Friday, September 30, 2016

Strength Training for Runners: 5 Myths Debunked

1. I Will Get Too "Bulky"
Probably the most common concern I hear from female runners as to why they do not want to, or simply don't touch weights.  I cannot stress enough that this is a total myth that couldn't be any further from the truth.  Unless you are on a strict training regimen involving a program that is focused on building mass and a nutritional and supplemental plan specifically meant to bulk up, you are most likely NOT going to turn into the Incredible Hulk with 2-3 times a week of total body strength and conditioning.  Building lean muscle mass will actually help kick start your metabolism, turning you into a lean mean fat burning machine, improving your body composition (ie, decreased body fat and weight loss).

2. Strength Training Will Hurt Me
Any time you engage in a new type physical activity, there is that fear of potential injury, which is totally understandable.  In fact, you may have experience an injury before when you made drastic changes to your training like improperly introducing speed work or upping your mileage too rapidly.  But when done properly and progressed appropriately, strength training will not hurt you, rather it will help you in injury prevention.  Strength training helps to improve not just the muscles but also increases strength in connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) and bones, helps to provide stability and mobility where needed most, improves posture and coordination, and helps to correct muscular imbalances.  Strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons guard against impact, improve form, and lead to a consistent gait. The more strength you have, the more resilient your body will become to the repetitive impact of running won’t wear you down as much.  And not only will your body be able to better withstand the demands of distance running, you will also recovery much quicker.  So thus, with strength training, you will not only be stronger and leaner, but you will be a much more efficient runner with much shorter recovery times, drastically decreasing your risk of injury!

3. Having Muscles Will Slow Me Down
I have had more than a handful of people tell me they are afraid to lift weights and build muscle because they feel it will slow them down.  But again, this couldn't be further from the truth.  By now we have established that strength training will improve body composition, help metabolism, improve strength in connective tissue, improve form and running economy, and aid in recovery.  A well rounded strength and conditioning program will also help to improve power and agility, which will come in handy big time during speed work.  Not to mention the mental toughness you will get from pushing yourself in the weight room will translate to real time race conditions, where we all know that we not only need to be prepared physically but be mentally tough to fight through!  So unless you plan on turning into the Hulk (see above), your lean, strong muscles you build from a strength training program will NOT make you slower, but rather make you a more proficient and faster runner!

4. I Don't Have Time.
I recognize that we are all busy.  We have work, family, training, a social life and other hobbies.  So the thought of adding yet another task to your already packed schedule may seem impossible, right?  Well, maybe not if you do some reorganizing and prioritizing.   Most beginner to intermediate run training programs suggest athletes run 3-5 times per week, so that leaves you 2-4 days of cross training, as well as one rest day.  Many runners use their cross training days for other steady state cardio activities (ie, biking, swimming, elliptical) or even just running some more.  Although these activities offer some great benefits such as improving overall cardiovascular health and increased stamina, a more well rounded program would be one that includes at least 2 days of strength and conditioning.  So maybe consider swapping out an elliptical workout or a day of junk miles for a weight training sesh.  Also, you do not have to spend hours at the gym to see improvements.  30-45 minutes is typically enough time to get everything you need out of a great weight lifting workout.  So even if you only have an hour, you technically can still do both with 30 minutes of weight and 30 minutes of cardio for your cross training days.  See, maybe you do have time after all!

5. Strength Training Is Too Complicated
Often friends and strangers (via social media) alike will reach out to me with incredibly complex questions about getting started on a strength and conditioning program.  They may have found something on the internet, read an article in a running or fitness magazine, or overheard a trainer at their local gym and are now terribly confused as to the how, what and when's of strength training.  I admit, if you are a weight lifting newbie, it can certainly seem overwhelming.  From free weights and machines, to MetCon and HIIT, to Olympic lifting and Cross Fit, there are a million and one ways a runner can workout.  So how do you chose?  The simple answer is, you do not have to chose just one, or any for that matter.  Just like when you started running and most likely knew nothing of speed work, Fartleks, tempo runs, etc., you can and should start off simple with strength training.  Basic movement patterns involving all of your major muscles groups is a great way to build a solid foundation.  Once you have mastered basic body weight exercises, such as squats, lunges, push ups, planks, etc., you can add an external load like a dumbbell, medicine ball or kettlebell, as well as begin incorporating more dynamic and functional exercises.  The key to starting anything new is to start simple and progress from there!

