What You Eat and Don’t Eat Can Affect Your Performance, As Well As Your Immune System and Your Susceptibility to Viruses, Such as COVID-19





Hello Runners,

I hope you continue to stay healthy and well in these crazy times. I also hope that you are connecting with other people, including loved ones and friends that you may not have been in touch with for a while. I have appreciated having more time together with my wife, Karen, and our dog, Zadar. I also recently connected with some college friends that I haven’t been in touch with for a while. It was a lot of fun! So, there has been some silver lining to our current situation. I hope you are finding your own silver lining and staying positive.

In a previous blog I provided some tips for building and boosting the immune system. One of the areas of science and medicine that is receiving more and more attention the microbiome and how it can impact health. In this post, I will briefly discuss what the microbiome is, how it can impact your immune system, and what you can do to support your microbiome, so that you can avoid the impact of COVID-19 and other viral and bacterial infections.

What is the Microbiome

The microbiome refers to all organisms that live in and on our bodies, includes bacteria, viruses, fungal organisms, one cell protozoa; basically all microscopic “critters” that inhibit our body. There are more than 100 trillion of these organisms in and on our bodies, which is over three times the number of cells in our body! Most of these microbes are beneficial, however some are not, and can cause disease.

Although all body surfaces, orifices, and cavities are teeming with microbes, the vast majority are located within our large intestine and make up what is known as the gut microbiome or microbiota. Since we can have the greatest effect on microbes in this area of the body, I will focus the rest of this post on the gut microbiome, and not microbiomes of other areas of the body.

The microbes that make up the gut microbiome can have a profound effect on all functions of our body, including hormone levels (can affect performance through such things as energy production), nutrient absorption, metabolism (important for producing the energy we need to run), brain function, and the immune system.

Variety is important for health and performance, when it comes to microbes. Unfortunately, the average American adult has ~1200 different species of bacteria in the gut. This number is significantly less than other populations, such as the Amerindian living in the Amazon of Venezuela which has 1600 species of gut bacteria. This lack of diversity in Americans can be attributed to our overly processed diet, overuse of antibiotics, and sterilized homes. However, the microbiome exhibits plasticity, meaning it can be changed and improved, thus providing us with the opportunity to shape it in a way that optimizes our health, as well as our performance.

How is the Microbiome Connected to the Immune System

As I mentioned, the gut microbiome affects many functions in the body, and it is worth discussing the role it plays in hormone levels, nutrient absorption, and function of the mitochondria because they can all impact our running performance. However, due to our current situation I will focus on the impact that the gut microbiome has on the immune system in this post, and save these other important functions for later posts.

The gut microbes of our microbiome are in constant communication with the part of the immune system (mucosal immune system) located in the intestine. These microbes help the immune system discriminate between harmless foreign entities like food and harmful ones like Salmonella. The microbiome helps train the immune system to make the distinction, so that we have a proper response of the immune system. An improperly trained immune system can lead to allergic reactions to substances that would otherwise be harmless, such as pollen.

Research has shown that the gut microbiome can not only impact the local or mucosal immune system, but also the more systemic immune system, impacting the rest of our body. For example, Hao et al. (2015) concluded from several research studies that consuming probiotics can also lower rates of upper respiratory tract infections, thus suggesting probiotic bacteria can tap into the function of the immune system in the gut (local) and systemically. Probiotics are basically strains of microbes that when taken can temporarily increase the number of microbes in the microbiome. Although there are no current studies showing a positive effect of probiotics on the lower respiratory tract, which is the primary region affected by COVID-19, the fact that microbes in the gut can affect the immune system in the lungs is promising.

In addition, there is some evidence that COVID-19 infection may lead to intestinal infection, as they found the presence of the virus in feces. (Zhang et al. 2020), thus showing the importance of the mucosal immune system in combatting COVID-19, as well as the systemic immune system.

