Train smarter by taking into account these seven points, courtesy of guest blogger & Lifetime Fitness coach, Lou Cookson
Guest Blogger Lou Cookson is a NESTA & NASM certified Personal Trainer for Lifetime Fitness. He has an accomplished fitness background with many of his accomplishments coming after a significant injury. Here are his seven tips for running strong & preventing injury. By: Lou Cookson Natural Run Coach Endurance Sports Coach (USAT and ITCA) Cycling Coach Swim Coach (ASCA) Personal Trainer (NESTA and NASM)
How do you run?
Most runners just put on their running shoes and go out and run and then continue to run some more without much thought of what they are doing. In order to move one leg after another quickly and efficiently there needs to be perfect symmetry between your brain and the appropriate muscles so your body can move quickly and with as little energy expenditure as possible. If this doesn’t happen, you will never reach your full potential. In order to become the best runner you can be- seven separate components need to be developed.
Unfortunately, most people only employ cardiovascular workouts when training to run faster and then wonder why they cannot achieve the results for which they are striving. Yes, cardiovascular training is important but in order to reach your peak cardiovascular abilities, you need to do it within your individual heart rate zones as determined by your individual anaerobic threshold (AT). All this needs to take place at the right time in your training as determined by a periodized training plan. Many runners don’t know their AT and, therefore, do not train within the heart rate zones necessary to improve their threshold and VO2 max. Since a large part of a person’s VO2 max coefficient is genetic, pure cardiovascular training – no matter how long or intense – reaches a point where pure volume will not equate to greater speed. When this happens, no matter how much time you spend running, trying to improve your cardiovascular system; your speed will not improve. Have you hit that wall? If you have, you may be lacking in one or
more of the other seven components.
Good bio-mechanics is one of the most important of the seven components. Without good mechanics, not only will you not be able to run fast but injuries are inevitable. Improper mechanics means your body is working against itself and creating excessive stress in one or more areas of the body. Would you drive your car for a long distance at a high rate of speed if you knew the wheels were out of alignment, of course you wouldn’t but that is what many people do when they run with improper bio-mechanics. With every step you take while running, you come down with many times your body weight on one leg. If you employ proper mechanics this weight is minimized and can dissipate in the various parts of foot, leg and core. You are now able place the other leg forward more quickly and with less effort. If something is out of alignment, you are a “running time bomb”, just waiting for one or more parts of the body to develop an overuse injury. Poor mechanics is not limited to your lower extremities. Improper head, shoulder or arm position, and too much torso rotation all can contribute to poor running mechanics and diminished performance.
Strength conditioning is critical for runners. Most runners would rather go to the dentist than the weight room and therefore proper strength work is often neglected. Runners also often believe that lifting weights will cause them to “bulk up,” gain weight and reduce their performance. A proper weight lifting routine will not cause them to gain weight but will cause them to get stronger. This is important because the stronger your muscles are the less the muscles need to work when running. The less the muscles are working, the less lactic acid and other waste byproducts are produced in the muscles allowing the runner to go farther, faster and minimize recovery time between workouts. But an even more important reason for strength training with regard to running is that the stronger the muscles are the stronger the ligaments and tendons will be. As we all have no doubt experienced the hard way, it is in the ligaments and tendons where most of the serious injuries occur in runners. In addition, runners who only run are subject to muscular imbalances due to the fact that certain non-running specific muscles groups are too weak. Strength training should be initiated during the off-season so that as the running miles increase, the legs are prepared for the volume and intensity. Strength training should include not only the obvious leg muscles but also the ankles, core and upper body which all contribute to running stability. Remember, as the upper body gets fatigued, the shoulders start to droop and balance and lung capacity diminishes.
Stand on one leg and hop forward landing on the other leg. Can you “stick the landing”? Every time you run, you land on one leg. Good balance allows you to quickly and efficiently transfer your weight from one foot to the other foot. If this doesn’t happen, your whole body specifically your upper body needs to move in order to compensate for any imbalance. One of the things which occurs in the upper body is trunk rotation and arm movement. This excessive arm and shoulder rotation limits the ability to move your legs quickly since the position of the legs is determined by the position of the shoulders. Plus, you want to limit the use of as many muscles as possible so your oxygen intake can be used by your legs which are your prime movers. Poor balance not only affects your speed but, more importantly, your risk of developing an injury. During the process of running, the ankle and leg may experience excessive sway due to imbalance. If this happens, the runner is clearly going to experience too much uncontrolled foot and ankle movement when the foot strikes the ground. This can lead to overactive shin muscles, such as tibialis posterior, which can cause excessive pulling of the muscle and lead to shin symptoms. Excessive leg sway and imbalance are also a contributing cause of common ITB issues. The ITB is crucial to stabilizing the knee during running so the more un-stable you are while you run, the more stress you put onto the ITB. The list of potential injuries due to imbalances goes on and on.
In order to run faster, a runner needs to be able to move his or her legs faster. This sounds like a “no brainer” but the ability to move the legs faster can be affected by a number of external and internal factors. The most important of these factors might be the person’s neuromuscular capacity to have the muscles contract in rapid succession. Fartlek and track workouts have traditionally been the only methods runners employed to improve their leg speed. These methods are effective to a point but track work is one of the most stressful workouts a runner can do and places the runner at risk of injury. Fartlek and track workouts are also limited in their ability to promote excessive leg speed by other factors such as strength, balance and bio-mechanics. The ability to develop neuromuscular capabilities to move the legs quickly must be developed separate from the other limiting factors like strength, bio-mechanics, balance and cardio, much like a swimmer practices individual drills to perfect their swim stroke. There are other ways a runner can improve leg speed which are less stressful on the body.
I know that stretching and to a lesser degree self-myofascial release techniques (SMRT) is a hotly debated subject. Many runners run their whole lives without stretching while others stretch both before and after running. You can pick up one magazine and read an article saying that stretching is not necessary and the next month read another article claiming that stretching as it relates to running is the greatest thing since sliced bread. All of my training, race experience and education have convinced me that every runner needs to incorporate stretching and SMRT into their training routine. There is a whole chapter in my personal training manual explaining the importance of flexibility. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that a flexible joint has the ability to move through a greater range of motion and requires less energy to do so. This decreases the resistance in tissue structures making it less likely to become injured by exceeding tissue elasticity. Static stretching and especially SMRT also helps reduce muscle soreness after exercise.
Hydration & Nutrition:
Up to this point everything I have discussed deals with physical training, however, hydration and nutrition may be the most important of the seven components.
You can be the strongest, most genetically gifted athlete with the highest VO2 Max of anyone but if you don’t practice good nutrition you are never going to be able to train efficiently, recover adequacy or race up to
your full potential. In long distance races more people DNF because of poor hydration and nutrition than physical issues. Unless you are as disciplined about adhering to a well designed nutrition plan as your are your training plan you will never reach your full physical potential.
Fast running is the result of a complex of factors. Ignoring any one of these aspects puts the runner at greater risk of injury and greater “risk” of missing out on achieving their goals.
I have just explained how improving your Cardiovascular, Bio-mechanical, Strength, Balance, Speed, Flexibility and Nutritional capabilities will make you a better runner but I also use these seven principles to improve a person’s ability in many other sports. The more proficient you are in all seven principles the better athlete you will become.
Lou CooksonLou Cookson can be found at Lifetime Fitness -Berkeley Heights or through his personal trainer profile: http://www.lifetimeendurance.com/public/246.cfm