Archive for Functional Strength Training

Triathletes and Runners: Strength Doesn’t Equal Stability

 

"Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." - John 8:32


Without a doubt, endurance athletes are finally coming around to understanding and believing in the importance of strength training. Even though it's taken a while, it's great to see.  The kinds of "functional" strength work I was experimenting with in the late 1980s to help increase my durability, endurance and speed (while logging a lot less miles than most of my training buddies and competitors), is almost becoming routine now among many competitive triathletes and runners.

Along the same lines, it almost "normal" now to sit in the middle of a group of runners or triathletes and hear folks talk about "hitting the gym," or getting in their "leg (or arm) day." That was unheard of even just 10 years ago. Today, smart athletes KNOW that strength work has to be a part of their routine. As a "bonus," the strength trained runner or triathlete looks better. After all, who doesn't want a better physique to go along with our already highly developed cardiovascular fitness?

Part of the reason for this gradual shift is likely because baby boomers (like me) are aging. Ack! In addition to their race results or the next ironman, more and more are thinking about their longevity and how well (and gracefully) they'll age. That's a smart thing.

On the topic of strength and maintaining it, I've shared a few links recently that speak to the obvious and profound connections between muscle wasting (sarcopenia) and aging more gracefully.  THIS TedTalk called "Muscle Matters," and THIS article from OutsideOnline titled "To Delay Death, Lift Weights," are two examples of what I mean. Definitely take the time to read and listen!

So what's the problem?

Listen, there's absolutely no doubt that strength training is important for every athlete, regardless of your gender or age or experience level. As the above article and TedTalk discuss, there is NO substitute for being strong. In my opinion, every single person ought to put getting stronger at the TOP of their priority list.

But at the same time, as someone who works with injured athletes every day, I have to point out the BIG MYTH that exists in so many athlete's minds -- that ALL you need to do is hit the gym and work your arms, abs, back and legs, and you're set.

You may think you're doing all you need to do to avoid injury and perform your best, but unfortunately that's not the case.

How "ripped" or muscular you are - how much weight you lifted in that gym session last night - none of it has anything at all to do with how durable or injury resistant you are or will be down the road.

Not sure what I mean?

Here's an example. And yes, in case you're wondering, I see this week in and week out - athletes who can't for the life of them understand why they are so often injured, despite religiously going to the gym to lift weights and get strong.


The triathlete pictured here in these two photos contacted me recently to inquire about coaching. He's got talent and as you can see, he's a pretty strong guy. What's his goal? Qualifying for Kona - which is no easy task.

So what's the issue?

In one of his first attempts to qualify, he came really close to getting his slot, proving to himself that he had what it took!  However, ever since then his results have tumbled...and NOW, he's dealing with hip pain that has him in physical therapy and making multiple visits to his orthopedic surgeon to try and learn what is going on. To say he's frustrated is an understatement!

How does an obviously talented, goal-oriented, hard working triathlete like this, who as you can see is strong, end up with hip pain and suffering from increasingly worse race results? (There are many examples of athletes like this guy - strong and yet frustrated! Are you one of them?)

There are certainly a variety of things in both his movement quality and in his training and recovery that could explain his frustrations. One of the potential answers to that question became very obvious to me as soon as I saw some video of him on the treadmill as part of his Virtual Gait Analysis with me, something I do with EVERY SINGLE athlete I coach.
These two images, which I clipped from his run video at mid-stance (or shortly thereafter) of the gait cycle, show an excessive amount of  instability of his core and hip girdle, specifically measured here from the back as "lateral pelvic drop." As you can see in the picture, I measured 9 degrees of "drop" on the left leg and 7 degrees of "drop" on the right.

To say the amount of instability on a single leg here is significant is an understatement: 2 degrees or less would be considered "ideal" for this athlete. He's at 9 and 7 degrees respectively! Yikes.

One thing most don't realize is that this instability has very little to do with the strength of an individual muscle. Or the strength of his body. Or how "ripped" he might be. It has a LOT to do with his nervous system - and the timing of muscle firing. The kind of training that will fix these issues begins in the brain, with basics and fundamentals.

If you'd like to know MORE about this topic, you're in luck. I've written lots about it over the years.

Start by going to THIS post, where I discuss why mechanics are so important for race-day performance and injury resistance. Or THIS post, discussing the truth about why runners become injured. Or THIS one, which discusses the often misunderstood relationship between strength and stability. In fact, use that search function there to dig into many similar kinds of posts. There's much to learn.

