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I just got word that Running Times will print an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon, coauthored with Brad Hudson, in its August issue. It's going to be a condensed version of Chapter 2, which discusses the 12 core methods of Brad's training system. Check it out if you can. And in the meantime, check out this brief sneak peak at the same chapter:

 

General running volume-or how much you run-is the most basic parameter of training and therefore the first parameter that each runner should consider in creating a customized training plan. How many times per week should I run? How many miles per week? How much should my running volume increase from the beginning to the end of my training plan? These are the questions you need to answer before asking any others as you look ahead to your next training cycle.

 

The running volume that is most appropriate for you depends on your next peak race goal, your capacity to absorb and recover from frequent runs and longer runs, and your training history. As a general rule, I recommend that runners consistently maintain a moderately high running volume relative to these individual considerations.

 

 

Some training systems are characterized by extremely high volume rather than mderately high volume. In extreme high-volume systems, runners push themselves to run as many miles each week as they possibly can. Arthur Lydiard was a persuasive proponent of extreme high-volume training. Many of America's top runners of the 1970s and early 1980s-including Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar-were strongly influenced by Lydiard's philosophy and achieved great success on high-mileage training (upwards of 150 miles per week in some cases).

 

 

Other training systems are known as high-intensity systems. In these systems, training intensity, not training volume, is considered to be the true path to running success. The weekly training schedule is packed with high-speed sessions that leave runners exhausted after relatively few miles compared to the number of miles they could complete at lower intensities. High-intensity training systems are necessarily moderate-volume systems, because the more high-speed running you do each week, the less total running you can do without becoming overtrained or injured. Many great runners have achieved outstanding success on training programs that emphasized quality over quantity. American middle-distance star Alan Webb and former marathon world record holder Steve Jones of Wales are among the most noteworthy runners to have reached the top by doing a lot of high-intensity workouts and less total mileage than most of their peers. Bill Bowerman, the legendary University of Oregon coach and Nike cofounder, also used a high-intensity, moderate-volume system with his athletes.

 

 

Based on the proven effectiveness of both approaches, I like to split the difference between the extremes in volume emphasis and intensity emphasis. I believe that high running volume is indispensable for maximal aerobic development. However, high-intensity training clearly provides fitness benefits that moderate-volume training does not. Since the only way to truly maximize running mileage is to forego high-intensity training, I believe that overemphasizing mileage is a mistake. Most runners will get the best results by finding a balance between quality (intensity) and quantity (volume). So the adaptive running approach is to do as much running at various faster speeds as you can do without seriously limiting the total running volume you can absorb, and to do as much total running as you can do without seriously limiting the amount of high-intensity running you can absorb. Naturally, the precise formula is different for each runner and requires experimentation to find.

 

 

Another aspect of my philosophy on running volume is consistency. Some training systems entail large fluctuations in running volume throughout the training cycle. But I prefer to keep the overall running volume fairly consistent throughout the training cycle while manipulating other variables to produce fitness gains. Obviously, when an athlete's recent training has been at a low volume it is necessary to gradually increase it to the level that is required for peak fitness. However, once a runner has attained this level, I like to have him or her stay relatively close to that level thereafter, except for brief off-season rest periods.

 

 

The rationale for consistency in running volume is, first of all, that it does no harm to maintain a relatively high volume year-round. As long as you take one or two breaks each year and reduce the overall workload of your training when appropriate, you won't wear yourself down. Secondly, having to build your running fitness from a low level to the level required for peak fitness can really bog down a training program, because volume increases must be executed gradually to avoid overtraining and injuries, and it's very risky to increase overall running mileage and high-intensity running mileage simultaneously. You'll be able to build fitness faster and peak at a higher performance level if you start each training cycle with a relatively high volume of running. And the only way to safely start a training cycle at a fairly high volume is to never allow your training volume to drop too low.

 

A third benefit of maintaining moderately high running mileage more or less year-round is that it reduces injury risk. Injuries tend to occur during periods of increasing running volume. If you keep your mileage relatively high, you will minimize these risky volume ramp-up periods in your training.

 

 

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This morning a writer for The Houston Chronicle named Roberta McInnis interviewed me on the topic of strength training for runners. At the end of the interview McInnis asked me to send her some suggested strength exercises for runners. Here's what I sent her:

 

Runner's Strength and Power Workout 

 

A little strength training goes a long way for runners.  The following strength and power workout includes only four exercises.  Doing it just two or three times per week will significantly increase your durability, running efficiency, stride power and performance.  Start by doing each exercise one time.  After two or three weeks, repeat each exercise a second time in circuit fashion (i.e., do each exercise once, then go back and do each a second time).  After two or three weeks more, add a third circuit.

 

 

Wood Chop

 

 

Strengthens the stabilizers of the core and hips and improves the transfer of forces between the upper and lower body during running 

 

 

Stand with your left side facing a cable pulley station with a handle attached at shoulder to head height.  Bend your knees and place your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Use both hands to grab the handle. Your arms should be almost fully extended with your trunk twisted to the left.  Now pull the handle from this position across your body and toward the floor, stopping when your hands are outside your left ankle.  This is a compound movement that involves twisting your torso to the right, shifting your weight from your left foot to your right foot, bending toward the floor, and using your shoulders to pull the handle across your body.  Concentrate on initiating the movement with your trunk muscles.  At the bottom of the movement, pause briefly and then smoothly return to the start position.

 

 

Complete 10 repetitions with a weight you could lift 12 times.  Reverse your position and repeat the exercise.