Be on the look out for more blogs and even programs/services {wink wink} to come with runner specific strength and conditioning workouts.  In the mean time check out my archive blog.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hamstring Mobility For Runners

As runners, our bodies take quite a beating during training and racing.  We some times feel these effects pretty quickly after a run, but more often, it's a more gradual issue.   And when these nagging issues go untreated, they can become more bothersome and even painful, affecting performance.  One common area of concern for runners is the hamstring complex (the muscles on the posterior side of your thigh).  When the hamstrings become very tight and sore, it is often a sign of a strain (when a muscle is stretched or torn).  In most acute cases, runners find temporary relief with stretching and foam rolling, so they assume this is the only way to treat bothersome hamstrings.  But throwing your foot up on a park bench forcing yourself into a stretch or applying tons of pressure to an already tender muscle can actually be counter productive.  In reoccurring or ongoing situations (which is most common among distance runners), hamstrings feel "tight" and sore because they are actually over-lengthened.  Which is probably why stretching and rolling has not provided much relief at this point.  So what can you do when your hammies are sore, tight or painful and it starts affecting your run?  Below are some mobility exercises you can incorporate into your cross-training and/or warm up to help treat and prevent hamstring issues.

But first, let's identify the function of the hamstrings, how they become tight and how that can effect your running.

What Do the Hamstrings Do?
Your hamstrings include the large muscles that run along the back of your thighs, from your pelvis to the top of your lower legs, called the biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus.  In their simplest form, they bend the knee.  But from a functional standpoint, they serve to decelerate hip flexion and knee extension, and help to slow the foot before initial ground contact.  So blah blah blah, basically in distance running, hamstrings play a key roll in the drive phase, which is where you generate the most power.  And more power = better running economy.

How Are They "Injured"
Hamstring problems are common among distance runners who have significantly increased their workload or prematurely introduced speed work.  Unlike sprinters or other athletes who use quick, explosive movements, hamstring strains occur more gradually for distance runners rather than an immediate "pull" during a particular exercise.  Runners may also notice how their tightness tends to ease up during running but return afterwards.  This is why many runners assume their hamstrings are just "tight" and simply need to be stretched or rolled.  But as mentioned above, hamstring strains in distance runners are caused by the continual over-lengthening of the muscles.  Once a muscle is strained, it tends to further tighten and become painful when stretched and palpated, which is why stretching and rolling can actually aggravate the strain even more.

How To Prevent Injury
Having a well-rounded program which includes a progressive mileage build up, appropriate speed work and of course strength and conditioning will help prevent hamstring strains (as well as other nagging injuries).  Keep in mind, your strength and conditioning program is not simply limited to weight training and should also include stability, flexibility, ploymetircs as well as restorative exercises (I will go into more detail about the other components in later posts).   For now, let's discuss some hamstring specific mobility exercises we use with our athletes at our facility.  As I mentioned above, simply stretching can actually be counterproductive. So the following exercises provide a more integrated approach to improving hamstring strength and mobility for injury prevention.

Walking Scoops

Coaching Cues: Step one foot slightly in front of the other.  Flex the forward foot while keeping the knee extended (straight) and scoop your arms down towards the ground then upwards.  Repeat with the other foot to the front and do about 10 scoops per foot, reaching deeper each time.

Side Lunge with Toe Up

Coaching Cues: Take a wide lateral step with one leg, bending that knee and drawing your hips down and back.  Keep the opposite leg straight and rotate the flexed foot upwards towards.  Hold for a 3 count, returning back to original standing position and repeating on opposite side.  Perform 10 reps per side.

Wall Reaches
Coaching Cues: Stand several feet away from the wall with feet together.  Hinging forward from the hips, extend one leg straight behind you with your flexed foot pointing straight down to the ground, and reach both arms forward towards the wall.  Return to original standing position and repeat 10 reps per side.

Banded Leg Drops
Coaching Cues: Place a large elastic band (or yoga strap) around the arch of your foot.  Draw both legs straight up above your hips.  Lower the NON-BANDED leg straight down towards the ground and lift back up to original position.  Repeat 10 reps per leg.