Luckily, this athlete came to the right place. I'm confident that as he follows my guidance and the process unfolds, we'll see a gradual improvement in his stability.  And along with that, his durability and his performance.

As soon as possible, he wants to be back out on the roads so he can take advantage of his strength and determination to succeed, and finally reach his goal of qualifying for Kona!

So what are YOUR goals? Better yet, how can I help you get past YOUR movement related frustrations so you can go out and reach them?

To your success,

~Coach Al

 

Is It Possible You’re Dehydrated?

 

I'm coming at you today with a short piece on all things hydration. (I know what you're thinking, not another article about water and how much I should drink!) 🙂

In all seriousness, I decided to write this up today for one primary reason: despite the plethora of information and research on this topic, I still find that more than a few athletes end up coming up short with their water intake during training and racing, and it often dramatically (and negatively) impacts how they feel and perform.

So with the introduction of Timothy Noake's book "Waterlogged," a few years ago, or this article published last August in the New York Times, the message that is being sent out to endurance athletes is clear:

They'd have us believe (I'm paraphrasing) it's a myth to think the average person needs to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water daily. As for the endurance athlete out there training in a variety of conditions, your risk of drinking TOO much water is actually much greater than is being dehydrated.

But are these statements 100% true, for every one of us?

I would argue that no, they're not.

Your hydration needs are largely determined by the temperature and humidity where you live and train, and your acclimation to those conditions. When it is very hot and humid, your hydration needs rise, often dramatically.

As a coach, I find that many of the athletes I work with fail to meet their minimum hydration needs during their regular day in, day out training sessions, especially when it comes to the hottest training days of the year. (Like right now!)

For what it's worth, I also find that sometimes the biggest mistake an endurance athlete makes is not adjusting their hydration "plan" based upon the conditions on the day. For example, let's say race day turns out much colder and windier than you were expecting or that you trained in. Don't make the mistake of taking in the same amount of water as you did during your very hot training days.

The Conservation Mindset

  • Do you typically head out on "only" a 45 minute or 1 hour run without water, thinking you don't need it or can catch up later?
  • What about a 3 or 5 hour bike ride with only 3 or 4 bottles of water?

One of the problems that often arises, is when we venture out into a run or bike ride carrying a limited number of water bottles (and therefore, fluid). Because many abhore stopping at a store and can often get caught failing to plan ahead, the result is what I call a "conservation" mindset during that training session that says, "you'd better meter out that water because it's all you have."

I've experienced this myself a few times, and with others that I work with. This kind of thinking can set you up for dehydration. Bottom line, during hot weather training, you must drink enough water to meet your needs, without fear of running "out."

Avoid trying to "catch up" by simply taking enough water along or planning ahead and taking the time to place bottles out at distant locations where you may be passing by to have enough to cover your basic needs.

Your Fascial (Water) Net

We are all familiar with how water is truly essential for basic functioning - for life itself. But what most athletes aren't as familiar with is how much your hydration levels impact how easily, efficiently, and fast you are able to run (or perform any other activity).

What do I mean?

A bouncing water balloon mirrors how our fascial net, combined with adequate hydration, helps us move forward!

A bouncing water balloon mirrors how our fascial net, combined with adequate hydration levels, helps us move forward!

Think of a water balloon. (Check out the slow motion video by clicking on the image to the left!). When you run, your body is a lot like this balloon filled with water.

The skin of the balloon is just like the fascial net that surrounds and supports your internal organs, soft tissue, muscles, and bones. What is important to know is, most of the elasticity that moves you forward comes largely from that fascial net, NOT other tissues.

 

Fascia is a water filled membrane. To use an analogy, when you dehydrate even slightly, your fascia and fascial system begin to act more like dried out (dehydrated!) beef jerky, and less like juicy, succulent prime rib. When you're dehydrated (even the tiniest bit) that fascial net can no longer help you bounce along (again, think of that water balloon).

9d6401e2-69ae-4fec-b05a-b7d841d180e8With increasing water losses, you're required to muscle every step. Similarly, that fascial net provides much of your overall stability. Your balance, coordination, and ultimately your speed, suffer.

Drink To Thirst?

In this podcast I did with Dr. Tamera Hew, one of the world's leading researchers and experts on hyponetremia (low blood sodium), she recommended drinking according to your thirst. (**If you haven't listened to this great interview loaded with golden nuggets related to hydration and hyponetremia, and you have a "thirst" for knowledge, go listen HERE!)