 

 

Reverse Wood Chop

 

 

Strengthens the stabilizers of the core and hips and improves the transfer of forces between the upper and lower body during running 

 

 

Connect a handle to a cable pulley station at ankle height. Stand in a wide stance with your left side facing the cable pulley station and most of your weight on the left foot. Grasp the handle in both hands, beginning with the handle just outside your lower left shin. Using both arms, pull the cable upward and across your body, finishing above your right shoulder. Avoid rounding your back. Return smoothly to the start position.

 

 

Complete 10 repetitions with a weight you could lift 12 times.  Reverse your position and repeat the exercise.

 

 

Split Squat Jump

 

Strengthens the legs and increases stride power and efficiency 

 

Start in a split stance with your right foot flat on the ground and your left leg slightly bent with only the forefoot of your left foot touching the ground a half step behind the right.  Lower yourself down into a deep squat and then leap upward as high as possible.  In midair, reverse the position of your legs.  When you land, sink down immediately into another squat and then leap again.  Use you arms for balance and to generate extra upward thrust with each leap.  Complete 10 to 20 jumps with each leg.

 

 

Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch

 

 

Strengthens the stabilizers of the core and hips and improves the transfer of forces between the upper and lower body during running 

 

 

Assume a wide athletic stance with a single dumbbell placed on the floor between your feet.  Bend your knees slightly, tilt forward from the hips, and grasp the dumbbell with your left hand using an overhand grip (knuckles forward).  Begin with your left arm fully extended.  With a single, fluid, powerful movement, yank the dumbbell off the floor, stand fully upright, and continue raising your left arm until it is extended straight overhead.  Pause briefly and then reverse the movement, allowing the dumbbell to come to rest again on the floor briefly before initiating the next lift.  Complete 10-12 repetitions and then switch to the right arm.

 

 

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Several years ago I developed a nagging pain on the right side of my pelvis, in the crease between the top of my thigh and my pubic area. Clearly an overuse condition related to running, the pain got so bad that I had to stop running completely. It went away for a while and then returned with a vengeance after I resumed full training. Fearing that I had developed a sports hernia, I went to see a doctor about it, but he diagnosed hip flexor tendonitis.

 

 

Later, when rehabilitating an unrelated injury, a physical therapist told me I had extremely tight hip flexors (a common problem in runners) and suggested I start an intensive stretching program to lengthen them. Very soon thereafter another physical therapist analyzed my gait and told me that my stride was too short because I was unable to hyperextend my hips normally, probably due to those tight hip flexors. The two therapists (who knew each other) agreed that this muscle imbalance was probably the cause of my tendonitis.

 

 

Whether because of the stretching or other changes that I made (most especially to my gait), I was able to control my pelvic pain (which eventually emerged on my left side, as well) enough to train as I pleased, but it was a constant source of discomfort and became borderline debilitating during my heaviest periods of training and in my hardest, longest workouts. Indeed, it nearly took me out of the California International Marathon last year.

 

 

Recently, on a hunch, I decided to test whether making a specific change to my stride would ameliorate the problem. Since the first time I saw myself running on videotape as a high school junior I have known that I run in a sort of seated position, with my pelvis tilted forward-a posture that you might expect in someone with very tight hip flexors, which contantly want to fold the trunk toward the thigh, and another very common issue in runners. I wondered what would happen if I forced myelf out of this position by pressing my hips forward, neutralizing the position of my pelvis and thus making it easier to hyperextend my hips to lengthen my stride.

 

 

I began playing around with proprioceptive cues that would enable me to sustain this change.  Consciously pressing my hips forward worked well, and so did running tall, or imaging my head being pulled skyward by a wire. Interestingly, in this position I immediately felt my hip flexors being forced to stretch more, as they were having to work from a more lengthened position compared to the contracted position they were used to working in. But while I felt more stretch in these muscles, I actually felt less strain. My hypothesis is that to facilitate my new posture, my brain has relaxed my hip flexors instead of holding tension in them as it normally does. Without this tension, my hip flexors no longer resist the lengthening they must undergo to allow my hips to extend. A tug-o-war has ceased.

 

 

This experience strengthens my belief that stride improvements trump stretching and strengthening exercises with respect to overcoming and preventing recurrence of injuries. Tight and weak muscles only cause injuries inasmuch as they alter the stride in bad ways. And no amount of stretching and strengthening will fix stride flaws on their own. There must be a concious effort to run differently.

 

 

The physical therapist who told me to stretch my hip flexors was not wrong to do so, but what she did not understand is that muscle tightness is not a matter of a muscle being structurally too short. Muscles can't shrink in that sense any more than bones can shorten. Tightness is, rather, a matter of your brain holding the muscle in a shortened position-keeping it constantly semi-contracted. Traditional stretching exercises are not the best way to train your brain to relax a tight muscle, especially in the context of complex movements such as running.  What you really have to do is trick your brain into letting the tight muscle relax by changing something about the way you move so that your brain sort of forgets to hold tension in the tight muscle and then discovers that no harm is done in the process (as holding tension is essentially a self-protective mechanism) and continues to allow it.

 

 

It's only been a few days since I made this discovery. I'm still at the stage where I have to concentrate on pressing my hips forward with every stride or else I fall back into sitting. But I think I'm onto something and I am very eager to see whether the pain in my pelvis slowly diminishes as I continue.  Maybe someday I will no longer wince when I wake up in the middle of the night having to pee and contract my hip flexors to sit up in the bed.

 

 

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