The Best 10K Workout

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The Best 10K Workout

Contributor: Greg McMillan     Category: Training

Plus the Buildup to the Ultimate Workout

After running countless 10Ks and coaching runners who have run countless more, I’ve found one workout to be the absolute best to prepare you for the distance. It’s not an easy workout and you probably can’t do it right away, so you’ll need to build up to it with the sequence of workouts outlined here, which, when combined with supplementary workouts, creates an exceptional training plan for your next goal 10K.

The Best 10K Workout: 3 X 2 miles

If you can perform three 2-mile repeats at your goal 10K pace in the last one to two weeks before your race, you will achieve your goal time. Period. It’s a simple workout but oh-so-hard to accomplish. As such, you must build up to it, and this buildup of workouts turns out to be some of the best training you can do to run a fast 10K.



Buildup Workout #1: 6 X 1 mile

Eight weeks out from your 10K, run six 1-mile repeats at your goal 10K pace, taking 3 to 4 minutes recovery jog between each. Don’t be surprised if you struggle in this workout. Many athletes become worried that their goal is out of reach, but trust me: You just need to complete the workout sequence and you’ll be ready. One thing I find helps is to just focus on goal 10K pace, not faster. Some runners try to “beat the workout” by running faster but that isn’t the goal. Start at goal pace and simply hang on.


Buildup Workout #2: 2 mile + 4 X 1 mile

Six weeks out from your 10K, advance to the following workout: Run a 2-mile repeat at your goal 10K pace then take a 5-minute recovery jog. Next, run four 1-mile repeats at goal 10K pace, taking 3 to 4 minutes recovery jog between each. As with Workout No. 1, you will get in 6 miles of running at your goal pace.


Buildup Workout # 3: 2 X 2 mile + 2 X 1 mile

Four weeks out from the race, the workout advances yet again. This time, run two 2-mile repeats at goal 10K pace. Again, take a 5-minute recovery jog after each 2-mile repeat. Then, perform two 1-mile repeats at goal pace, taking 3 minutes recovery between each. By now, you should be feeling much more ready to attack your goal time. Your body is becoming calloused to the mental and physical stress of 10K pace. If, however, you’re struggling to hit your goal pace even on the first 2-mile repeat, then your proposed goal pace is too aggressive and you should re-evaluate.



World’s Best 10K Workout

After this buildup of workouts, you’re ready to attack the ultimate 10K workout. I suggest you perform this workout nine to 12 days before your race to allow enough time to recover before the event. Start with your usual warm-up (which you should perform for each workout described in this article), then run three 2-mile repeats at your goal 10K pace. Take a 5-minute recovery jog between each repeat. Prepare for this intense workout like you will your race — be well-recovered, properly hydrated and fueled, use the equipment you’ll use in the race, run at the time of day that you’ll be racing.

Supplementary Workouts

While the 10K buildup workouts occur every other week, the in-between weeks provide a great opportunity to perform other important 5K and 10K workouts. I like 200m and 400m repeats performed at 5K effort. I find that running slightly faster repeats on the in-between weeks makes 10K race pace feel easier. You may even perform a 5K race in preparation for your 10K. I also recommend at least one tempo run during this buildup. The pace will be slightly slower than 10K pace but will build your stamina for the goal event.

Simple Eight-Week Workout Sequence for a Fast 10K

Week #1: 6 x 1M

3-minute jog between 1M repeats

Week #2: 10-12 x 400m

Run the 400m repeats at 5K race pace; 200m jog between

Week #3: 2M + 4 x 1M

5-minute jog between 2M repeats, 3-minute jog between 1M repeats

Week #4: 3M Tempo Run or 5K Race

One simple prediction method is to double your 5K time and add 1 minute to get your 10K time. Are you on track for your goal 10K time?

Week #5: 2 x 2M + 2 x 1M

5-minute jog between 2M repeats, 3-minute jog between 1M repeats

Week #6: 20-24 x 200m

Run the 200m repeats at 5K race pace; 200m jog between

Week #7: 3 x 2M

Run the 2M repeats at goal 10K race pace; 5 minutes jog between

Week #8: RACE: 10K

Achieve your running goals with a McMillan training plan. Learn more to find the plan that meets your needs and budget.

See original post on mcmillanrunning.com.

3 Great Marathon Predictor Workouts

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3 Great Marathon Predictor Workouts

Contributor: Greg McMillan     Category: Training

As the race approaches, marathoners want to know which pace is the right pace – the one that achieves the fastest time possible and avoids the all too common fade in the final few miles. This article discusses the three workouts that I use to gauge the best race pace for the marathoners I coach. The predictions are not fool-proof, but I find them to work for the vast majority of marathoners. As you prepare for your next marathon, these workouts can be helpful in your race planning.