How Can We Support The Microbiome In Order To Support Our Mucosal and Systemic Immune Systems

Basically, we need to provide foods that feed the good microbes and eliminate or at least minimize the foods that feed the bad microbes. This can be a challenge for many runners, who really heavily on foods and beverages with added sugars. These sugars feed yeasts and other microbes that can negatively impact our immune system and health. For events and long runs consider using supplements like UCAN, Vitargo, or Infinit-E (Millenium Sports), instead of the typical gels, sports drinks, etc. that contain significant amounts of added sugars.

It is important to add variety in the diet and not eat the same short list of foods day after day, week after week. This is the opportunity to get a little creative with your recipes and explore some new foods! Eating a wide variety of fiber-containing foods (especially onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as fruits, vegetables, legumes and some unrefined whole grains) provides different fibers to feed a greater variety of microbes, allowing them to flourish. This will also squeezing out harmful microbes, such as Candida. So as far as vegetables, “eat the rainbow”, that is eat vegetables of different colors. As far as fruits, berries are a great option!

You should consume enough fruits and vegetables daily that would include at least 25 grams of fiber per day. The average Americans consumes about half of this. These fiber-containing foods act as prebiotics, because they provide the food for beneficial microbes in the gut, which will promote their growth.

Other foods that can help support the microbiome include coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil or flaxseed oil), and fermented foods (unpasteurized sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, yogurt, miso, kimchi, kombucha). Probiotics, which are discussed below, can also be beneficial.

In addition the intake of other foods should be eliminated or minimized including: processed foods, gluten, dairy, added sugars, alcohol, caffeine, peanuts, beef, pork, and saturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can all be detrimental to the microbiome and gut health and thus, negatively impact the immune system.

What About Probiotics

We hear a lot about probiotics. So, what are they and what is their role in the microbiome and for our immune system health?

Probiotic means “for life” and are “live” micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (FAO/WHO). Probiotic bacteria are transient visitors to the gut and offer a method distinct from diet to tune the microbiome, so that it can more effectively work with the immune system. As they drift through the digestive tract, probiotics communicate with resident microbes and intestinal cells. This can help in fighting colds, flus, and diarrheal illnesses. However, since most probiotics are not well-suited to live in the gut, they are transient and must be consumed regularly.

There are several considerations that should be made in selecting probiotics. First, the probiotics should be refrigerated so that the microbes are live. So, do not purchase probiotics that are not refrigerated because basically you are getting dead microbes that are of little or no value. The probiotics that are available are typically only a few different microbes, basically those that can be most easily produced by supplement companies. The effects of these probiotics can be unique to individuals because of differences in microbiota and this can vary daily as a person’s own microbiota fluctuates. So, it is impossible to predict the effect of consuming a specific probiotic. Thus, it is most beneficial to consume fermented foods in addition to taking probiotics.

Beware of claims by companies pushing probiotics. Avoid buying probiotics from online or e-commerce companies, especially those that sell only one product. Check to make sure third party testing was done in order to insure for safety of the supplement. U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) provides 3rd party evaluations on product’s labels for supplements. Only purchase supplements from reputable companies.

Discontinue use probiotic products that cause uncomfortable bloating, excessive gas, or headaches.

What’s Your Gut Microbiome Like?

There is still lots to learn about the microbiome and the impact it has on immune system, as well as other aspects of our health, and performance. You can learn about the health of your own microbiome through the American Gut Project. For $99 and a stool sample you can get a list of the bacteria in your gut to see how diverse your microbiome is, as well as how much of your microbiome is beneficial and how much is detrimental to your health. It is also possible to retest your microbiome to see if it has improved with any dietary changes you implement.

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

Stay healthy and stay positive!

Your friend and coach,




Dr. Robynne Chutkan. The Microbiome Solution.

Dr. Tom O’Bryan. The Autoimmune Fix.

Dr. Mark Hyman, Interconnected Episode 1: The Missing Piece in Health and Longevity.

The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health by Justin and Erica Sonnenberg, Penguin Press. NYC, 2015.

Yatsunenko, T et al. “Human Gut Microbiome Viewed Across Age and Geography.” Nature, 486.7402 (2012), 222-27.

Zhang Y, Chen C, Zhu S et al. [Isolation of 2019-nCoV from a stool specimen of a laboratory-confirmed case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)]. China CDC Weekly. 2020;2(8):123–4.


