Remember last post when I said that a crazy, hectic time period was over … and that regular posts would likely resume? Yeah?
Well, let’s just say that life did not get any less hectic. There are some major changes coming for me in the coming months that will likely impact my ability to frequently post to the site; however, the posts will continue … just not at an every other week rate. I’ll still make an effort to answer any submitted questions as quickly as I can, so keep those questions coming.
Today, I’ll complete the 3-part series “Runners are Athletes”. If you need a refresher on where we have been, you can click on Part I or Part II right here. Part II in particular provided the framework for what today’s post is all about, so I’ll pull in a bit from Part II right here as a reminder:
Work Capacity Development
- General endurance – Spend most of your time in this area slowly building up time/mileage over the course of weeks, months, and years. Somewhere around 80% of your runs should be slow and “easy”. (A future post will be addressing a new way I am using to monitor increases in workload … look up Tim Gabbett to get a jump start on that if you’d like).
- Speed – Incorporate some speed work at all times, even if you aren’t needing to get fast right now. Short bursts (<30 secs), strides (~10 secs), uphill short sprints (~8-15 secs), 100-150m are all good ways to do this. If it is your first time working on speed for a while, don’t go at 100% effort, but the goal would be to feel physically able to do that pretty soon. When you are at a point in training where you want to focus on getting faster, you will have some work capacity built up to start that process.
- Strength – Multiple studies are starting to show that strength training is a protective factor for runners while also improving performance. It’s time for us to make strength training part of what being a “runner” means. There are all kinds of directions you can go. Of course, I’ll offer up a few old blog posts from me to get you started (video blog for 5 single leg exercises that are great for intro, strength training explanation and weight room recommendations here). I recommend making strength work happen 2-4 times/week for any runner with goals of improved time. For work capacity development as the topic at hand, keep some type of strength training going year round.
- Power/Agility – For the sake of a runner’s workload capacity development, combining these two makes sense. In my mock breakdown, I gave each of these areas about 2% focus. This does not mean they are not important. It just means that the amount of time spent here can be less than the other areas. A great way to work on both of these areas is to have a good dynamic warm up routine involved in your runs at least 2x/week. Here’s a list to consider: lunge matrix, chair squats, leg swings, a skips, b skips, power skips, side shuffles, defensive slides, carioca, ankle pops, squat jumps, split lunge jumps, etc. Pick and choose from these and many other possibilities to have a good warm up routine that will work on your capacity for power and agility along with preparing you for harder speed work.
Today’s post is to give a little more insight into how you might focus on any of these areas for further development. Work Capacity was addressed with the last post. Development of work capacity should always be at the forefront of a runner’s training. It is never recommended that any other area is placed at a level of higher performance than work capacity. This is because our sport is so heavily dependent on our ability to “endure”. You will not be a faster 10k runner if you just focus on speed development without maintaining work capacity. It recently came out in the news that Usain Bolt has never run 1 mile in his training. This surprises me in one way because I do feel like there could be some benefit for him; however, for the most part, this makes sense … he runs for 10-25 secs at a time for his event. He doesn’t need to “endure” or to have “aerobic” ability. All he needs is raw speed! On the flip side, we distance runners do not need to be the best 100m or 200m runners in the world … in fact we need to NOT be the best 100m or 200m runners. So never lose sight that our capacity to run distances is what makes up most of what is needed in our sport of choice
Speed for the sake of this discussion will be broken down into two elements: 1) Short speed and 2) Long speed
- Short speed = Reps/Short Intervals = anything less than 2 mins
- Basically, we are talking about completely non-aerobic or nearly non-aerobic running. This would fit the “glycolytic” or “alactic” running from a scientific description
- Long speed = Threshold/Long Intervals = anything more than 2 mins working on “speed”
- This includes VO2Max intervals, long intervals, threshold or race pace runs, and tempo runs. These runs are largely aerobic on a wide spectrum of how long you can perform each style of speed work
The first step as noted in the last post is to build your work capacity for speed, so if you haven’t done that, it is the place to start (see above): bursts, fartleks, strides, hill sprints, short sprints.
If that is built up and you are wanting to focus on speed, this is where our typical speed workouts come into play. If you are running anything longer than 1 mile for your “competition”, it is likely that most of your focus should be on “long speed”. It is still important to touch on “short speed”, but you can accomplish that through the standard work capacity training noted above. So, most of us are going to spend our time working on speed work that is > 2 mins at a pop. (Exception: sometimes I will recommend some time spent on “speed development” even for longer distance runners – it is a great way to strengthen the legs and to work on form before working on longer intervals … it all depends on what your goals are).
The most important thing to keep in mind for “long speed” work is to remember what your purpose is. No “long speed” workouts should be done at max effort because that is not the point of the workout. Even VO2Max training is not ideally at a full 100% effort. Instead all “long speed” running should be completed at a “controlled hard effort” … i.e. no collapsing at the end of it. It is rare that even a professional runner would need to do one of these workouts at full effort and for the rest of us, it is truly unnecessary. The goal of “long speed” work is to help the body use oxygen and metabolize and clear waste more efficiently when running at hard sustained efforts. The way we do that is to run at hard but sustainable efforts to help our body learn how to adapt.