Fast Finish Long Runs

The Fast Finish Long Run has quickly become a mainstay for competitive marathoners. I learned it from Gabriele Rosa – the coach of world record holder Paul Tergat – but many other coaches and athletes have used it successfully for years.

In the fast finish long run, you run the first eight to 12 miles of a 14- to 18-mile long run at your normal long run pace. However, over the last three to 10 miles of the run, you run faster and faster. Once you’ve become accustomed to this workout, I’ve found that if you can finish these very strong and fast, you are on target to achieve your marathon goal. Read this post to learn more about how to run a fast finish long run.

Fast finish long runs are very tough workouts so you shouldn’t do them very often or run too many of them in any one marathon training cycle.

I suggest alternating a weekly fast finish long run with a more typical weekly long, steady run. If you can run three to five of these fast long runs in the eight to 12 weeks prior to your marathon, they become a very accurate predictor of your ability to not just run the marathon but to race your best marathon.

Lastly, you shouldn’t ‘taper’ for your fast finish long runs. Instead, go into each one as you would any other long run otherwise the pace you achieve isn’t as accurate of a predictor of your best marathon pace.

Long Distance Race

A second favorite marathon predictor workout is a long distance race. I really like for my marathoners to race a half-marathon a few weeks prior to the marathon (though any race from 15K to 30K works). To get your marathon pace prediction, use my McMillan Calculator. Just select the distance of the race you ran and input your time. Hit submit and check to see your predicted marathon time.

Another estimate of your marathon time is to double your half-marathon time and add five minutes. For example, if you run 1:30:00 for a half-marathon then this method would predict that you could run 3:05:00 for a marathon. I find, however, that doubling your half-marathon and adding seven minutes is slightly more accurate for most runners. Doubling the half and adding five minutes seems to work really well for pure marathoners, those runners who do poorly in short races but excel (and love) long workouts and races. Alternately, Tim Noakes, author of Lore of Running, suggests that you multiply your half-marathon time (in minutes) by 2.11 to get your marathon time (in minutes). No matter how you do it, though, a long distance race is another great workout that can help you accurately predict your fastest marathon pace.

One note about how close to the marathon you should run a long distance race: I recommend a minimum of three weeks between a half-marathon and the marathon, though I prefer four to five. Also, the longer the race, the further away from the marathon it should occur.

Yasso 800S

The third prediction workout comes from the folks at Runner’s World and is called Yasso 800s. The theory behind Yasso 800s is that your time in minutes and seconds for a workout of 10 times 800 meters (two laps of the track) with equal recovery time is the same as the hours and minutes of your marathon time. For example, if you can run 10 times 800 meters in three minutes and 20 seconds with three minutes and 20 seconds recovery, then this predicts that you can run three hours and 20 minutes for your marathon. Run 2:40 for the 800s and you can run 2:40 for the marathon.

My experience, though, is that Yasso 800s predicts about five minutes too fast for most marathoners. Using the example above, my experience has been that 10 times 800 meters in 3:20 with 3:20 recovery yields closer to a 3:25 marathon for most competitive runners. Because this workout is easy to do, I try to include it two or three times in a marathon training cycle. It not only provides a good predictor of marathon pace but allows you to chart your increasing fitness – a big confidence builder.

I typically use all three of these predictor workouts with each marathoner I coach and recommend that you do the same. These three workouts give you a great overview of your total capabilities – your endurance and durability (fast finish long run), your ability to run fast for a long period of time (long distance race) and your aerobic capacity (Yasso 800s). Taken together, I find them to be very, very accurate.

Caveats

All of these predictor workouts assume that you have done all the prerequisite training for a marathon – consistent volume of running, long runs, lactate threshold workouts, etc. You can’t just go run one of the predictor workouts and expect it to be accurate if you’ve not done the training. Without the proper prerequisite marathon training, you may find yourself in a world of trouble late in the race!

Also, aside from the long distance race, don’t taper for the fast finish long run or Yasso 800s workouts. Just do them as a normal key workout and get the result. I know that you’ll want to have a great workout, but in the end it’s more important to get an accurate picture of your marathon potential than to soothe your ego with a great workout that you tapered for.

Finally, the predictor workouts are for a normal marathon – one with mostly flat terrain and good marathoning weather. Adjustments have to be made for difficult courses (like Boston), races where the weather can effect the race (hot/humid conditions or windy conditions) or races where you may not have support in either race competitors, the crowds or volunteers. In these cases, you would be wise to be more conservative and create a race plan that is appropriate for your particular race.