Hao, Q, et al. “Probiotics for Preventing Acute Upper Respiratory Tract Infections.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2 (2015).

Shi N, Li N, Duan X, Niu H. Interaction between the gut microbiome and mucosal immune system. Mil Med Res. 2017 Apr 27.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training.

FAO/WHO Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food. 2002.

Disclaimer: All the information presented in this blog is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before taking supplements or using any other recommendation in this post. Use of the advice and information contained in this website is at sole choice and risk of the reader.  In no way will Denver Running Coach or any persons associated with Denver Running Coach or Enlightened Performance LLC be held responsible for any injuries or problems that may occur due to the use of the advice contained within this post.  Denver Running Coach and Enlightened Performance LLC will not be held responsible for the conduct of any companies recommended within this post.

Disclaimer: Dr. Brian Hand does not invest in or benefit in any way financially from any products mentioned in this post.

You Need to Strengthen Your Upper Body as Well To Optimize Your Running Performance, Here’s How


Hello Runners,

I hope you and your family are staying healthy.

I remember looking for the first time at a photo that my wife took of me several years ago when I was running the Virginia Beach Marathon. The picture was taken at about mile 23 or 24 of the marathon and it was certainly not a flattering picture. My shoulders were hunched up and my head was cocked to one side. Also in the picture was another runner whose running form and body posture was much better than mine. She looked strong and I looked like I was in pain. We ended up finishing the marathon together, but she definitely had a stronger finish than I.

The marathon can really bring out muscle weaknesses, which result in us having to compensate with other muscles, thus causing us to fatigue faster and result in us having to slow our pace. Obviously this results in not optimizing our running performance.

Although many runners engage in strengthening exercises for the core, hips, and legs, which is certainly beneficial, they ignore upper body strengthening. This was certainly the case for me in the Virginia Beach marathon, and although at the time I set a personal record in the marathon, I often wonder how much I might have improved my performance, if I had been stronger in the upper body.

In the last post, I discussed what to if your event is postponed or cancelled. Since it may be several months before there are running events, now may be a great time to address such things as muscle weaknesses, such as in the upper body.

Why Is Upper Body Strength Important

Now when I’m talking about upper body strengthening, I’m not talking about going to the gym and loading up a barbell with a bunch of weight and pumping out a bunch of repetitions doing a chest press. Our purpose is not to build a bunch of muscle mass. However, we want to have strength over an extended period of time to swing our arms and maintain upper body posture.

Arm swing is tied to our leg swing or running cadence (steps per minute), and running cadence is one of the two factors that affect our running speed. The other factor is stride length. Increasing our cadence, compared with increasing our stride length, can often be a better way to increase our speed, because a longer stride length may increase our risk for injury.

Also, if we are not able to maintain proper upper body posture, this can throw our running form out of whack, and result in us having to compensate with other muscles, especially core and lower body muscles. These muscles will be used more and will fatigue faster, thus resulting in us having to slow our pace.

What Upper Body Exercises Should I Do and How Much

Here are some upper body exercises I recommend and how to perform them:

  • Pushups
    • Perform either a standard or knee-assisted pushup
    • Start in a prone position with arms bent and with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart
    • Push away from the floor with a smooth and controlled movement keeping the entire body from head to feet in one plane, with back straight, until the arms are fully extended
    • Exhale while pushing up
    • Slowly lower the body by bending at the elbows until the chest is parallel and touching, or nearly touching the ground
    • Inhale while you lower your body
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions
  • Y, T, I, and W
    • While lying prone on the floor (on your stomach) with arms overhead angled outward to approximately a 45 degree angle, thumbs pointing up raise the arms while exhaling and pause briefly to form a Y, keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground as much as possible
    • Lower the arms to the ground and position them so they are straight out to the side with the thumbs still pointing up
    • Slowly raise the arms as high as possible while exhaling and keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground to form a T
    • Pause briefly at the top while squeezing your shoulder blades together
    • Then lower the arms and position them at the side of your body with thumbs still pointing up
    • Slowly raise the arms up as high as possible while exhaling, keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground to form an I
    • Pause briefly
    • Then slowly lower the arms while inhaling
    • Now position the arm and hands with palms facing down to form a W
    • Then slowly raise the arms and hands while exhaling and keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground
    • Pause and then slowly lower while inhaling
    • Repeat each of these positions
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions for each position
    • Here is a video for this exercise, although it does not show thumbs pointing up, nor the W position:


