Categorized as: Masters Athletes

IMPROVE your parkrun PB FROM HOME

“With the right mindset you can turn your weaknesses into your strengths”

Since partial lockdowns (due to Covid19) have been announced I have chatted with a number of athletes whose biggest question is basically “What am I going to do now?”

Well given the restrictions we face I think the answer is obvious – use the time to target your physical weaknesses and turn them into your running strengths.

There are times where we all hit a plateau – where performance just don’t seem to really improve. Even worse there are times when we seem to be constantly plagued by niggly injuries that hamper both performance and enjoyment (think plantar fasciitis, lower back pain, sore hips, Achilles tendonitis).

Runners are really good at saying “I am not fit enough… I better run more” but quite possibly even larger improvement lies in decreasing the effect of your physical weaknesses – therefore improving your running efficiency – saving you energy, making you smoother and … making you faster.

Those that have been following us for a while will know that I passionately believe in the ability of strength training to transform running performance. I have written a number of blogs on this topic. If you haven’t caught up with them the links are below:

Work on the right areas consistently and you will be ready to hit the next parkrun (whenever that may eventually be) in good shape to hit a new PB.

SO WHAT SHOULD I TARGET?

It’s a matter of getting the “best bang for your buck” – in other words where is my running body weakest and how is it impacting my running. Below are the key areas I would examine – and some suggested exercises you might be able to do at home (with minimal equipment) to focus on them

Calves (my personal nemesis and focus, therefore, of much of my own training):

  • Calf Raises – straight leg, bend leg (seated), double leg, single leg, over a ledge, barefoot
  • Pogos (straight leg bouncing)
  • Straight leg rebounds (step of a low box and rebound)
  • Rope skipping

Hamstrings

  • Heel slides – single and double leg
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Straight leg bounds
  • Arabesques

Glute (Max – the power unit of our running)

  • Hip Bridging – double and single leg
  • Reverse Hypers
  • Butterfly Hip Thrusts
  • Squats
  • Wall Sit

Glute (Med – for hip stability)

  • Clams
  • Exploding Clams
  • Side Plank variations: for time – arm &/or leg movement, raised
  • Side lying leg raises
  • Lateral Jumps
  • Lateral Hops
  • Curtsy Lunges
  • Skater Lunges
  • Alternating arm arabesques

Core

  • Plank Variations: for time, elbows to hands, dolphin, lateral pull throughs, forward pulls, rotating
  • Bear Walks – forward/backward/lateral
  • “Dead Ants”: Holds, alternating arm leg lowers, resisted lowers, same side lowers
  • Hanging leg lifts

Combined Plyometric Options

  • Squat Jumps
  • Split Jumps
  • Split Lunge Jumps
  • Tuck Jumps

This is very far from a complete list but there is a cross section of very effective exercise from low level to explosive.

HOW SHOULD I USE THE EXERCISES?

  1. Choose your area of weakness
  2. Choose 1-3 exercises that target that area. If you chose multiple exercises try to choose ones that target the muscle slightly different from each other
  3. Complete 2-3 sets of 12-15reps.
  4. Progress from double leg to single leg to explosive as you develop competency and strength through each phase
  5. In strengthening the weakness, start with slow controlled movement – keeping the muscle under tension for extended periods of time through the full range of motion. Develop controlled speed as your competency improves.
  6. The final stage is adding explosive movements. Start with low reps 1-5 and 4-5 sets.  Keep these explosive by not taking reps higher than 8

***Remember this is NOT running conditioning – this is strengthening. Our aim is to make your weaker muscles more stable, stronger and more dynamic to improve running efficiency so we can IMPROVE YOUR PARKRUN PB***

If you would like more information and/or more assistance in exercise selection and prescription feel free to contact Damn Fit Strength and Conditioning:  dave@damnfitsc.com.au or visit the website https://www.damnfitsc.com.au/contact/

(Re)Building the Masters Sprinter

The Power in the Posterior Chain

When Masters athletes contact us and want to train for sprints they generally fall in to one of four categories:

  • Never competed before but used to feel pretty fast “as a kid”
  • Have been doing parkruns but feel they are supposed to run faster (and much less distance)
  • Ran as a youth and/or young adult and want to get back into it
  • Currently compete but want to improve (or at least not slow down as they age)

No matter which category they fall into we look very early at the effectiveness of their posterior chain.

