General Guidelines for an Off-Season Program to Help Transition into the 2014 Season

I have addressed some of the components of an off-season maintenance program in two previous articles, specifically cross-training and strength training. In this article I will tie together all of the important components of an off-season training program and provide guidelines for each. Although cross-training is one important way for us to maintain aerobic fitness during the off-season, we don’t want to neglect running, if possible, depending on the weather or access to a treadmill.

Guidelines for running during the off-season:

• Run 2-3 days per week

• Most runs should be at a comfortable, conversational pace

• Include a longer run once every 2-3 weeks, distance depends on goal events, fitness level, running history, any current injuries

• May progress to short intervals, such as strides, hill sprints, Fartlek (speedplay) runs

• Include proper warm-up (maybe include some basics for warm-ups)

Strength training guidelines:

• Should be done after any cross-training or running workout

• Focus on exercises to improve activation of abdominal, hip abductor, hip flexors and extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) lower back, and scapular stabilizers

• Performed 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days

• Use body weight resistance or low resistance

• Typically involve a progression, which can include adding an instability component, such as performing exercises on a pillow, or increasing the range of motion of the exercise

• Exercises are typically performed to fatigue and not a specific number of repetitions

• Rest period can be 30-60 seconds between exercises, or you can perform the exercises in a circuit, and just move from one exercise to the next with little or no rest

Cross-training guidelines:

• Performed 2-3 days per week

• I would recommend using a variety of cross-training modes to incorporate a variety of muscles

• Ideally, choose at least some cross-training modes, which incorporate motion in different planes than running, such as side-to-side or transverse plane motion, as opposed to forwards and backwards motion

• Intensity should be light to moderate, with incorporation of short intervals every 2-3 weeks with full recovery

Additional components:

• Foam rolling:

• Roll on tight, overused muscles until a tender/sore spot is found

• Apply pressure to tender/sore spots  and hold for 30 seconds

• Perform 5-7 days per week

• Stretching:

• Should include calf, hamstring, glutes, hip flexors, IT band, lower back, chest

• Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds

• Perform 1-4 repetitions for each stretch

• Perform after foam rolling, as the last component of a workout

If you don’t own or have access to a  foam roller I highly recommend getting access to a foam roller. Foam rolling can be beneficial in improving flexibility and reducing soreness in tight, overused muscles. An example of tight, overused muscles common to runners and triathletes are the hip flexor (thigh) muscles. To improve flexibility and lengthen these muscles roll on the hip flexors until you find the most tender/sore areas and apply pressure with the foam roller for 30 seconds (see picture below). If performed on a regular basis, this can result in increased range of motion when bringing the back foot up towards the glutes. This will increase the power with each stride, increasing speed.

http://www.menshealth.co.uk/cm/menshealthuk/images/Lw/quadriceps.jpg

Final note: A maintenance program should be designed to accomplish a few goals, which will help transition us into successfully building aerobic fitness for the next running season. The goals of a maintenance program are to maintain and start rebuilding endurance, and to address muscle imbalances and flexibility issues to improve running form (biomechanics), so that we are more efficient runners with less chance of developing running-related injuries, and possibly start incorporating some short intervals to improve running economy (similar to efficiency) and biomechanics.

Please contact me if you have any questions. I would love to hear from you!

See you on the road or trail.

Brian

Cross-training for Runners for Maintenance During the Off-Season

Cross-training is an important part of any runners training program, during preparation for races and during the off-season. Cross-training can be used to maintain fitness during rehabilitation from an injury and during the off-season. This article focuses on how to effectively use cross-training during the off-season to maintain fitness.

What is cross-training?

• Performing exercises which elevate heart rate and maintain cardiovascular and skeletal muscle fitness

• Includes:

– Swimming/deep pool running

– Outdoor cycling, exercise bikes, spin classes

– Elliptical machine

– Rowing machine

– Cross-country skiing

– Snowshoeing

– Aerobic-type classes

– Team sports including basketball and indoor soccer

– My recommendation: Choose the mode(s) that are most enjoyable for you

Cross-training does not include strength training, although strengthening exercises should be part on a maintenance program as well. The importance of strength training during maintenance and guidelines will be discussed in an upcoming article.

