Magness attributes this to an improperly designed training regimen that did not incorporate proper stress and recovery; especially recovery. For his training, Magness would run 9 miles in the morning, go to school, lift weights, and then run 9 miles again in the evening, and he would do this every day. Magness shared that he experienced burned out and his running career ended soon after.

However, we get to benefit from Magness’ experience. Yes, I realize that we are not elite runners like Magness, however if we don’t train and recover properly we will plateau, as well, and not achieve our maximum performance.

Proper training includes providing the proper stress to our body, based on our health, fitness, running history, age, goals, and injury history. We need to include some runs that are challenging, but still doable. Our training program should progressively build our endurance and speed, and then include race-pace specific training for our event. We also need to recover properly during our training. This might include a run at snail’s pace. Or, this could be a day off from running, in which we incorporate supportive low- to moderate-intensity cross-training. Massage/stretching, diet, and sleep are also important components of recovery.

As far as the importance of recovery, Deena Kastor, U.S. women’s record holder in the marathon, as well as one of the stars of Spirit of the Marathon, says, “During a workout you’re breaking down soft tissue and really stressing your body. How you treat yourself in between workouts is where you make gains and acquire the strength to attack the next one.” Kastor realized early on in her running career that simply working hard wouldn’t do. Deena follows up intense training runs with significantly easier recovery runs. She also sleeps 10-12 hours per night, has a meticulous approach to diet, and has weekly massage and daily stretching sessions.

The best marathoners in the world, the Kenyans, also appreciate the benefits of recovery and will alternate between very hard training days and very easy (snail pace) days. Research studies have shown this approach to be effective in other sports as well, including Nordic skiing, in which Olympic Norwegian skiers will walk uphill at a snail’s pace on easy training or recovery days.

Several years ago, a friend of mine was using a popular training program to prepare for his first marathon. The program instructed him to run a “practice marathon” during training about a month before his actual marathon. My friend followed the program and actually had a decent time during his “practice marathon”. However, his actual marathon was over 30 minutes slower. Basically, it took my friend a significant amount of time to recover from his “practice marathon” and so he lost fitness before his actual marathon. Plus, it takes a significant amount of time to recover psychologically from the demands of a marathon, typically much longer than it takes to physically recover. My friend wasn’t properly recovered for his actual marathon and his performance suffered as a result.

You need to give your body the time and space to adapt to the training stress. Rest supports growth and adaptation, which can help make you a stronger and faster runner, and can be as productive and sometimes more productive than an additional workout. Rest, although typically viewed as passive, is an active process which allows for physical and psychological growth. I know for myself that I feel much stronger and fresher after a day or two of rest, and I’m sure you feel the same way.

Also, consider that if you are constantly stressing your body with long runs and other intense workouts, not only do you not provide the time and space for physical and psychological growth, you also put yourself at risk for overtraining and breaking your body down, while significantly increasing your risk of injury. For example, a neighbor of mine used to run a marathon almost every month. Unfortunately, this took a significant toll on her body and I would see her barely shuffling along during her training runs. Her training and recovery were not optimized, and as a result she was not able to achieve her peak performance. Instead, she was in a constantly overtrained state and was constantly injured.

So, make supportive recovery an important component of your training to help you reach your maximum potential.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

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Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Peak Performance. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Rodale, Inc. New York, 2017.

What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2010 Sep;5(3):276-91. Seiler S.