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

optimism

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjcoVkZv55E

  • 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,

Brian

Marathon Training 2019 Day 69: Train Like An Athlete, Not Just a Runner, or Risk Not Achieving Your Running Goals in 2019

March 29 2019 Snowshoeing in RMNP on KJs bday

 

 

 

 

 

Today I ran ~10 miles at a comfortable pace and included 4 x 8-second hill sprints towards the end of this run with full recovery in between hill sprints.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Single-leg stand (~60 seconds for each leg)
  • Pushups on a stability ball (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and backward (15 repetitions on each side and in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~45 seconds)
  • Side planks (~40 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~30 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions + hold for 30 seconds after last repetition)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Toe yoga (10 repetitions times for each foot)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balance (~30 seconds for each leg)
  • Bounced on stability ball with smaller ball in between knees (3 minutes)

After these exercises I did active isolate stretching for the calf muscles and ball rolling for the calf muscles and plantar fascia.

While I was performing my ten mile run, I was thinking about the importance of training like an athlete, not just a runner. Running is a repetitive exercise performed primarily in one plane of motion, the sagittal, or front-to-back, plane. However, it is important to be able to stabilize motion in the other two planes of motion, the frontal, or side-to-side, plane, and the transverse, or rotational, plane. In fact, lack of stability, mobility, and strength in these planes leads to many of the common injuries experienced by runners, including IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and issues of the knee and ankles. Therefore, runners need to train like athletes and improve stability, mobility, and stregnth in all three planes of motion. Thus, I have included exercises in the fitness training program for this. If you have not received the fitness training program, you can access this by opting in on the Welcome Page, under “Subscribe to My Newsletter.” Such exercises would include monster walks from side-to-side (frontal plane exercise) and forwards and backwards (transverse plane exercise).

You can also improve stability, mobility, and strength in the frontal and transverse planes of motion through certan modes of cross-training. One of my neighbors is a very fast runner and I see him running with his young daughter from time-to-time. Last week I saw her rollerblading, which is going to help her build stability, mobility, and strength in the frontal plane. She’s going to be a great athlete and runner!  Cross-country skiing is another great cross-training activity that will similarly be beneficial in the frontal plane. For this, and other reasons, I like to include cross-country skiing for some of my cross-training workouts. Other forms of cross-training can also be beneficial for improving stability, mobility, and stregnth, so I recommend including some variety in the modes of cross-training that you perform. My wife’s birthday was this past Friday, and we sprent a couple of days snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snowshoeing is another great mode of cross-training. I have continued to feel the effects of those workouts in my glutes, which is also going to help me have more power in my running stride, and thus be a better athlete and runner.

So, embrace being an athlete and not just a runner, to improve your chances of achieving your running goals for 2019.

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

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Marathon Training 2019 Day 55: Benefits of Resistance Training (Weightlifting) and When Should You Perform This

March 5 2019 run“Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things.” – Byron Dorgan

This post is from Sunday’s workout in which I ran ~8 miles at an easy pace. I also included 5 x 8-second hill sprints with full recovery during this run. Immediately after my run I performed the following strengthening exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with straight leg and bent leg (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with straight leg and bent leg (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg stands (~60 seconds)
  • Pushups on stability ball (8 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward-and-back (12 steps in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~40 seconds)
  • Side planks (~30 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~20 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balances (~30 seconds)
  • Bounce on stability ball with smaller ball between thighs (3 minutes)

After these exercise I rolled the plantar fascia with a softball because of some plantar fasciitis creeping up and foam rolled calves, hip flexors/quadriceps and hamstrings.

Tip of the Day:

Performing strengthening exercises that address muscle imbalances/weaknesses, improve stability and mobility, and improve power and speed are an important component of every runners training program. These exercises can improve running performance and help minimize the risk of injury.

The question is, on what days should you perform strengthening exercise, especially those exercises of higher resistance and lower repetitions, such as when using weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, or even, just body weight?

True or False: The best time to perform heavier resistance training is on your harder run days, such as when you perform long runs or speed work.

I have spoken with many runners about the best time to perform resistance training. Some runners have asked me if the best time to perform harder resistance or strengthening workouts is on easy run days or days off from running. This discussion leads to another important component of your training, which I mentioned in a previous post, which is recovery. Adaptations to the training you do occur during recovery, not when you are actually performing the workout. Therefore, you need appropriate time to recover. If you are doing harder resistance training or strengthening exercises on your easier or off days from running, there is little or no time for recovery. Thus, you won’t get the benefits from the speed workout or long run you did. Major bummer! 🙁  You also won’t get the benefits of a harder resistance or strengthening workout. Double bummer.