SO WHAT IS THE POSTERIOR CHAIN?

The posterior chain refers to the muscles are the rear of the body. The Posterior Chain is made of four major muscle groups:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Spinal erectors

 Posterior chain exercises involve contracting and lengthening the muscles in a chain like manner

WHY THE POSTERIOR CHAIN?

Hunter Charnesk, the American Physical Preparation expert, describes the Posterior Chain as the “GO” muscles. Despite sprinters generally having very impressive physiques, the muscles we want to develop lie in the power generating engine and not in the “show” muscles. The key component of that engine is the hips. Power is generated by extension of the hip muscles to drive foot into the track. The other muscles of the posterior chain support and sustain control as the hip goes to work.

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

We need to build strength in each component of the posterior chain. As we progress our training will become more explosive. We also need to ensure that each component of the chain works in synchronicity with the others to ensure the most efficient flow of power and that we don’t have energy leakages.

Below we have listed some of our key exercises for developing the posterior chain. To suit each athlete, and to progress or regress the exercise as needed we can:

  1. Add or decrease volume
  2. Add or decrease speed
  3. Add or decrease weight
  4. Alter foot/hand placement
  5. Alter rest periods
  6. Adjust range of motion

Glutes

  • Supine Bridge
  • Hip Thrust
  • Squats

Hamstrings

  • Roman Chair /45 degree back extension*
  • Good mornings*
  • Glute – Ham – Calf Raise*
  • Nordics
  • Deadlifts*
  • Rack pulls*
  • Kettle Bell Swings*

Calves

  • Double leg calf raises (standing and seated)
  • Single Leg calf raises (standing and seated)
  • Pogos
  • Straight leg rebounds
  • Rope skipping

Spinal Erectors

  • Any of the above exercise marked with “*”
  • Reverse hypers (also a great glute exercise)
  • Bent over rows

Exercise such as the Olympic lifts (and their derivatives and variations), sled pulls and prowler pushes are means we use in the gym to develop the co-ordination and efficiency of the posterior chain.

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to https://www.damnfitsc.com.au/contact/

The Taper – Are You Getting It Right?

Be at your peak for competition

With less than 8 weeks to go until the Australian Masters Athletics Championships, and also until the Stawell Gift, most of our Track & Field athletes are in the final phase of their preparation. Trying to “get it right” on the day of competition has always been one of the most challenging aspects of programming for athletes – it is part science and part art (experience)

We are going to look at the taper – the final physical preparation for an athlete, the science behind it and how we look to put it together.

SO WHAT IS A TAPER?

Definitions vary but the general concept is that it is a reduction in an athlete’s training load, which is achieved through an adjustment in some or most of the training variables:

  • Training Volume –total km covered, sets/reps/weights lifted
  • Training Intensity – how hard you train, the level of training
  • Training Frequency – how often you train
  • Training Pattern – how you put your training phases/sessions together

SO WHAT DO WE “KNOW”?

  1. Training Volume is the most easily manipulated component. The taper should see a reduction of roughly 50% of total volume. Research appears to indicate that this volume reduction is best achieved by reducing the volume across all or most sessions rather than just by reducing sessions.
  2. Training Intensity should stay at the pre-taper level. There is a general consensus that there should not be significant increase or decrease in the training intensity during the taper. This is despite the temptation that may exist due to the athlete feeling fresher due to a decrease in training volume.
  3. More in dispute is the reduction in training regularity. Whilst much of the latest research indicates that decreasing training regularity is not ideal, there is still a very strong body of anecdotal/experiential opinion that is not against the idea of reducing the number of sessions an athlete experiences during the taper period. This is possibly a semantic argument as many coaches in my experience may drop a “training” session but introduce an extra mobility session or massage.
  4. Changing the order of training sessions and recovery sessions/rest days can also be used to reduce the training load of athletes. This can also effect the pattern of the reduction in load – does the reduction happen linearly or with a significant initial drop or a small bit at first and increase over the length of the taper?
  5. Full tapers generally run for 7-15 days though can operate over as little as 5 days depending on the pre-taper loads on the athlete