  • Inchworms
    • Stand with both feet on the ground
    • Place the hands flat on the ground as far as forward as you can with the heels remaining flat on the ground.
    • Move the hands forward until the heels start to come off the ground
    • When the heels begin to come off the ground, walk your feet forward so that they are flat on the ground again
    • Then repeat with the hands moving forward
    • Breathe normally during this exercise
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions or until fatigue
    • Picture of inchworm exercises:
    • Inch-Worm_Exercise
    • Here is a video of this exercise:
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19gpqxQBwo

I recommend incorporating these exercises at least 2-3 times per week and work up to performing 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise. These are best performed after your run, but could be performed as part of your warmup, or at another time during the day.

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

Stay healthy and positive.

Your friend and coach,


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






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






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









  • 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






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.








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,












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:









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:


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:







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:








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,





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,




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.

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:



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:



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:



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,




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







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,




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.


Simple Cues To Help You Optimize Your Running Form To Run Faster and Help Avoid Injury


Hello Runnerrunning form image 2s,

In the last blog, I discussed the key aspects of optimal running form, especially in relation to body position, feet, arm swing, hip extension, and rhythm or cadence. In this post, I will share simple cues that you can use in order to help improve your running form in these areas. It is best to focus on only one or two of these at a time, for a few weeks, until they start becoming automatic, and then you can move on to another cue. Also, I recommend focusing on this cue for 10-20 seconds every 5-10 minutes, otherwise you will most likely be mentally exhausted at the end of your run, especially a long run! Another possibility is to focus on a cue while you are performing strides. If you are not familiar with strides click here to learn what they are and how they are beneficial.

So, here are a few cues to help you optimize your running form:

  • “Run tall”
    • Helps you engage your core, thus improving running posture, and also helps with hip extension, so that you can generate more power during your stride
  • “Imagine someone in front of you grabbing you by your shirt and lifting you up at the chest”
    • Similar to “Run tall” in that it forces you to engage the core
    • I like this cue better because it can also help with forward lean and helps prevent overstriding
  • “Extend the hips”
    • Focus on extending the hips when the knee is at its highest point until impact with the ground
    • Increases power, and thus speed, as the glutes are activated, and will create a recoil or rebound force with the ground, thus generating passive energy to propel you forward– hip extension, increases power of stride and thus speed
  • “Watch the horizon and try to limit it to a slight bounce”
    • Helps you create the right angle to propel yourself forward, so you are not moving too vertical or too horizontal
    • Helps you avoid contacting the ground too long and being too bouncy (up-and-down) with your stride
  • “Hip-to-Nip”
    • Stimulates arm swing, which facilitates coordination between the arm and opposite leg
    • Helps improve cadence and thus, running speed
  • “Think of knees as headlights that you shine straight ahead”
    • Helps engage and open hips to minimize risk of several common injuries including plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome (knee pain), which results from inward collapse of hips, knees, and ankles
  • “Put your foot down underneath you”
    • Helps prevents overstriding
  • “Leave the ankle/foot alone”
    • Helps minimize the loss of energy caused when activating the muscles of the lower leg and hamstrings
    • Activating these muscles can increase risk of injury
  • “Lean from the ankles”
    • Helps facilitate appropriate forward lean, which can improve speed

The key is to make gradual changes and to prepare for alterations in form by conditioning the body, which will be discussed in future posts.

I offer running evaluations to assess running form and can help you identify the cues that would be most beneficial to improve your running form.

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

Your friend and coach,



Cindy Kuzma. “Hips”. Sports Medicine Clinic, Boulder, CO, February 2015.