There's no doubt that this basic recommendation is a good one. The problem can be, based upon my experience as a coach, that quite a few of us are NOT as in tune with our thirst as we might hope, especially as the hours add up, and fatigue and energy challenges increase.

This is one reason why it's imperative to have a basic plan of attack in place that is based upon the conditions and your own practice and experience.

  • Start with a basic plan for 25-35 oz of water per hour and adjust accordingly depending upon conditions!
  • When it is very hot or you're not fully acclimated to the environment you're in, you'll need more. When it's cooler, you'll need less. Be flexible with your plan and adjust as you go.
  • Consider performing a sweat test on yourself to find out your own individual needs depending upon environmental conditions.
  • Go listen to that podcast I did with Dr. Hew, she rocks!
  • Learn about YOUR body and your needs as you train, and then listen to it! 🙂

Happy trails!
~Coach Al

PS: If you'd like to receive more information and tips right in your inbox, click HERE to sign up and I'll be in touch!

PSS: One last thing: if you end up in a situation in a hot race where you know you're dehydrated, you have to have the confidence in your training and STOP long enough to fix the problem! That might mean a few extra minutes at an aid station, or sitting down to drink a liter of water to fix the issue. Don't assume that you'll be able to still soldier on to the finish. Stop, fix it, then resume, feeling much better and able to maintain your goal race pace as a result!

 

What is Your Preference?

 

I've always found it fascinating how certain things end up developing a huge following, often becoming so popular they almost develop into cult status. In the fitness world there's a million examples, and no better example than when it comes to building strength.

KippingWhether it's body-building vs. powerlifting, barbells / dumbbells vs. kettlebells, or fat-loss vs. crossfit, it's not uncommon to see everything from mild bantering to flat-out arguments flying on twitter and FB between these groups of believers, each out to prove THEIR approach is the right way.

What often starts out as a "new," cool way to get stronger, ends up becoming an entirely new belief system...with hard-core disciples that proudly proclaim their allegiance on a cool (and often expensive) t-shirt. Confirmation bias and passion make for a powerful mix!

However.....as anyone who knows me well will vouch, I tend to think differently than most. I guess you could say I have sought refuge in being unattached.

To me, functional vs. isolation, dumbbell vs. kettlebell - none of this really exists. (The term "muscle confusion" made popular by P90x doesn't exist either, but that's a topic for another email!) 🙂

What does? It's simple: Get strong training, a.k.a. strong person training.

How about something even simpler? Movement training.

Every tool has pros and cons. For example, bands are convenient and can be taken anywhere. Kettlebells are amazingly versatile, and barbells are cool because you can add lots of weight in small increments.

And bodyweight training might be the very best because after all, if you can't control and move your own body against resistance, what right do you have picking up an object to increase your strength?

(In my Get STRONG-Blast FAT group coaching program which is going on right now, I'm teaching bodyweight training nearly exclusively, primarily because it is so quick, simple, safe, and effective!)

The bottom line? Use the equipment (or no equipment at all) that matches your skill and experience level and best serves the purpose. For me the purpose is simple: to develop "real" strength and improve my overall health.

So yes, I will admit that the kettlebell definitely IS one of my OWN preferred tools for strength building and that's one reason why I am leading a Kettlebell Training for Triathletes workshop from 11am to 12pm, at the TRI-MANIA Summit and Expo on Saturday, March 19th, at Boston University's Fit-Rec Center in Boston!

TriMania adYou DON'T have to be a triathlete to come out and join in!

In fact, check out this note (to the left) from FB, left by a trail-runner who admitted not wanting to do a tri anytime soon, but just wants to learn some good form!

Whatever system or method you choose, my advice is to ensure it is BOTH safe and effective. If it is both of these, then it's probably a good choice.

So what is YOUR preferred mode for getting stronger?


Don't forget - Saturday, March 19th, at Boston University's Fit-Rec Center in Boston - Kettlebell Training for Triathletes workshop from 11am to 12pm.

CLICK HERE to go to the registration page. It's only 20 bucks, and should be lots of fun (with some great learning too!). If you've got questions about the workshop or simply want to get in touch, email me at: coachal@coachal.com

The Truth About Staying Young

 

If there's one thing that came through loud and clear from a survey I sent out a few weeks ago to the athletes on our email list, it's that a lot of runners and triathletes are worried about losing fitness and their ability to "play" as they get older. They're worried about injury, too, particularly aging related injury.  Reading some of the responses made me think of that old saying, "Father Time always wins." UGH.