The biggest wildcard with speed work is when and how to place it into your workouts. It’s worth repeating that “work capacity” is always the most important aspect and first thing that should be placed into training. Then it is usually not recommended to do anything more than one “long speed” and one “short speed” workout in any given week along with your “work capacity” work (for endurance, usually a long run). There is much debate on when in a training cycle to focus on which areas, so I would have to leave that to another post or to individual runners.
Strength training more and more will become an essential part of being a runner … and more and more I suspect runners who do not regularly strength train will no longer be runners but injured runners. Unfortunately, most of us don’t want to acknowledge that or take the time to actually prioritize it in our training and life. It is usually the hardest thing that I try to encourage my athletes to do. We’ve been somewhat programmed to think that rolling or stretching or now even yoga or massage are all major parts of being a runner; however, none of those things have near as much research supporting them as strength training (and some don’t have any research supporting them). The beauty of strength training is that it is both a performance enhancer and a way to prevent injury. It’s a double benefit that addresses two areas that are at the forefront of what runners want to do: 1) get better/faster or go longer and 2) stay running.
From last post, I’ll once again:
I mentioned in the last post to incorporate strength training 3-4 times/week, and I am actually revising that statement here. Truly, adding in strength training 2-3 times/week has been shown to make a positive performance difference in runners … and anecdotally I would even say that 1x/week would be completely worth your time. Another great resource is Coach Jay Johnson’s “Eight Week General Strength” routine that you can find on YouTube. He is going to also be coming out with a new routine in the near future.
So, what should you strengthen as a runner? For performance benefits, you need to strengthen your “running muscles”, so things that mimic running are your best bet – squats, calf raises, single leg work, deadlifts, plyometrics (if taught correctly). For injury prevention benefits, the same hold true but one could certainly add in hip strengthening and “core” endurance training as well. And SIMPLE IS OKAY. You do not have to become a gym rat to reap the benefits of regular strength training. Literally 10-15 mins 2-3x/week would make a major difference in many runners’ performance and injury journeys.
What about when? The best time to strengthen is actually after a hard workout day running (if able). This is somewhat counterintuitive to a lot of runners who think they should take it easy after a hard workout and strengthen the next day. The goal with doing it on the same day is to “keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy”. Rest, easy, or off days are all really “recover, repair, and improve” days. Our body does not improve on the day of a hard workout; instead it improves in the coming days (and sometimes weeks) after hard workouts. The improvement happens when the body is able to recover appropriately and repair positively and strongly. This is why combining hard workouts and strength work is ideal … it lets you fully recover on your rest/easy/off days. As far as when to plug this into a training cycle, it is again very individualized. And most of us just need to do the amount needed to keep our “work capacity” up. Thus, true strengthening might never have a specific focus time during a training block … instead it just needs to be a steady presence as part of our habit as a runner.
Finally, we come to power and agility … what everyone thinks of when they think of runners, right? Aside from the best of the best, these are likely never going to be a major player in our training scheme; however, keeping them as part of our work capacity can be really helpful.
I work with a lot of runners who ran in high school and/or college (for teams or just for fun) who were often involved in multiple other activities as well – intramural sports, team sports, different classes, etc. It is almost a constant refrain that these runners did not start getting injured until they stopped doing these other things. I’m convinced that one reason is that these runners were getting power/agility stimulus from other activities such as basketball, volleyball, softball, tennis, racquetball, Ultimate frisbee, soccer, etc. One “problem” with our sport of choice is the monotonous forward activity that occurs without other stimulus (see above for importance of endurance work capacity), and even though we need this monotonous and repetitive forward activity and need to strengthen the muscles that complete that activity, it is really easy to get very imbalanced as a runner. All of a sudden, our side to side muscles or our backward moving muscle groups become extremely weak when compared to our forward moving muscles. And this imbalance can lead to injury issues.
On another note, power and agility are great precursors and great contributors to speed development. If our muscles are used to some sort of “explosive” activity, they will be more prepared to do a 10 sec sprint where you are calling on your power fast-twitch muscle groups. If they are not ready for that through power and agility stimulus, your underwhelmingly developed fast-twitch power muscle groups are going to wonder what the heck you are asking them to do and tell you to back off (i.e. injury!)
Some examples from last post:
lunge matrix, chair squats, leg swings, a skips, b skips, power skips, side shuffles, defensive slides, carioca, ankle pops, squat jumps, split lunge jumps
Any type of plyometric or fast speed training can help develop and prepare your fast-twitch muscle fibers for action, which is going to help you get faster. Even playing basketball or some other cutting sport 1-2x/week can be helpful and nearly sufficient in keeping some balance to your body and muscle groups. Hill bounding is a way that Lydiard helped develop this area, which is something that is done very rarely these days.
Power/Agility might not by any means be the most important part of being a runner, but they are an important part of being an athlete. By keeping power and agility a small part of your program, it will help you be ready for speed work and help keep some balance in some muscles and muscle types that aren’t always used as a distance runner.
So, that wraps up the “Runners are Athletes” series. If you get nothing else out of this series, head back to Part I to get an idea of how you can keep all of the components of being an athlete in your program because IF YOU ARE A RUNNER, YOU ARE AN ATHLETE!
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