In Closing

All predictors are estimates. We just cannot control how you will feel on the day, what the weather will be like, how your competition will pan out and numerous other factors. However, I’ve found that the predictor workouts described above offer marathoners with helpful information that can aid in race planning. Prepare the best you can, have faith in yourself, respect the distance, use these predictor workouts to establish a smart race plan and hope for the best on race day. Good luck!

Check out Greg McMillan’s Surviving the Marathon Freak Out: A Guide to Running Your Best Marathon

Original post at mcmillanrunning.com

Coach Gregs Pre Race Pep Talk

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Coach Greg’s Pre-race Pep Talk

Contributor: Greg McMillan     Category: Race Day

Before you read this section, I need you to be in a quiet space with no distractions. I need you to be in a calm mood with nothing pressing on your mind.

Okay. Ready?

Here is my super secret sauce: The performance you want is already inside you. That’s right. You can already achieve your goal. It is possible. You’ve proven it in training and even if you didn’t have the most ideal training leading in your race, you can still run very, very well. I’ve seen it over and over and over.

The key is to just get out of your own way. You are the one putting limits on yourself. Everyone else thinks you are amazing for doing this running thing anyway so why not you? Time to be more kind to yourself and become your own cheerleader in the last couple of weeks before the race.

It’s important to realize that you will be the one controlling the dialogue in your head throughout the race so let’s start scripting a positive result. Time to find your mantra to use when times get tough to remind you that you are more than tough enough to handle the challenge. Mine is always, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!” When I say this, I simply put my head down and get the job done realizing no one else is going to do it for me.

Will you get tired? You bet! Your legs will ache. Your mind will get fuzzy and you’ll just want the thing to be over. But, you must fight. You must keep going just like you did in training runs. Just get to the next mile marker and then the next and so on. I guarantee you that if you can just keeping going the finish line will surrender. It will acknowledge your bravery and toughness and appear before your eyes. And, the more you can be engaged while in the latter miles of the race, the sooner the finish will come.

As soon as you start having a pity party (and I’ve had my fair share), you will lose time. My advice is to accept that you are hurting; know that everyone else is hurting too and stop whining about it. I know. That seems harsh but you’re gonna have to dig deep late in the race and if you’ve learned nothing else through this training thing it is that you can dig deep, that there is a strength in you that you never knew existed. Remember that run you gutted out and learned something about yourself. That toughness is still in you and probably even to a greater extent than before.

As fatigue sets in, dig deep. You have it in you and the more determined you are in the last part of the race, the better your finish time will be and the more proud you will be of yourself – not just at the finish line but for weeks to come.

Imagine looking back at the race you are about to run and saying, “Wow! I really did a great job. I’m so proud of myself.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, then let’s commit right here right now that no matter what happens in the race, the weather stinks, you get a blister or you feel like a million bucks, you are going to give the absolute best that you have to offer through every part of the race (read more about Go Zone Racing); the beginning (holding back and running smart), the middle (dialing in goal pace and staying engaged) and especially the end (where you’ll call upon your superman/superwoman powers). Agreed? Good. Let’s (virtually) shake on it.

Here’s my Race Guide video and a post on how to avoid 4 common mistakes before your race.

Check out Greg McMillan’s Surviving the Marathon Freak Out: A Guide to Running Your Best Marathon

Original post at mcmillanrunning.com

5 Keys to Better Running Form

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5 Keys to Better Running Form

Contributor: Greg McMillan     Category: Form

I’m going to start by stating categorically that there is no one best running form. Runners come in so many different shapes, sizes and proportions that it’s simply illogical that one running form, like one training plan, would work for all runners.

That said, there are a few keys to improving your form, which should help you stay injury-free, perform better and at the least, look better in those race photos!

1) Posture

The same posture that’s good in your everyday life is good for your running. Remember when your mother frequently told you to sit up straight? Well, if I’m working with you on our form, you’ll hear me telling you to “run tall.” This cue, run tall, helps get you in an upright, non-slouching posture, which is best for running. As McMillan Coach and resident Olympian Andrew “Lemon” Lemoncello shows in the photo below, head above shoulders, shoulders above hips, hips above knees and ankles. Modern life encourages us to slouch so fight that in running and run tall. Your mom would be proud.

LemonPosture1

2) Arm swing

When running, your arms should be bent at roughly 90 degrees (slightly more or less is also okay). Your hands should be lightly clasped and when your arm swings, your hands should brush between your lowest rib and your waistband. The swinging action itself is front to back and relaxed. Any abnormal swinging (crossing the body, elbows wide, shoulders high) will have consequences in your mechanics. Race photos often illuminate any arm swing issues and you can have someone video you while running from the front and back to evaluate your arm action. Again, as Lemon demonstrates, imagine there is a box or picture frame from your shoulders to your hips. Your arm swing should be within this box and your hands should not cross the midline of the body. Don’t be rigid but just make sure your arms stay within the box.