Why is cross-training important?

• Helps maintain or even improves fitness

• Helps prevent over-use injuries

• Helps reduce muscle imbalances

• Helps maintain or even improve body composition

• Provides a psychological boost when you return to running by providing variety

It can be beneficial to take a couple of weeks off from running at the end of the season. However, research has shown if we stop exercising for only a couple of weeks significant aerobic fitness adaptations can be lost. Therefore, cross-training during this time is important.

Guidelines for cross-training:

• Frequency: Minimum of two-three days/week, no more than five days/week

• Duration: 20-60 minutes

• Intensity: Low to moderate

– Once every 2-3 weeks perform 4-6 high intensity intervals for 30 seconds each with full recovery between intervals

Cross-training activities that occur in different planes of motion than running can be particularly beneficial. These would include skating and cross-country skiing using the skate technique. These modes of exercise use muscles primarily in the frontal plane (side-to-side motion), as opposed to running which primarily in the sagittal plane (forward and back motion). Team sports such as basketball and indoor soccer can also include motion in different planes (frontal and transverse). Many of the injuries common to runners result from lack of development of muscles responsible for frontal and transverse plane motion (for example, outer hips or hip abductors).

Other considerations

• Swimming:

– Strengthening rotator cuff muscles to prevent injury due to muscle imbalance

– Rotator cuff exercises (external and internal rotation):

o http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Infraspinatus/DBLyingExternalRotation.html

o http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Subscapularis/DBInternalRotationFloor.html

• Cycling:

– Make sure properly fitted on your bike to avoid IT Band syndrome

– Cadence should be at least 85 revolutions per minute

– Stretch hip flexors after cycling workout:

o http://www.exrx.net/Stretches/HipFlexors/KneelingHipFlexor.html

• Rowing:

– Pull with the muscle groups in descending order of power using the legs first, then the back and then the arms (legs, back, arms)

– To return to the starting position use the reverse order extend the arms, lean forward, and finally pull forward with the legs (arms, back, legs)

– Keep the back straight by pivoting from the hips rather than bending from the waist

• Spin classes:

– Adjust to proper fit (slight bend in knee at bottom of pedal stroke, slight bend in elbows)

– Don’t do drills which you wouldn’t do on a road bike, such as very high resistance which causes your cadence to be very low or moving into odd saddle positions

Final Note: Although this article has stressed the importance of cross-training in the off-season, especially the winter in which it can be difficult to train outdoors, you should not discontinue running for a significant period of time. You may take a 1-2 weeks off from running, but otherwise you should run at least two days per week in the off-season. In future articles, I will provide more information on what to do in the off-season for maintenance to help you transition into the 2014 running season.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I appreciate your questions and comments.

See you on the road or trail,

Brian

General Guidelines for Preparing for Race Goal

Recently I was finishing up one of my long runs and started stretching. As I was stretching I overheard someone speaking with a friend of his about doing a marathon in the fall. I’m not into eavesdropping, but my ears perked up when he mentioned doing a marathon. She asked him what type of training program he was going to follow. His response was that he was basically going to “wing it”. Now there is a recipe for disaster!

So in this week’s blog I want to talk about the need for a plan to get to your running goals. Basically, you can’t just “wing it” if you want to be at your best on race day and avoid injuries.

Last time I mentioned setting realistic goals. This is your first step. Then you have to figure out how you are going to get there. Below are things you need to consider. For many of these I have just given some basic guidelines, which I will provide more detail on later either on this website or if you attend my workshops or if I work with you as a coach.