Do these worries ever trickle into your head and keep you up at night?

It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, although Father Time ultmately wins, I believe that we CAN race him toe for toe until the very late stages of our lives. The key is the right kind of approach to training (and a little bit of luck!).

Ask yourself this question: When it comes to your body, what is the ONE thing you've lost (besides your hair!) 🙂 as you've gotten older?

If you're like me and most others, you'll agree it's the ability to move freely and easily without any kind of restriction...just like you used to when you were a kid.

Simply put, what we most lose is mobility. 

The effects of aging (along with piling up the miles) are tighter, shorter, and stiffer muscles, connective tissue, and joints. What used to be SO easy to do, like squatting down to the floor to pick something up, suddenly and exasperatingly becomes much harder.

That tightness and stiffness makes us much more prone to injury, too. Unfortunately, our body and its tissues become like that cracked and dried out elastic band you took out of your junk drawer that broke as soon as you stretched it.

Losing speed? Take the brakes off...

If your goal is to go FASTER, lost mobility really hurts that too! Think about sticking brake pads on your bike's wheel - makes it a lot harder to pedal and slows you down, doesn't it?

While no one can truly beat Father Time, the secret to staying younger and feeling better as you age, is simple. Not necessarily EASY mind you, but it is simple.

The secret is to HOLD ONTO that youthful mobility (if you have it), or if you've lost it, do what's required to get it back!

To that end, today I'm sharing a video with you that I know is going to help. This video shows you a simple movement that you can use to both assess your present level of mobility as well as how to get back on the path to restoring it, if you've lost it.

 

Click on the image to see the video

Click on the image to see the video

We may not be able to literally turn back the clock...but we don't have to act our age either! We can look AND feel younger than ever if we're willing to commit and do what is required.

Do you want that bad enough?

Happy trails!
~Coach Al

PS: I almost forgot: Here are some important TIPS on how to get the most from using this video and practicing this movement.

Start by asking yourself this important question: Where is your primary limiter?

Are you unable to keep your feet completely and totally flat? Are you able to easily keep your chest up and maintain a nice long spine, or are you hunched forward? Are you fairly comfortable, or the reverse -  just plain unhappy down there?  These are the critical questions to ask, for starters....

So what to do next?

Follow my guidance on the video and get started NOW.

Remember what well known strength coach and mentor, Dan John, and others have said: "if it's important, do it every day."

Here are some tips that reinforce what I share on the video:

  • Do these barefooted, or if foot protection is necessary for you for whatever reason, use minimalist shoes that do not raise your heel.
  • If you're unable to get your feet flat or you're unable to sit up straight, use a light weight to "counter" balance. Use the LIGHTEST weight you can get away with. Start with 10 lbs, 20 lbs or 35 lbs.
  • As time goes on, work to reduce the need for the weight. You'll do that by increasing your calf length/ankle mobility, and hip mobility, as well as improving t-spine mobility.
  • You could also place a small book or 2x4 type support under your heels to start off with, if you're unable to achieve good posture without it. Make it your goal to remove the need for it with diligent practice, stretching, and dogged determination!

When you can DEEP SQUAT comfortably and without the aid of any device, you'll see a concurrent improvement in your running comfort, and overall athleticism. You'll feel great!!!

Enjoy, and oh yeah, please send me some pictures of your BEFORE/AFTER progress!!

PSS: If you can do this movement really easily, then mobility isn't YOUR limiter. But stability and strength might be....

 

Rock Your Wall!

 

I hope your Tuesday has started off great!

I sent out an note to our email friends last week that included a reference to a fun Will Smith video. In the email, I shared my SSQ and how important it is to review this past season before moving on to the upcoming season. If you missed that email, here's a link so you can read it in your browser. Check it out - it's VERY cool!

That email got me thinking about something else Will said that I absolutely love, and that is central to my coaching philosophy. One reason I love it so much? It's one of those quotes that isn't just about training, it has as much value for life in general.

I love the analogy of building a wall when it comes to how we should build our fitness, don't you?

Your body is a lot like a house...