LemonArmSwing2

3) Foot plant

There is a lot of chatter about foot plant. In my opinion, it matters less whether you land toward the front of the foot or the rear. What matters most is that you land under your body (or at least close to under the body). Overstriding is more of an issue than where you land on your foot. Runners can overstride with a forefoot plant as well as a heel plant. The key is to focus on landing under you and pushing behind you. (In the photo below, note that Lemon isn’t reaching out but is landing under his body.) I find if runners think not about reaching out in front to go faster but instead think about pushing harder down and behind, they cure their overstriding. Again, have someone video you from the side while you are running and you’ll see if you are landing far in front of your body (overstriding) or nearly under your body (correct landing).

LemonFootstrike3

4) Cadence

A few years ago, researchers suggested a cadence (or stride frequency) of 180 steps per minute was optimal. I would suggest anything from 170-190 works depending on the runner. If you look at most runners, regardless of speed, that look really good, they usually have around this cadence.

You can count your steps in one minute to get your cadence or most GPS monitors now do this for you as well. If you do find you need to increase your cadence, just make sure you aren’t sacrificing stride length by shortening your stride too much. Understriding to achieve an optimal cadence will slow you down. We want an optimal stride rate (cadence) and an optimal stride length. They both go together to create our speed.

5) Rhythm

Running is like dancing and the runners who look the best, again regardless of speed, are the ones that have great rhythm when they run. There is a certain flow to their stride. They are relaxed and rhythmic. Think of this when you run. We like to say, “Run tall. Run relaxed.” This simple cue usually cures most form issues and results in a great running rhythm.

Click to watch a video of Lemon running. Visualize this on your next few runs to help you improve your form.

In closing, I like that we all have our unique running forms. I like that I can spot my training partners from a mile away just by their stride. Few runners need a complete overhaul in their stride. Stick with your signature stride but just make sure you adhere to these 5 keys to good form since bad habits can easily creep into our running form.

Learn more about our Form Drills for Distance Runners follow-along routine to improve your form and even prepare you for workouts and races.

Original post at mcmillanrunning.com

Fixing the fade

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Fixing the Fade: Feeling Strong in the Final Miles

Contributor: Greg McMillan    Category: Race Day

Like most first-time marathoners, I sailed through 18 miles of my first marathon feeling like a million bucks. By 21 miles I wasn’t worth five cents. I faded badly over those final six miles. My second marathon was even worse. Run in hot and humid conditions, I was reduced to the marathoner’s survival shuffle even earlier.

By my third marathon, I figured a few things out and voila! — no fade. I finally felt like I actually raced the full marathon distance and set a 10-minute personal best. Here are the three things that I find help fix that marathon fade.

Fix #1: Decrease Your Delta

When I first evaluate a runner’s marathon training, I calculate what I call the “long run delta.” The “long run delta” is the difference between your longest long run in your marathon phase and your average long run in the six weeks prior to beginning your 12-week marathon-specific training. For example, if your average long run prior to marathon training is 14 miles and your longest long run during your marathon plan is 22 miles, then your long run delta is eight miles (22 – 14 = 8). If you regularly run 12 miles and your longest run is 22 miles, then your long run delta is 10 miles.

I’ve found that if runners simply decrease their long run delta (meaning that they increase their normal long run distance prior to marathon training), they are less likely to fade in the final few miles of their marathon. I’ve also found that a long run delta of six or less miles works best for runners hoping to qualify for Boston.

Clever runners, of course, suggest that it’s easy to get a long run delta of six or less.  All you have to do is do pre-marathon long runs of 12 miles and marathon long runs of 18 miles. While this is a popular strategy for beginning marathoners, it isn’t the best plan if you’re trying to fix your marathon fade. You need to condition the leg muscles to withstand the stresses of running long. You want to improve your body’s ability to fuel these muscles for the long run.  And, you want to callous the mind to running while tired. These are best accomplished by running more and longer long runs.

If you plan at least one 22-miler in your marathon plan, make sure that you are running a few 14 to 16 milers prior to starting your 12-week marathon training program. Increasing your pre-marathon long run length, combined with adequate marathon-phase long runs, is the best way to decrease your delta and fix your fade. There simply are no shortcuts to faster marathoning. NOTE: This is not for new runners going for their first marathon finish. This is for experienced runners who are having trouble with the final few miles.

Fix #2: Add Four Fast Finish Long Runs to Your Plan

I learned about the fast finish long run from Gabriele Rosa, the coach of former world-record holder Paul Tergat. In this type of long run, you start at your normal long run pace but run the last four to 10 miles at your goal marathon pace (and even faster for the last couple of miles). If you want to run 3:30 for the marathon then run the last few miles at 3:30 pace. Want to run 2:30? Then, run the last few miles at 2:30 pace.