Yes, I know for time sake it would be easier to fit the harder resistance or strengthening workout on a shorter, easy run day, or a day off from running. However, you don’t need to spend hours at the gym lifting weights, like my brother and I used to do when we were younger, and I had other goals than improving my run time.

So, the answer to the statement above is true. The time needed to perform harder resistance and strengthening exercises should be at most 15-20 minutes. You can see above the exercises that I did after a long run, and this took me about 15 minutes to perform. Also, I recommend performing the resistance training after your run, because the run should be the most important component of that day’s workout.

So, remember the following, “Keep the easy days easy, and the hard days hard.” This will allow you to stress your body on the hard days (and offer additional challenge from the resistance training, basically feeling like you have run additional miles) and allow your body to adapt during the easy days (such as easy run with strides, brisk walk or low to moderate cross-training workout). For example, in the Fitness Training Program I have included monster walks with a resistance band on long run days and days when I’m performing hill sprints, but not on days when I’m doing an easy-paced run with strides. On easy run days, I have included exercises that should not be as challenging resistance-wise, but still beneficial.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to be smart with incorporating and progressing harder resistance or strengthening exercises into your training plan, or you can be injured and that can set your training back. Many of us have desk jobs and thus, have significant muscles imbalances and weaknesses that should be addressed first, before using heavy resistance.

I also highly recommend that you have a spotter with exercises in which you are lifting weights.

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

I wish you the best with your training.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Get Ready To Achieve Your Running Goals for 2017!

Hello Runners and Happy New Year!  I hope that you had a great 2016 and are looking forward to an awesome 2017!

Have you thought about what you want to accomplish as a runner in 2017?  Is it improving your fitness and health?  Do you want to improve on your time in a 5k, 10k, half, full marathon, or ultra distance event?  No matter what your goals are, there are things you should consider, and steps you should take to maximize your chance of achieving your running goals in 2017.  In this article I’m going to briefly discuss five steps to take, which can help get you started on your journey to achieving your running goals for 2017.  So, that you can have a smile on your face when you have done so!

Step 1: Have testing and assessments done

Depending on your age, health, and last visit you should meet with your physician to be cleared to participate in vigorous physical activity.  First and foremost, you should make sure that you don’t have current disease, such as heart or pulmonary disease.  You also want to be sure that your thyroid and metabolic system are functioning properly.  Please check out this previous blog that provides more details on what you should have assessed, including vitamin D and certain hormone levels:

http://www.denverrunningcoach.com/what-are-your-vitamin-d-levels-and-other-important-testing-for-runners-and-triathletes/

I strongly encourage you to have the function of your shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle joints assessed.  A physical therapist or physiotherapist can identify any possible muscle weaknesses/imbalances or flexibility issues that might be negatively impacting your running performance, increase your risk of injury, and potentially keep you from achieving your running goals in 2017.

Also, if you have not done so, I encourage you to have your running form evaluated.  There may be some minor tweaks or adjustments to your running form that may significantly improve your running performance and help minimize the risk of injury.  This can be performed by a biomechanist, exercise physiologist, or running coach.

For example, I have noticed a number of runners who have their shoulders hunched and/or rounded and have their heads forward.  I know a lot of this has to do with the fact that many of us have desk jobs and we spend hour after hour, day after day, hunched over our computers.  If you are training for longer events like half and full marathons running with hunched and rounded shoulders and a forward head will take its toll!  The upper body will fatigue and will cause other areas of the body to have to work harder to compensate.  Thus, these areas will fatigue faster as well.  So, one important aspect of successful running form is keeping your shoulders relaxed.  When you run you should check periodically to make sure they are relaxed.  If not, shake out your shoulders and hands and reposition them so that your shoulders are relaxed.  In a future article, I will discuss other tips that can help you improve your running form. 
Step 2: Assessing Time for Training and Establishing Goals

Before establishing your running goals for 2017, you should consider how much time you will honestly have for training.  You should honestly assess the time for other important commitments in your life, such as family, work and/or school, time with friends, community, other hobbies/interests, and yes, sleep!  After you have determined the amount of time for these, how much time do you have left for training?  You should also consider your current fitness level and amount of time you have been involved with running in developing your goals.

Also, the goals that you develop for yourself should be challenging and a reach, however you should feel that they are attainable, if you dedicated yourself to their achievement.