It also reminds me of an analogy my partner, Dr. Strecker, refers to when discussing how we need to build our OWN "athletic" foundation. He says,"if you're driving down the road and you see a house that is leaning off to the side with a crumbling foundation, you sure wouldn't want to buy that house, would you? One big gust of wind and the house might blow right over."

Even though you and I would desperately LIKE to be able to, we can't build true ironman, marathon, or ultra-running fitness by just saying it, OR by taking it ALL in one bite. Just as Will said, we need to start by laying that brick, one at a time, as perfectly as we can, day after day after day.

If we do it right, soon we'll have that great foundation - one that is stable and straight and strong and that will support OUR "house" in any kind of wind, or more specifically, as the weeks, months, and miles add up!

Which brings me to the main message in today's email:

Any smart season-long training plan and progression BEGINS by:

  1. Restoring health and balance and fundamental movement quality, and then...
  2. Establishing a solid foundation that will support all the training that is to come. 

At Pursuit Athletic Performance, we call this first training phase, Restoration and Foundation.

So what's YOUR story?

During this time period, it's about learning as much as you can about your body - it's about self-discovery, from a movement point of view - learning your "story" as an athlete. That might sound unattainable, but I can't express just how important it is!

Try on some of these questions to get to the heart of who you are as an athlete:

  • Where are you tight? Why?
  • Where are you weak? Why?
  • Are you often sick? If so, why?
  • Do you struggle frequently with nagging pain or injuries? If so, why?
  • Are you a strong, fatigue-resistant swimmer or a weak, slow swimmer? If you're a weaker swimmer, why?
  • Are you a strong cyclist who can climb with ease, or do you struggle to push a larger gear? If you struggle to push that larger gear, why?
  • Are you a strong, durable runner or are you injury prone? If you're not durable, then why?
  • When you get tired out on the race course or during long training sessions, do you struggle to maintain efficient form?

Now if your house is about to blow over in the wind, or if that foundation is crumbling and starting to show some cracks, the color of your window shades doesn't matter very much, ya know?

Your body and your fitness are the exact same thing

Get started NOW. Answer the questions and take action, and you'll be on your way to building the biggest, baddest, greatest, fitness "wall" that has ever been built!  It won't happen any other way.

(One more thing, if you haven't yet checked out this blog series "Learn How You Move" we did a while back, take a look - it'll be worth your time, trust me).

As always, if you have questions, leave a comment of email me directly and let me know. I'm here to help.

Happy trails!
~Coach Al

PS: If you aren't one of our email friends, you're missing out. We share a lot of awesome discounts and training information, so sign up if you haven't. Click HERE and as a bonus, you'll get instant access to my 5 TIPS for upgrading your off season NOW!

PSS: I almost forgot to mention, I just had two coaching slots open up for working with me one on one. If you're interested in learning more, reply to this email and I'll get you some information and a questionnaire. Rock on!

Which Is It: Strength Or Endurance?

 

I received this email question the other day from a reader of the blog:

"I keep having this argument with a friend of mine who is an ultra-runner and believes endurance is a lot more important than strength. Our goals are the same, to live an active life and also do some racing. I strength train 3 times a week, he runs 6 times a week and does a little bit of circuit-type weights once a week. We each think the other one is doing it wrong. What do you think, Coach?"

Can you relate at all? Without a doubt, different types of athletes love to debate this question. To get to the answer, let's start by defining these two abilities and then let's consider some questions.

Strength is the ability to produce force and to overcome. Endurance is the ability to resist fatigue, persist, and endure stress for a long period of time.

So, quiz time...Who do YOU think will be more successful in these instances, the athlete who trains primarily for strength or the athlete who trains primarily for endurance?

  • Which triathlete will finish the swim leg of a triathlon with greater ease, and therefore have a better chance for a faster race finish?
  • Which cyclist will have an easier time climbing that really steep hill?
  • Which trail runner or mountain biker will more easily and confidently navigate those gnarly obstacles on the trail or that steep downhill?
  • Which runner or triathlete will be the most successful approaching the very last stage of their race?

The answer is simple: endurance is only possible to the extent that one is stronger than the task at hand, be it the chaotic conditions in the open water or the steep hill you’re trying to climb on your bike, or the gnarly uphill or downhill you're approaching on the trail.

Think of it this way: Carrying 150 pounds up a hill will be an easy act of endurance for the person who has the strength to carry 300 pounds, but an impossible task for a person who can only carry 75 pounds.