The idea is that you are training your body (and maybe more importantly, your mind) to run strong even when you are tired, just like you will need to do in the marathon. My experience is that runners who perform four fast finish long runs (one every other week) in their training are much less susceptible to the finishing fade.

Why four? I’ve learned that doing more than four fast finish long runs causes runners to peak too soon. Your best runs become the fast finish long runs and not the marathon. Less than four fast finish long runs can work, but more often I find that runners need more of this type of run to really dial in how to run them well.

I suggest that runners start with a 14- to 16-mile long run about eight weeks prior to your marathon, with only the last four miles at goal marathon pace. Two weeks later, extend the total length of the run as well as the marathon pace portion by one to two miles. By the fourth one, you end up with an 18- to 20-mile run with the last eight to 10 miles at goal marathon pace. There is no doubting that this is tough running but it really helps condition the body and mind to running marathon pace when tired, thus fixing the fade.

Fix #3: Add One or Two Super Long Runs

For most runners, decreasing the long run delta and adding fast finish long runs should take care of the fade (assuming proper pacing, and adequate fueling and hydrating before and during the race). If, however, you are still fading, I suggest one more fix: adding one to two super long runs.

A super long run is an easy long run lasting 24 to 28 miles. The goal of the run is to provide a very large stimulus for the body to adapt to the marathon distance. A slow pace is better than a fast pace, as you simply want to stay out there for a long, long time.

This type of workout is very stressful to the body and you must alter your regular training before and after it to recover. I never advise more than two super long runs in a marathon plan, spaced apart by four weeks; I like to schedule them eight weeks and four weeks before the marathon. Also, you must take three to five days of just easy jogging or cross-training after each super long run — don’t worry about skipping workouts or even the next weekend’s long run in favor of proper recovery. You have really challenged your endurance by running a long, long way and now must provide the body plenty of rest in order to reap the benefits.

Original post at mcmillanrunning.com

Winter Injury-Proofing

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Winter Injury-Proofing

Contributor: Greg McMillan     Category: Race Day

As winter weather arrives for us in the Northern Hemisphere, I see lots of neighbors getting ready. Snowblowers are reawakened. Shovels are readied, and winter gear moves front and center in closets.

For the runner, training changes as well. As the days get shorter, some of us run in the growing darkness of the early morning and late afternoon. Some of us move our runs to midday, requiring a rearrangement of our normal workday routine. And all of us spend time evaluating the benefit of the run versus the risk of a fall on slick surfaces.

I used to think of winter as a season when my running suffered. Now I see it as a time when I can injury-proof myself to get ready for faster racing in the spring, summer and fall. After all, I’m inside more, there are fewer daylight hours, and I often have to miss runs due to poor footing anyway. Why not work with this reality, instead of against it?

Use this time to establish and refine a routine that will last throughout the year. Done correctly, you can easily injury-proof yourself over the winter and surprise yourself at the quality of your training (and then racing) when the weather warms.

Here are the four areas that I address in my winter routine:

1 – Flexibility/Mobility

As we run, the soft tissue in our legs stiffens. This is a positive training effect, as the stiffer tissues help to store energy, then return it to help propel us down the road with less effort. But stiffness can go too far, causing dysfunction that, if not corrected, may lead to injury. As a result, every runner needs a flexibility routine to help keep soft tissues from getting too tight.

Winter is the perfect time to create, refine and finalize your flexibility routine. Create a “quick” routine for when the schedule is tight and a “full” one for those rare days when you have plenty of time.

My experience has been that active isolated flexibility is the best for runners and can be used before and after running, though I typically work on flexibility only after my runs. The Wharton routine is easiest for me, and then I add a few yoga poses that seem to help loosen me up. Experiment and see what works for you.

While the research is inconclusive on the value of flexibility in preventing injury, I certainly find that when I consistently work on my flexibility, I feel better training and have fewer injuries.

2 – Stability

Running, at its simplest, is about holding your trunk (core and hips) stable while you move your arms and legs. The more stable you can hold your trunk while your arms and legs are doing their thing, the more efficient you’ll be. Many therapists believe that an unstable trunk is a leading cause of injury from the feet to the hips.

Gaining this important stability is easy and requires just a few exercises. There seem to be as many trunk stability exercises as there are runners. Again, find ones that challenge you and that you enjoy doing. You’re more likely to stick to them. Then, as you get into your injury-proofing routine, you can advance the exercises.

One note: The growing body of evidence points to the hips as a primary cause of running ailments. It is critically important that runners strengthen their hips. The more injury prone you are, the more you need to work on hip strength and mobility.