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

The answer to this question lies in the “art of coaching”. It involves knowing the athlete, monitoring the athlete and, especially in the case of Masters Athletes, listening to the athlete. There is no “one size fits all” solution.

A basic taper involves the reduction of training load. However, as each athlete is an individual, the effect of any taper design will vary between athletes. Therefore the design of a taper involves knowing your athlete and then using that knowledge in conjunction with the principles outlined above.

As a starting point you should:

  1. Know the pre-taper volumes of your athlete
  2. Look to reduce that volume by roughly 50%
  3. Plan how long you wish to taper and how that will impact the manner in which you reduce the volume
  4. Maintain the pre-taper intensity of training sessions

It is important to also remember the concept of training reversibility:

  • Strength/Speed  based athletes will start to lose maximum strength after 3 weeks of inactivity
  • Endurance based athletes will see a 5-20% reduction in endurance performance after 4 weeks of inactivity

The maintenance of training intensity will ensure that the athlete does not lose performance during the taper period (though it is important not to extend the taper past 15 days).

Good luck with your upcoming competitions

 For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

PART 3: If You Want to Run Faster… Build These

As we have discussed previously – one of the major benefits of strength training is its ability to improve the running economy of runners.

If you have missed this discussion I invite you to go back and read Part 1 of this series Kickstart You Running. Part 2 of the series, 3 Mistakes to Avoid is also worth a look

IF YOU WANT TO RUN FASTER you need to build strength in these muscle groups:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteals
  • Calves

QUADRICEPS

Key muscles: Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, Rectus Femoris

Key Functions: knee extension and hip flexion

Key Exercises: Squats, Lunges

NOTES

I will often incorporate both of these exercise into a runner’s program. At times I will run them concurrently, with the most of the heavy lifting being done in the squats while the lunges are used to develop strength and stability on each leg individually. At other times I will use variations such at the Bulgarian Split Squat or Front Loaded Split Squat to target the muscle differently.

HAMSTRINGS

Key muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

Key Functions: hip extension and knee flexion

Key Exercises: Deadlifts, Nordics

NOTES

Both of these exercise will load and strengthen the hamstring. Early on you need to be aware of soreness and how this will impact your running.

When using Deadlifts I like to mix up the range of movement (from the floor, raises, deficit and Romanian style) and the means of weighting the lift (Hex Bar, Olympic Bar, Dumbells, Banded).

There are a great number of variations of the Nordics. Throughout the season I like to vary the style to challenge the muscles in a variety of ways. My absolute favourite is using the Glute Ham Raise (GHR).

GLUTEALS

Key muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

Key Functions: hip extension, external rotation, transverse abduction (Glute Med), Internal rotation (Glute Med), Abduction, Transverse Abduction (Glute Min)

Key Exercises: Hip Bridging, Bench Hip Thrust

NOTES

My “go-to” exercise for the Glutes is the Bench Hip Thrust. It has the ability to move a heavy load in a running specific direction (esp in terms of acceleration) without the overloading of the spine that can occur during squats and deadlifts. To incorporate Glute Med & Min I place a band around the thighs just above the kneecaps and then resist the pulling together of the knees caused by the band.

CALVES

Key muscles: Soleus, Gastrocnemius, Tibialis Posterior

Key Functions: Dorisflexion (Gastroc, Soleus), Plantar flexion. Inversion (Tib Post)

Key Exercises: Standing Single Leg Calf Raises (barefoot), Weighted Seated Calf Raises

NOTES

Being able to develop strength in the calves in both the straight leg and bent leg position will help to significantly reduce the chance of common running injuries such as Achilles Tendinopothy and Plantar Fasciitis.

