METHOD TO THE MADNESS
I started jogging, like many, to lose a bit of weight and get fit while I was at school in my early teens.
It wasn’t long before I noticed my jogs became runs. With each slight improvement in my 2km time trials my obsession formed and grew. I was approached at a sports day to join an Athletics Club. Suddenly I was competing against others instead of myself. It was here that I met two of my role models, my coaches Ken Day and the late Nathanial Fisher. These two old-timers showed me how to work hard in a systematic manner to achieve my athletic goals.
Ken being the methodical coach, exposed me to the science of energy systems and the art of perfecting techniques. This was for events like sprints, jumps, throws and middle distance. Nat, my main coach – taught me how to push through barriers I thought impossible. I regularly finished his sessions on my arse and trained through wind, rain, snow and even at night in a pitch-black field. Mentally this was key for my chosen distance of 800m. Here is where my journey began to becoming a Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Since graduating from university, I have continued down the path of coach and performance ‘specialist’. Not too long ago I had a hand in coaching young middle and long distance athletes like myself. It was during this period that I observed many other kids and adults faced the same obstacles that haunted me as a youngster. With the rising popularity of running over the past few years I find it worrying that these have not been addressed. Therefore, I would like to briefly highlight a few areas that I believe will maximise your running whether you are a competitive teenager like I was, or just trying to stay active on the weekend. It is not in the purpose of this blog to go into extensive detail about the many areas of running. Rather, to briefly help you understand the following key areas and why you need to start addressing them:
– Basics of strength training for the running athlete
– The flexibility demands of the sport
– How you can become more resilient to injuries
There is quite a misunderstanding when people hear the term strength training. Those who fall victim to this trap associate strength exercises (like squats and deadlifts) with body builders or rugby players. However, among professionals, we use the term ‘strength training’ in reference to preparing the working muscles for the demands of a particular sport. Exercises like squats, deadlifts – performed with good technique – engage nearly all the muscles of the body, with the right repetition these are well suited to runners.
Essentially, any exercise that requires your legs to push an external load up away from the floor will compliment running in one way or another. These typical strength exercises teach the muscles to tolerate increased load or endurance. Therefore, a stronger muscle will allow you to run for longer or run faster. Moreover, jumping and hopping exercises which are termed ballistic (or plyometric to some) are even better for running performance. They reflect running technique even more so than squats and deadlifts. However, they do require a basic level of strength or supervision.
Next I will cover flexibility and injury. I group these two together as I feel the latter is generally a product of inflexibility. It is impossible to eliminate the risk of injury, but using researched methods we can reduce it considerably. In a sport like running, 99% of the injuries are ‘overuse’ in nature, meaning they are caused by repeated incorrect movements – subtle or large. Key areas for injuries are ankles, knees, hips and lower back. Tighter muscles and inflexibility cause competencies that result in the incorrect movements mentioned above.
As runners, we should have good mobility around the ankles and hips as these areas were designed to facilitate more movement. This is where you use the foam roller you forgot about. Rolling over soft tissue prone to stress is important regardless of how unpleasant the feeling. Foam rollers reduce tone and help relax muscles. When combined with a simple stretching program, these muscles can return to normal lengths and recover quicker, reducing the competencies and improving flexibility. A simple guideline will include 30 seconds rolling on a targeted muscle, followed by at least 60 seconds static stretching.
To finish off this short piece, I want to assure you that it is quite easy to start to up your game when it comes to running. Little tools that can be implemented daily, like a body weight circuit, or 30-minute foam rolling and stretching session, will add benefit to your sport and improve technique. I am even confident enough to say, if done well, these advantages will go beyond the road and improve your posture, daily energy levels and even cognitive ability at work. There are many places to go online to find this information. But I advise with caution, as for every good article there are three dodgy ones to follow.
I encourage anyone looking for information on the importance of injury prevention, exercises, technique and lifestyle on running, to read ‘Strength and Conditioning for Endurance Performance’ by Richard Blagrove. Rich is a good friend who busts some myths on technique and backs everything up with quality research. Moreover, I am happy to help anyone who asks, I feel very fortunate that I do something I love as a living, and would have appreciated the knowledge I know now when I was running in my teens.