1. Proper shoes – If you are new to running or haven’t run in a while, I highly recommend getting fitted at a reputable running store. Make sure that the person who does your fitting is knowledgeable. You may want to ask running friends about this or you can ask the manager and/or owner of the store about shoe fitting. They should put you on a treadmill and videotape your stride as you run on the treadmill. They should be looking at how your foot strikes. They should also be finding out the type of arch you have (high, normal, flat). They should be measuring your foot length and width. When you do the fitting make sure you are wearing socks that you would run in. Also if you wear orthotics make sure you try on shoes with these. The salesperson should have you try on at least three pairs and at least two different brands. Walk around in these shoes and if possible see if you can run with them either on a treadmill in the store or better yet outside. It can be difficult to determine how comfortable the shoes will be while you are at the store, so make sure you find out about the store’s return policy. Also I would recommend getting a second pair, if not on that day, soon after. If you are really happy with that model pick up a second pair. Or you may want to go with another brand that you tried on which is similar. The problem with running shoes is that models don’t stay around for long. Running shoe manufacturers are constantly changing and discontinuing models. Sometimes the changes are beneficial; sometimes they are not.

2. Proper nutrition – Typically the recommendation for adults is approximately 55% of calories from carbohydrates, with almost all of these as complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), approximately 25-30% of calories as fats, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fats, and 10-15% of calories from proteins. For runners and other endurance athletes the percentage of total calories which are carbohydrate should be even greater, such as 60% or more. That means less calories from fat. My recommendation is to spread out your calorie intake throughout the day so that you are eating about every 2-3 hours. Also drink plenty of water. My recommendation is to divide your body weight in pounds by 2 and number is the amount of water in ounces you should take in each day, as a minimum.

3. Periodized plan – To get to your goal you will need to have a periodized program. If your goal is to complete a half marathon and you are just getting into running you are not going to just go out and run 13 miles. You have to build up to this in the proper way. Typically, your training should be divided into phases that will target certain aspects of your cardiovascular and energy systems, as well as muscles, to best get you to your goal and avoid injury.

4. Strength training and flexibility – Injuries are very common among runners. Approximately 70-80 percent of runners incur at least one injury each year that causes them to stop running for a significant period of time. Wow! Many of these injuries are due to muscle weaknesses/imbalances and poor flexibility. Therefore, for all runners there needs to be exercises done to address muscle weaknesses/imbalances and in addition, stretches need to be performed improve flexibility at the hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder joints to maximize performance and reduce injury risk. Core strengthening, of muscles including the hips, abdominals, and lower back is very important for runners.

5. Cross-training – To get better at running you need to run. But running alone can take its toll on the body. So it is important to incorporate cross-training once or twice a week. This would include biking, swimming, inline skating, etc. This will help to maintain your fitness level, but work some of your other muscles. It may be necessary to result solely on cross-training if you develop an injury that prevents you from running.

6. Support – We all need a support system, whether it is from family, friends, running clubs, etc. or more likely a combination of these. Preparation for your first half or full marathon is not easy and workouts sometimes don’t go as planned. Plus, we all have other commitments in life. Therefore, having a support network can play a vital role in our success in attaining our running goals.

7. A schedule – Based on our busy lives we have to determine how much time and what times we have available to devote to training. Typically, I schedule my workouts just like I would a dentist or doctor appointment. That way I can commit that time for my workout. So I highly recommend that you sit down and map out what days and what times you are going to have available to train.

8. Pacing – This can be difficult to do, but it is very important in races, so that you don’t fatigue too early.

9. A coach – I know I’m biased with this one. However, I strongly recommend a coach. They have been through this process of planning to achieve goals in races and can help you get to your goals, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I know there are lots of online programs that you can get for free; however, keep in mind that these are very generic. The person who came up with these programs doesn’t know you. They have no idea what your fitness level and goals are, and certainly won’t know your schedule or any muscle weaknesses and areas where you lack flexibility. Only a coach who can work one-on-one with you will be able to determine these and design a customized program that will be best for you.

Stay tuned for more information which pertains to those points. I will be starting a series of blogs which includes strengthening exercises and stretches.

Until next time… see you on the road (or trail)