It's also 100% certain that the person who has the strength to lift 300 pounds at least once will have no trouble lifting 100 pounds many times over. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee that a person who can lift 100 pounds many times over will be able to lift 300 pounds even once.

  • The stronger we are, the easier everything else becomes; weakness inhibits everything we do and makes everything harder.
  • Resisting fatigue isn't simply about enduring, it is also about your body's ability to handle and absorb shock from impact and contact, as well as repetitive motion.
  • We lose strength as a "natural" and unfortunate by-product of aging, which in turn leads to less endurance and stamina.
  • Strength is a skill. Better skills improve efficiency, which in turn improves endurance.
  • When we increase our strength, in the process we've increased all of our capacities.

Strength is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Increasing strength also increases endurance, but not the other way aroundStrength prevails.

So how'd you do on the quiz? Do these thoughts and concepts apply to your sport?

Please let me know what you think. Happy trails!

~Coach Al

PS: There are many ways to get stronger and not all of them are sustainable or productive long term. I've got a plethora of future articles and smart offerings planned to help YOU get and stay strong, with the ultimate goal of keeping you healthy and improving your performance. Stay tuned!

You Need To Strengthen Your Glute Medius!

 

...Or DO you?

So listen, has a sports medicine professional, personal trainer or coach ever told you that your glute medius (or minimus) is weak, or that you need to strengthen it? Or, that this muscle "weakness" is the real reason you're injured?

If you've heard either of the above, my sincerest advice to you is stop what you're doing and get away from that person as fast as you can.

You might think that's a fairly harsh recommendation, but in my opinion, they are dead wrong.

Amazingly, when various "experts" should know better, I continue to see frequent references to this myth of glute medius "weakness" in a host of different places, online and off. I continue to hear supposed "experts" discuss the importance of that muscle.

In the video below, my partner Dr. Kurt Strecker tells it even straighter, calling the advice to strengthen the glute medius, "complete crap."  

My hope is that today's straight talk has spiked your curiosity to learn more. If it has, take a few minutes to watch, look, and listen.

Yes, it is 3 1/2 minutes long which I know might be too long according to today's typically short attention spans...but trust me, you won't be sorry you took the time to WATCH IT.  It is time to set the record straight.

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

 

One Quarter of an Inch!

 

When asked what he thought was man’s greatest invention, Albert Einstein didn't reply the wheel, the lever, or for that matter, anything else you might expect, he replied, "compound interest.” Do you remember when you first learned about this seemingly magical way to earn money, faster and more easily?

What if I told you there was a way to "get rich" as a runner, by taking advantage of the same basic principles as those that make compound interest "man's greatest invention?" What I'm really talking about here is the ability to "compound" SPEED gains,  with no extra heart-beats required.

Well, there IS a way, and it's actually quite simple. Here's the deal:

If you add 1/4 inch to your stride length naturally, without forcing it artificially, you will be running about 10-seconds per mile faster at the same intensity.

Don't believe me?

Ever counted how many strides you take in a mile?

Depending upon your speed and intensity, it's about 1500.

If you were to get one-quarter inch more length out of each of those 1500 strides, you'd cover about 40 to 50 feet more at the same intensity.  That's another way of saying you're going to run about 10-seconds per mile faster.

How hard would you have to train to get 10-seconds per-mile improvement?

Imagine a 30-second improvement in your 5k finish time without having to do a single hard run workout! In a marathon, you could instantly improve by as much as 5-minutes or more depending upon your speed, just by adding 1/4" to your stride length! (Add more than 1/4" and you get even faster!)

The catch is, you can't just reach out further to grab more ground with your legs. Doing that would result in some overstriding and might get you injured. Not good.

So how do you get that extra 1/4" the right way?

By improving your stability, mobility and strength, that's how.

Even just a bit more hip mobility  = greater (and easier) range of motion, more elastic recoil and a longer, more powerful stride, naturally. (Did you know that 50% of the energy that propels you forward during the running stride comes from elastic and reactive “energy-return” of your muscles?).

Similarly, a more stable and stronger core and hips = LESS time spent in contact with the ground and LESS energy leaks, making each stride more efficient and powerful.

Sure, achieving either of these improvements will take some effort, but....the way I look at it, any improvement we can make that doesn't require more gut-busting track or tempo sessions, is worth exploring, don't you think?

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

PS:  And then there's the law of the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. I absolutely love the way James Clear writes about this amazingly similar strategy for improvement in his blog. Powerful stuff!