One of the common ideas we use is to develop the eccentric strength first, working slowly on the downward part of the moment (often under weight) and then being assisted in the rising motion.

Sets 2-3 of 15-20reps on a single leg will assist in building the required strength.

The exercises we have listed above will help develop strength in the key muscles involved in running. These exercises (or those that work the muscles similarly) should form the core of any strength programme aiming to improve running performance.

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning

PART 2: Strength Training for Runners – 3 mistakes to avoid

In this the second article on Strength Training for Runners we look at the top 3 mistakes runners make when weight training.

In the first blog of this series we examine the fantastic benefits of strength training. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on this post it can be found HERE.

So now, here it is – our TOP THREE things to avoid when training in the gym:

1. FOCUSING ON ENDURANCE

We know that sprinters have a greater percentage of fast twitch fibres Type II) than those that run longer distances (Type 1). These Type 1 fibres are more suited to endurance events whereas the Type II fibres fatigue more quickly and work better in short bursts.

This knowledge has led to the misconception that if runners are to train with weights then they should be on a high rep (15-25) and low weight program.

However the purpose of weight training runners is to make them stronger to improve ground reaction forces and improve running economy. Working with high reps and low weights will improve muscular endurance (how long the muscle can keep working) but WILL NOT improve strength.

We have also seen in recent years the advent of WODs, F45, CrossFit and the like. These sessions will, most likely, help improve your general fitness, change your body composition and improve muscular endurance BUT WILL NOT improve the force production required to improve your running performance. These workouts are designed around minimal rest, train to exhaustion and are often not designed to progress your strength in a manner which will reduce your chance of injury.

Runners need to train specifically to make the strength and force improvements required to improve running results. The most effective programs will have you regularly working in the 3-6 rep range and completing 4-5 sets of each exercise. Rest breaks can range from 1-3 minutes between sets.

You will at times also venture into the power range – lifting 2-3 reps per set and 5-6 sets of each exercise with even longer breaks in between sets.

You can challenge this even further by adding more explosive work using plyometrics – click HERE to read our early article on how to incorporate plyometrics into your program.

2. FOCUSING ON STABILITY

Do runners need to be stable? YES.  

Should stability be the key focus of your training? NO

In recent times the concept of function stability (under various names and guises) has become very popular. The use of Swiss Balls, Bosu Ball and Wobble Boards has become the cornerstone of many programs.

It doesn’t take much googling to find the latest “party” trick – squats standing on a swiss ball. You can even find people who do with a weighted barbell on their shoulders. It does show great balance but… its dangerous (think falling/crashing)  and it DOES NOT improve force production… SO IT DOES NOT IMPROVE RUNNING PERFORMANCE.

I definitely use these stability tools in my athletes’ programmes, especially in rehab but not to the detriment of my number one priority – FORCE PRODUCTION. Training with stability tools WILL NOT improve your ability to produce the type of force needed to improve your running performance.

3. ADOPTING A BODYBUILDER’S PROGRAM

Despite what your ego may tell you… You want to be a runner not a body builder. Bodybuilders spend 5 to 6 days a week in the gym (sometimes twice in a day). Their goal is to increase muscle mass.

The goal for runners is to increase STRENGTH and FORCE without gaining muscle mass (more weight to carry).

Body Builders like to isolate muscle groups in training. Runners, on the other hand need to train the body to function as a unit and thus training should reflect this. Runners need to get stronger as unit to produce the most force possible with the least effort.

SO REMEMBER:

  • Correct strength training WILL IMPROVE running performance
  • Never train with a focus on endurance while lifting
  • Use stability tools for rehab/prehab or when first being introduced to the gym
  • You are not a bodybuilder… don’t train like one

For more information on how Strength and Conditioning programmes can help you improve your sporting performance go to www.damnfitsc.com.au/strength-and-conditioning