3 – Specfic Injury areas

We all have our Achilles heel–an area of weakness that often gets injured or threatens injury. For me, my hips (weakness) and calves (tightness) are my areas of concern. For my training partner, it’s his plantar fascia. I suspect that you have a problem area as well. Develop focused injury-proofing for that area, and don’t let up. Don’t work on it only when you’re hurting. Work on it year-round. Let’s commit to addressing our oft-injured areas. For most of us, two to four exercises, along with stretches and massage techniques, could help those susceptible areas become more resistant to injury. Read more in Coach Lemon’s article on The Importance of Prehab.

4 – Running Form

Have you seen yourself run? You should. All of us could benefit from cleaning up our running form. Better form may not only help prevent injury, but may also hold off fatigue in training and racing. Winter is a great time to work on running form. You can easily do running drills in a small space (a hallway or garage works); if you have an indoor workout location (track, gym, etc.), all the better. If the weather (or more importantly, the footing) is dangerous for a run, substitute some running form work. It’s easy to do, and at least you know you’re working to improve your performance, even if you can’t run. You can find dozens of drills to improve your form (here’s my Form Drills routine). Select some that will work for you and do them, consistently. You’ll be surprised how much you can clean up your arm swing, body position and running motion with just a few weeks of form drills.

Check out all of McMillan Running’s Strength and Prehab routines.

Achieve your running goals with a McMillan training plan. Learn more to find the plan that meets your needs and budget.

Original post on mcmillanrunning.com

Blending Consistency with Variety to Gain Peak Fitness

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Blending Consistency with Variety to Gain Peak Fitness

Contributor: Mark Allen  Category: Training

Human beings are hardwired to become efficient at the things we do consistently. Artists perfect their paint strokes over time. It becomes easier and more automatic for a ballet dancer to perform a specific routine when practiced again and again. Endurance athletes are exactly the same. The more we do our sport, the more efficient we become at doing it. But there’s a downside to getting more and more efficient!

The snag is that as you get more fit, if you continue with the same training, the effect in the future in terms of overall gains from your workouts will become less and less. Think of it this way; in the beginning of the season when you are out of shape, even a week or two of training will net some very noticeable improvements in speed, endurance, and overall efficiency of motion. But by the end of the season when you are extremely fit, those gains become almost imperceptible- even with a huge amount of work. And in terms of metabolic efficiency, in the beginning of the season it takes a large amount of calories per hour to fuel your training. At the end, that number can be a third to half of what it took earlier that same year.

Don’t get me wrong. The efficiency gained from consistent regular training is one of the things you want to have happen, especially if you are targeting a long race like a marathon or an IRONMAN. You want your body to be able to go the distance on fewer calories per hour. And building that efficiency only comes by doing the same thing over and over and over. This is your consistency. As an example, the bulk of your aerobic fitness will come from the long endurance workouts completed each week and from the faster speed sessions that, for many people, are also a weekly part of training. All other days that you include are going to be ones that provide smaller gains in efficiency.

But there is only so much to get out of doing the same thing for months on end. This is where variety becomes essential. A new stimulus on the body will provide a greater net improvement in that specific area of fitness that it targets than the fitness gains earned from doing something you have done a thousand times before. You’ve probably experienced this if you are a cyclist who is extremely fit, but then you go out and do your first run in months. You will be sore the next day! So while consistency is essential to become an efficient athletic machine, adding some variety is essential to keeping fitness gains from plateauing.

Here are five tips on how you can add actual variety into your workouts to keep your fitness gains coming along with efficiency.

Vary the Intensity

The easiest way to build fitness over the long haul is to vary the intensity levels in your performance. Most people tend to work within a very limited physiological range. For some that may be training anaerobically, while others it could be doing all their training at a steady aerobic state. Regardless of where you do 90% of your training, if you mix up the intensity levels by adding in more of what you normally don’t do, you will increase your body’s ability with improved fitness.

Keep in mind that when people think of mixing up the intensity usually what comes to mind is to add in more speed work. However, if you are a speed demon, slowing down your workouts to a level that stimulates the aerobic metabolism will bring huge gains in fitness because it is a physiological stimulus that you are not accustomed to getting.

Vary the Terrain

If you have a favorite long bike route or a meat and potatoes long run that you do all the time, the variations in terrain will always come at the same point of the workout. But just like monotony in the intensity levels, if you do the same loops and trails and workouts every week, there will be a falloff in the fitness gains you get. So mix it up.

Do a loop backwards! By doing a loop in reverse the hills and undulations will come at a very different time of the workout, which will help keep your fitness gains coming. Think of it this way, if you always have a 10-mile climb 30-miles into a long ride your body gets good at doing that climb at that point of the ride. But if you do the ride in reverse, perhaps there will be a climb 80-miles into the ride that you would never get doing the loop in your normal direction.