When to Decrease or Stop Running?
So with all that being said, there still remains the question, to run or not to run with "tight" hamstrings?  As long as you feel no major discomfort, it is OK to continue running with a moderately tight hamstring.  At that point, mobility exercises along with foam rolling and stretching may be all you need.  Consider eliminating speed work and decreasing your weekly mileage until tightness subsides.  If running is painful, I would suggest taking several days off completely.  Avoid over-stretching the hamstring to prevent further tears.  Use the foam roller sparingly if at all when the muscles are very tender to not further irritate the tissue.  Take it slow and easy when returning to running and be sure to incorporate mobility exercises into your warm up and cross training.  After all your efforts you're still experience hamstring concerns or the injury seems to be rather significant, discontinue activity and seek the help of a medical professional for further treatment.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this blog is not designed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual.  If you believe you have a true medical concern, you should contact your medical care provider.  I am, however, a certified strength and conditioning coach through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.  The above information is from my expertise working with competitive athletes, fellow runners and from my own personal experience.

Friday, September 2, 2016

36 Day To Go: Update on Chicago Marathon Training

Ahhh, not only is it getting so close to race day, but I also realized how long it has been since I have written about my training.   I know everyone has just been sitting on the edge of their seats in the anticipation of my post, so have no fear, it is finally here!  (Sarcasm in case you're wondering hehe)  But anyway, between work, the kiddos and of course training, oh and football season starting, I have not had much time for anything else.  I have managed to keep up with my miles, yey me, so here is a quick recap of what's been going on...
I had the rare opportunity to get some miles in with the hubster!
The Good
Despite my hectic schedule and lifestyle, I have yet to miss a training run.  I have made all my miles and even a few extra on those days I was just "feeling it" out there.  My speed work has been on point and I am definitely getting faster in my intervals.  Tempo runs have been pretty average, so I am very grateful for that.  And normally my schedule and training are not very conducive to me attending group runs, but I have joined three Moms Run This Town runs over the past few weeks and I even got to run with my husband this past Monday.  Running is always better with friends!
MRTT mamas and our attempt to be sassy
The Bad
The heat and humidity continue to be a factor and have slowed me down on my mid to long distance runs outside.  Waking up at 4am to run or having to do it on my lunch break in the heat of the day has not be particularly fun but necessary with my schedule.  My long runs have been baaaaaad (I'll explain more below) and I'm starting to come to terms with the fact my 4th attempt at a BQ may not happen.  But I'm not completely losing hope or giving up, though.
Dear Summer, I am so over you, please go away!
The Ugly
Like I mentioned above, the weather has been absolutely brutal!  This may quite possibly the hottest summer I have experienced since moving to Florida in 2006!  Of course I have never trained this early in the summer time, so I'm sure that has something to do with it too.  I have been completely bombing my long runs, they have totally chewed me up and spit me out making me question my goals.  My body is really starting to feel the effects of all the training and I'm needing much more foam rolling, mobility and flexibility work and rest (which is a luxury) these days.  And probably my biggest struggle these last two weeks, in fact pretty much this whole training cycle, has not necessarily been the weather, my schedule or my body.  It has been my mental game.  I know what I am capable of, but it's as if I'm holding myself back and succumbing to all my excuses.  Maybe I have just gotten so used to "failing" that it seems comfortable to me.  I absolutely DESPITE the thought of that, but I'm struggling to fight through it.
Spending time with my best friend, the foam roller!
Moving Forward
I can't believe there's just a little over a month until race day, it came up quick!  I have one more long run, some mid distance runs along with speed work and then it's tapper time.  So now is the time to get focused and push through til the big day.  So here is what I am working on as marathon training comes to an end...

I'm going to continue to focus on my strengths, which are speed work and mid-distance tempo runs.  I'm adding in more mobility training and plan to hit up Yoga at least once a week.  I will try to get to more group runs since those make it all so much more enjoyable.  And though I am a (strength) coach myself, I know I should never stop learning, so I have sought the help from other coaches.  I received some great advice from a friend of mine who is seasoned runner/run coach. She was very insightful as well as uplifting.  With her great advice and the advice of my husband (and fellow strength coach), I know my biggest thing to work on from here on out is my confidence.  So I am hopping off the struggle bus and giving these last few weeks of training my all.  I am equipped to handle whatever comes my way race day and one thing I know for sure is I will give it everything I have and leave it all out on the course!