Road Runners Club of America Certification boulder, CO, May 2013.

Steve Magness. Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.


Keys To Optimal Running Form

running form image

Hello Runners,

When I see other runners, I can’t help but notice their running form. In my head I will say things like, “They should relax their shoulders”, “They should swing their arms”, “They should use their hips more, so they get knee lift and aren’t shuffling their feet.”

Running form is critical to optimize your running performance and help minimize the risk of injury. This article is the first of a series of articles related to running form and how to improve it.

So how should you run? I’ve listened to and read advice from different running coaches, exercise physiologists, and biomechansists. I’ve implemented these recommendations myself, and I wanted to share with you what I have found to be the most important aspects of efficient running form.

Here are the key aspects to running form:

  • Body position
    • Your body should be upright, thus requiring you to engage the core muscles. You should think of “running tall.” To help increase your speed you should have a slight forward lean from the ankles. It is important that this lean not come from the waist.
    • Your head, face, shoulders, and arms should be relaxed.
    • You should look ahead on the horizon with you chin slightly tipped down
  • Feet
    • As soon as your knee comes forward put your foot down underneath you. You should land slightly on the outer portion of the foot and ideally land on your midfoot, close to the center of your body.
    • As you land, the ankle should be in the neutral position, not in a flexed or extended (pointed toes) position.
    • Allow the heel to settle on the ground.
    • Push the big toe down allowing it to act as a locking mechanism before the foot leaves the ground, ensuring the foot acts as one entire unit. Do not try to get any extra propulsion by pushing off with the toes consciously. Instead, forward propulsion should come from hip extension (see below), and the foot should just be along for the ride.
    • Allow the foot to come up off the ground on its own, don’t actively contract the calves or hamstrings to pull the foot up towards the buttocks.
  • Arm swing
    • The arms and legs should work together in a coordinated fashion. When the left leg is forward, the right arm should be forward and vice versa. When the arm stops moving forward and is about to reverse direction, the opposite leg should reach its maximum backward movement before switching directions and coming forward, the opposite leg and hip should be at their maximum extension backwards
    • Your shoulders should be relaxed. Your arms should be bent at the elbow to form an angle of slightly less than 90 degrees between your forearm and upper arm. Have your hands lightly cupped like you were holding a fragile object that you didn’t want to drop, but that you didn’t want to crush.
    • The arm swing occurs from the shoulders, so that the shoulders don’t turn or sway. It is a simple pendulum-like forward and backward motion without crossing of the arms in front of the body.
    • Swing the arms so that the hands brush the top of the hips on the backswing and then swing them forward to the nipple line or slightly above.
  • Hip extension
    • Your power comes from extending the hips. Think of the hips as pistons that move up and down.
    • Focus on extending the hip and then leave it alone until you would extend it again. Do not actively contract the hip and/or hamstrings to bring the foot up behind you. This is a waste of energy. Allow the elastic energy you generated by extending the hip and impacting the ground automatically bring the foot up and forward.
    • Once the hip is extended, the recovery phase starts. The recovery cycle of the leg will happen automatically. The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then runner’s job to put it down underneath them. Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee. Don’t try to actively move the leg through the recovery phase, this is a waste of energy and slows the recovery phase cycle.
    • How close the lower leg comes to the buttocks depends on the amount of hip extension. Ideally, the closer the leg comes to the buttocks the better because the leg will cycle through the recovery phase faster.
  • Rhythm
    • Control your rhythm (or cadence) and speed through arm swing and hip extension.
    • Your cadence should be between 160-200 steps per minute.
    • Breathing rhythmically

In the next post, I will discuss cues you can use to make any needed changes to your running mechanics.

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

I do offer running evaluations to assess running form. Please let me know if you are interested or would like more information.

Your friend and coach,




Adam St. Pierre. Running Mechanics presented at USA Triathlon Certification Training, 2015.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. 2014.

Jack Daniels Daniels’ Running Formula Second Edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2005.

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy of Running.

Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Course

Steve Magness. The Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.

USAT Training DVD Series. The Run with Bobbie McGee.

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,



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