PSS: If you're a triathlete, imagine making similar kinds of gains as a swimmer. I'll be writing more about that in a future post.

Are You A Porsche Or A Cadillac?

 

Anyone who knows me well, knows I'm a car nut. I've always loved classics and muscle cars, and I love to go fast. So when I have the chance to draw an analogy between cars and running, how could I not speed ahead with it?

So here's the deal for today: To run faster than ever OR to finally get rid of that injury you've been nursing, you must think of your body as a spring on a car's suspension.

The optimal amount of springiness is NOT a Porsche. They're tight - firm - stiff, where you feel every bump in the road.

But, it is NOT a Cadillac either. They're soft and loose, bottoming out on every pothole.

Either scenario leaves you battling injury, recovering poorly, and running slower than you'd like!

Similarly, the answer to ANY question about flexibility, mobility, and stiffness for a runner is simply this: you want enough, but NOT TOO much.  

Don't be a Caddy OR a Porsche. To be a better runner, you'll need to find the appropriate amount of springiness and balance between the two.

Happy trails and have a great weekend!

~Coach Al

PS: do you love Yoga? The answer to that question might tell you which kind of car you are, and also where to focus your energy in order to improve.

It ISN’T About The Plan.

 

Recently, at a race where I was volunteering, I was chatting with a fellow runner. A week earlier he had finished his second 100-mile ultra.  He was feeling very good about having finished, and why not? Much like finishing an Ironman, getting to the FINISH line at a race of that magnitude is awesome and always worth celebrating! Despite his glow at having finished, I sensed there was something else bugging him...

As we talked, I began to understand why he was frowning. He acknowledged that yes, he really struggled during the race - his finish time was far slower than he was capable of. The primary reason, he felt, was an injury that had plagued him for most of the winter and spring, which prevented him from training as he had hoped or wanted.

His mood seemed to lift as he excitedly told me that in order to rectify things, he had already begun work on developing what he felt would be his perfect training week.  With a childlike grin, he described this "new" training routine as having the ideal blend of hill work, speed work, and long runs.

I chuckled to myself as I listened because I wasn't surprised. This was the same old blah-blah BS from a recently injured runner who, while well intentioned, was on the completely wrong path.

I said something to myself I often say in these situations: he simply doesn't know what he doesn't know.  

Now don't get me wrong. This is a smart guy who has been running for only a few years, and it is clear he has talent. Unfortunately, he's unknowingly missing THE most important elements which will help him truly reach his potential.  And he's not looking in the right places to get the answers he needs either. Training plans don't cause injury, nor do they lead directly to success. Both injury and success are essentially up to us.

What he doesn't know that I DO...and what I want to share with you today, is the secret to reaching your potential has very little to do with "the plan."  In fact, it has everything to do with the "little things" that most athletes don't pay much attention to.   

Honestly, of the dozens of things I speak about daily with the athletes I coach, depending upon their experience and where they are on their training journey, only a small percentage have to do with "the plan."

So, what are those "little things" that this runner might want to consider beyond obvious (to me) things like patience, recovery, daily nutrition, mindfulness, focus, and life balance/stress, to name a few?

Perhaps the most important is movement quality.

What do I mean?

Why not start by learning what the root-cause of the injury was. Only then can you get rid of it once and for all.   

Many athletes and sports medicine professionals alike mistakenly believe that rest cures all. That's just wrong. Just because you rest, the root-cause doesn't magically disappear.

Many struggle chronically with the same recurring injury, often from one year to the next, because they never learn the root-cause! That's just dumb.

It was clear this runner had no clue as to the root-cause of his injury. Here's some of what he should have considered:

  • Has he lacked muscle balance, appropriate mobility/flexibility, or core stability?
  • Had prior injuries set his body on a path of increasing compensation which ultimately led to this injury?
  • What about his foot mechanics - is he wearing the most appropriate running shoe for his unique needs?
  • Did he simply need to be functionally stronger in order to handle the training load?

My advice to him, had he asked me (he didn't), would have been to start by resisting the urge to only treat the symptoms. Instead, get smarter and learn what the cause actually is.

So here's the deal folks: Yes, a well-conceived, progressive, personalized training plan is an important part of an overall training program, but it is not the most important part.

When some of the important elements mentioned above, including arguably THE most important (movement quality) are in place and are monitored carefully and regularly, THEN and only then, is it time to worry about "the plan." But not before.

Live and learn.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al