Now, write down your goals and how it will feel and what impact this will on your life once you have achieved them.  Post your goals somewhere where you can see them every day, such as on your refrigerator (where I put mine), bathroom mirror, etc.

Step 3: Support

Who will your support team be?  I like to think of this on two levels.  First, who will work with you with the commitments you have, so that you have time available for training?  For example, if you have children and need to take them to school, practices, watch them, etc.   Work out a schedule with your significant other and others who can trade off with you, so that you have time available for training.  For work, you may want to discuss having some flexibility in your work schedule with your boss/supervisor and co-workers, so that you can fit in your workouts.

Second, who will hold you accountable or lend an ear when things aren’t going well with your training?  Who is going to hold you accountable so that you get in most, if not all, of your workouts?  Does it help to train with someone like a significant other, friend or friends, local running group or club?  You might consider hiring a coach, who you meet with, or at least speak with on the phone, every week or couple of weeks, to make sure you stay on track to achieve your running goals.

Also, consider who will support you emotionally if your training isn’t going well.

Step 4: Running shoes/attire

Take a look at the soles of your current running shoes.  How worn are they?  At some point this year you will need to purchase new running shoes.  I will post a more complete article on this in the near future.  For now, here are three important factors to consider when purchasing your next pair of running shoes:

  1. Avoid high heels, that is a shoe with a significant drop in height from the heel to the front of the shoe. This negatively impacts proprioceptive responses in the foot (see more on proprioception below).  Instead, use a flatter shoe.  Initially, you may want to try a shoe with approximately a 6 mm drop from the heel to the front of the shoe.  Then, at some point, you may consider transitioning to a shoe that is zero-drop or close to a zero-drop shoe.  You may consider this not only for your running shoes, but also the shoes you wear the rest of the day.  Your feet and body will thank you for it.
  2. Avoid too much cushioning. A big factor in maximizing your running performance while minimizing the risk of injury comes from your body’s ability to respond when you have one foot on the ground.  This is termed proprioception.  The more in contact your foot is with the ground or surface you are running on, the better the proprioception.  The more cushioning you have in your shoes, the worse the proprioception, so your body is not able to respond to changes in running surface and your joint positions as well.  Thus, too much cushioning can negatively impact running performance and may increase your risk of injury.
  3. Get a shoe with a wide toe box, so that you can spread your toes. This will help you better control with your toes.  So much of your stability, when you have one foot on the ground, depends on your big toe being firmly on the ground.  If you are not able to get your big toe firmly on the ground, then you negatively impact your running performance and you increase your risk of injury.  So many shoes out there scrunch the toes and do not serve us.  Squeezing your foot puts the squeeze on your ability to control you’re your foot.  So don’t buy shoes with a narrow toe box.

As for running attire, do not run in cotton.  Cotton will soak up sweat leaving your running clothes heavy and you with the chills.  Instead, go with synthetic blends.  In cold, windy, and rainy weather dress in layers.  I will send a more detailed article on running attire in a future article.  Not enough space in this article to go into more detail here.

Step 5: Have a plan

Last, you should have a plan that will progressively get you to your running goals.  When you wake up each morning you should know what you are doing for a workout that day.  “Winging it” will not effectively get you to your goals.  Your plan should include 3-5 runs per week, depending on your goals, running history, age, and time you have for training.  You should also include cross-training, such as swimming, biking, or even walking at least 1-2 days per week to help you recover from your runs.  Strengthening exercises are a must in your training program, and should be done at least 2 days per week, and in most cases, 3-4 days per week.  Many runners are weak in the core, lower back, hip and pelvic stabilizers, so these muscles need to be strengthened.  I will include more on this in future videos.   Your training plan should also allow for proper recovery, so that your body can adapt to your workouts.  Thus, allowing you to become a stronger and faster runner.

Your run workouts should consist of three components: a warmup, the run itself, and post-run, which may include strengthening exercises, in addition to a cooldown.  The warmup should be dynamic to increase blood flow to and increase the temperature of the muscles you will be using when you run.  I will go into more detail on this in a future training video, however some examples would be rolling shoulders forward and backwards, walking on heels, walking on toes, leg swings side-to-side and forward and back.   No, static stretching, in which you hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds, is not part of an effective warmup.  The cooldown should include foam rolling and/or rolling with a tennis or lacrosse ball, or some other self-myofascial release.  I will discuss this further in future blogs and training videos.

 

Please share any questions or comments you have by clicking on the contact link at denverrunningcoach.com or by emailing me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com.  I can address these in the next article I send or a future article.