If you consider swimming, there is no terrain to work with. But what you can do is change up the days of the week that you do specific types of work. Generally, in Masters swim programs there are weekly days that are endurance-focused and others where speed is emphasized. If you can, mix those days up so that the weekly cycle is different. It is a slight difference, but your body will be getting something on a day that it is not ready for, which will give it a big boost in fitness.

Vary the Duration

This is a key piece. Most people tend to do the same length workout every week on the same day. For a triathlete getting ready for an IRONMAN that can be something like a 5-hour ride on Saturdays and a 2-hour run on Sundays. They do this week after week. Initially, huge fitness gains will happen. But over time, your body gets used to that rhythm and will get all of the efficiency it is going to get out of it. So, again, mix it up!

One week ride 4:30, the next 5:30 or 6:00. Run 1:45, then 2:15 or 2:30 the next. The average workout length can be the same over time, but the simulation is always a bit different. Someone who does two months of 5-hour rides every week will not be as fit at the end of that time as someone who varied the length of those rides week to week even if they both end up with the same average over the two month period. Variation keeps your body guessing!

Do a Body Shock

This is the trickiest variation to get right, but one that can deliver a huge bump in fitness as a result. It’s doing a day or week of training that is way beyond your norm. It is a very short in duration but a significant increase in the lengths of your workouts, the intensity, or both.

Here is an example. Maybe you are doing a long run each week of about an hour and you feel like it is not doing anything any more in terms of building your fitness. So try one week where you run 1:30-1:45 on that day. It will take you way past your norm into a realm that you are not accustomed to, but it will give you a huge bump in your overall fitness. Keeping this shock to one week is what will also allow you to do it without a lot of risk of injury or burnout that can happen if you were to maintain this level or volume every week for a month or two.

Race

This is one of the biggest variances you can add into your overall fitness planning. There is nothing like a race to bump up your fitness. Races are sustained efforts for longer periods of time at higher intensities over the length of the race than you will ever do in training. Yes, you may do longer training days and speed sessions that have you going at speeds for short intervals that you will never hit in a race. But it is the sum total of speed and duration combined in a race that is nothing you can recreate in training.

The race can be within your sport or it can be something that is close to it. The result will be the same. So for example, if you are a triathlete, doing a running race will give you huge gains across the board. The main thing is that you are doing an effort that is nothing like what you can do in training, and that is a great variation!

 

 

The Benefits of Regular Stretching and Strength Training

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The Benefits of Regular Stretching and Strength Training

Contributor: Bryan Heiderscheit     Category: Running Form, Training

I often hear from runners that they avoid regularly stretching or strength training because they’d rather spend the time running. Who wouldn’t? Once daily work, family and general life demands are completed, there are only a few precious minutes left to exercise. What better way to use that time than lacing up the shoes and hitting the road. While this approach can lead to short term satisfaction, it jeopardizes long term success.

It’s important to make sure that your body can tolerate the demands that running will place on it. This means that you shouldn’t ignore those tight hip flexor muscles or weak calf muscles unless you’re willing to face the consequences of injury and time away from running. While it’s seemingly impossible to prevent all running-related injuries, regular stretching and strengthening exercises to key areas can go a long way toward keeping you healthy.

Here are 5 exercises to target common areas of need that won’t require a gym membership or an extra hour in your day.

Hip Flexor Stretch

This stretch can be done anywhere (such as waiting in line for your morning coffee) and will help alleviate knee, hip and low back pain. Stand as shown with the front foot a step length ahead of the back foot. Keeping both feet pointed straight ahead, shift your weight forward toward the front foot by bending your knee. Keeping your back knee straight, squeeze your glutes and perform a posterior pelvic tilt (i.e., tuck your tail) without moving your back. You should feel the stretch in front of your hip in the back leg. Hold this position for 30 seconds and do this stretch frequently throughout the day.

Heel Raises

Although the calf muscles are a primary running muscle, regular running is not enough to prevent age-associated weakness and changes in elasticity. Those of you over the age of 35 that have experienced a calf strain, Achilles tendinopathy or plantar fasciitis can attest to this. Ending each run with  single-leg heel raises off of a step can help reduce injury risk and maintain calf muscle power production necessary to run well. Each repetition should be done quickly, completing the full up-and-down movement within 1 second. Start with 20 on each side and build up to 40-60.

Hamstring Strengthening on Ball

While its purpose is self-explanatory, this exercise can be quite challenging.. This exercise will not only target the hamstring muscles, but can be very demanding to your core muscles. Start by lying on your back on the floor with your knees straight and lower legs placed on a physioball. Your arms should be on the floor slightly out from your sides. Lift your hips off the floor about 6” (bridge) and hold; do not let your legs roll off the ball. While holding the bridge position, pull the ball closer to your hips by bending your knees then return the ball back to the starting position. Repeat 15 times, keeping the bridge position throughout. To make it more challenging, you can cross your arms over your chest, do with only one leg on the ball, or a combination of both.

3-point Hurdles

Hip mobility is a common area of concern for runners, especially when considering the hours spent sitting during the day. The key to this exercise is moving your hip through its full motion while keeping your back and pelvis stable by contracting your core muscles. Start with your forearms and knees on the floor, and then lift one knee off the floor by pushing down with your toes. By keeping the knee off the floor, the hip muscles on this side are also challenged. Next, lift the opposite leg entirely off the floor and simulate the circular motion of moving it over a hurdle. Perform the circular motion 15-20 times, keeping the opposite knee off the floor throughout. Switch legs and repeat.

Leg Pendulums

This is a great exercise to do right before and after a run to loosen up the hip muscles. Begin by standing tall and holding on to a stationary object (e.g., railing or wall) for balance. Shift all your weight onto one foot so the other leg can swing free of the ground. Keeping the unweighted leg relaxed, move your pelvis side-to-side in a rhythm so the leg swings with long pendulum arcs. The leg should swing across your body then out to the side, and then across again. This swing direction nicely stretches the muscles of your outer hip and inner thigh. Repeat 15 times with each leg.

This pendulum motion can also be done with your swing leg moving forward and backward to stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors.

Improved strength and flexibility will become obvious after a brief period of consistently doing the above exercises. The next step is to ensure that you are taking advantage of these gains by using good running form. This includes such things as keeping your pelvis level, not over-striding and avoiding too much up and down movement of your body’s center of mass. Building strength and flexibility is an important part of running with good form, and will keep you out on the roads and trails enjoying the sport you love.

 

 

 

When Dehydration Becomes a Limiting Factor for Performance

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When Is Dehydration a Limiting Factor for Performance?

Contributor: Matt Dixon     Category: Training

Within training and competition, dehydration becomes a performance limiter once you hit about a 4% level of dehydration.  This refers to fluid loss as a percentage of your body weight. For example, if a person weighs 100 lbs and is 4% dehydrated, they have lost 4 lbs of fluid. Away from a scale, this can only be estimated but we know this is where performance detriments occur. Prior to this level, it is not really a factor, so most athletes can drink to thirst, unless great heat and humidity are a factor.  In longer events, then it truly can become a massive factor.  Let’s use my sport of triathlon as an example to explain the key behind managing hydration.  

An IRONMAN event takes at least 8 hours, and often occurs in higher temperatures.  This makes hydration important.  The key behind this is realizing that most of it is related to our volume of blood in the body.  Of course, our body is a ‘closed’ system, with between 5 and 6.5 liters of blood circulating to the muscles to deliver oxygen, to the skin to dissipate heat generated by work, and to the GI (Gastrointestinal) system to help absorb calories.  As an athlete becomes dehydrated, the blood volume drops, as the fluid loss creates declining plasma volume (the clear portion of our blood).  This drop in blood volume creates competition between the muscle and skin, as we try to maintain output, but also need to get rid of the heat we generate.  With less blood to go around, the competition increases.  It is worth realizing that the skin will always win, as heat can be an organ killer!  This means there is less blood going to the muscles to allow us to maintain pace, and an increase in the perception of fatigue.

It creeps up on an athlete, but if an IRONMAN athlete forgets to hydrate well on the bike, the ensuing marathon can become a real slog.

To prevent dehydration, follow these tips daily:

  • Drink 1-2 glasses of water with each meal
  • Rehydrate post exercise with a glass of water (add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of citrus for optimal results)
  • Drink to thirst (and listen to the mechanism) in most training. For extended duration or intense training you will need a proper hydration plan.

 

 

How To Cope With Stress: A Dynamic Approach to Training

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How To Cope With Stress: A Dynamic Approach to Training

Contributor: Matt Dixon     Category: Training

We need to remember that our training is a STRESS in itself.  Most of us lead big lives, with many stressors, and our overall goal of training is to maximize our training load while delivering positive adaptations.  This means we must be in tune with the ebb and flow of life stressors, and adapt our training load relative to life.  We cannot expect to simply dump a training program, full of highly specific training stress, on a life already at capacity with stress.

A good way to think of stress is as ‘global hormonal load’.  All of the following factors increase the load on us systematically:

  • A lack of sleep quantity or quality
  • Poor nutritional platform (quality or quantity)
  • A lack of post training refueling
  • Stress from work
  • Stress from family and relationships
  • Travel stress

And many more.  While we want to optimize our hard work, we must have a dynamic approach to our training to ensure we can yield the results of our own hard work in training.

 

 

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