Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Strength Training for Running

     One of the best courses I have ever attended was the CrossFit Endurance seminar (I hate when people call them “certifications” but that’s for another time). The basis of the course teaches the foundations of teaching the CrossFit endurance methodology to others.  Brian McKenzie is one of the greatest fitness minds I have ever had the privilege of listening to.  We go over nutrition, running technique, and strength and conditioning.  When we leave the course, it’s common to see people working on their “pose running” technique as well as digging into their macros and dialing in their nutrition and that’s all fine and good but there is something missing.  The less common things to see is people working on the strength side of their running.  Contrary to popular belief strength is a critical side to being a better runner.  
     As a strength a conditioning coach in a military town I am routinely asked to help people prepare for assessments and selections or military schools and I always ask what they need to work on and it’s always the same thing, “Matt I need to work on my running”.   The problem with this idea is running is such a broad term.  Do you need to work on your distance running or short sprints?  Do you have trouble with cardiovascular endurance or muscle endurance?  You have to know what your wink link is before we can go into devising a plan to address the issue.  Now I can go into the cardiovascular endurance in another article but I’ll say this and every real runner will agree the 2 mile run is a sprint, it is not an endurance event.  With that said we have to train military athletes to be sprinters,  not long distance runners!  
     So how do we train like sprinters.  Well let’s first state a fact, running is the most dangerous sport on the planet.  More injuries are caused by running than any other sport out there.  Now we can argue all day about why that is,  the overuse of cushioned running shoes, lack of proper warm up, or just the simple fact that more people run than play football or baseball.  One of the main ways we can get rid of these running injuries is by increasing our use of strength exercises in the running world.  Another great fitness mind once said, “you want to be better at deadlifts, don’t deadlift!” Now you have to understand the context but the principle can be applied to running.  When I see many people want to be better at running their 2 mile, they they increase their volume and inevitable get injured.  My suggestion is to find your wink link in your chain and strengthen the muscles in your legs to increase your sprint times.  Let’s take a 400m sprint for example (remember 2 miles is a sprint).  What I would suggest is sled dragging for time, not running with the sled as running with a sled distorts running form.  Let’s say I want to bring my 400m sprint from 2:00 to 1:50, what I would do is drag a heavy sled for 1 minute and 50 seconds for several intervals.  Eventually as the weeks go on I will take that sled further and further in the 1:50 seconds.  I can do the same for and 800m, 1 mike, and 2 mile runs.  To keep this conjugate, I can constantly change the weight of the sled or the distance of the sled to allow me to constantly change the stimulus on the body.  Other ways to increase running strength, deadlifts, kettle bell swings, and squats are very useful tools for increasing the leg strength around the running muscles.  Finally don’t forget about the abdominals!  Now when you run you are not in a state of flexion or extension of the trunk so sit ups and crunches are not the best at what we are going for.  As stated in our last article, you must train isometrics! You truck is in a isometric contraction when you run so you must train isometrically.  Two great excersises are the GHD sit up to parallel and force the legs to drive you up rather than the truck flexion and the hallow rock holds.  Both these excersises hold you core in a strong isometric contraction similar to proper running position.  Training the correct muscle group will make you a better runner, for sprints make your efforts short and high intensity for longer marathon runs make your strength work lighter and go for longer sets to build up the local muscular endurance.  
     Now I have not listed nearly all the exercises that you can add to your training but remember cardiovascular endurance isn’t the only thing you should be training to be a better runner.  Local muscular strength endurance is critical to achieve success in running adventures!! 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Importance of Training Isometrics

When we talk about human movement there are three main motions that we must focus on.  They are concentric, eccentric, and isometric.  Concentric is the motion of the distal ends of the muscles moving closer to one another.  Eccentric is the distal ends moving away from one another.  Isometric is the term we use to describe no change in joint angle.  In relation to a common movement like the squat, concentric is the way up, eccentric is reference to the way down.  Many consider eccentrics to be “negatives”, although this isn’t always the case, it is a simple way to look at it.  When it comes to the squat or other movements, most people are aware of the first two but few are aware of the third which is isometric.  If one is going to be the best athlete they can be they must train all three.  
What are isometrics?  Isometrics means that there is no change in joint angle. So, in order to perform true isometrics, you must first find a way to prevent yourself from moving. In a squat, you can set a spotter’s arms above your bar and drive the bar into the spotter’s arms on the way up. You can do the same on the deadlift. These will prevent the bar from traveling any further and fixate the knee and hip angle. Ideally you will set the pins at your weakest portion of your deadlift and pull the bar all the way to this point and keep pulling as hard as possible into the pins.  A common fault seen here is the athlete will just hold the bar at the sitter’s arms or pins. In order to truly do isometrics you must keep driving the bar into the pins and spotter. A less ideal way to train isometric will be to do pause squats or pause deadlifts. The downside to this method is it doesn’t train true isometrics as the muscles begin to experience fatigue. As the muscles fatigue your body will change positions and then you lose the effect of the isometric hold since now you are in a different position. With all this said, don’t overuse isometrics. Isometrics are all part of a big picture in strength and conditioning. Because of the stress that is put on the body the body does become sore very quickly from doing these types of movements. I typically train isometrics once a week. Properly done isometrics will make you a stronger athlete. 
Now that we know how to do isometrics, I’ll explain why we do isometrics. Even though it is not the most important part of a movement or something that should be over-trained, it is imperative to still be trained and its importance cannot be overlooked. One thing that people fail to realize is that when you squat there is a split second between the eccentric portion (down) and the concentric portion (up) when there’s an isometric pause. There has to be this pause because in order for the body to reverse direction the body must first stop. This is the absolute worst position the body can be in while in a squat. The more comfortable you are isometrically, when you are stuck in this “uncomfortable” position you will have the ability to overcome and keep driving through until you complete the lift.  When it comes to the Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, I can now use isometrics to adjust a person’s positioning to put an athlete in a more ideal position. By using these isometrics I can have the athlete put full force into the bar yet still have the athlete adjust the hips or shoulders or even make them shift the weight on their feet to get them to become aware of their positioning.  As most coaches and athletes know, Olympic lifting is a sport all about positioning. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you are out of position you will never be able to perform at your peak levels.  

Isometrics are a valuable tool in a coach’s tool box.  When properly done, isometrics will help an athlete not only get stronger but also get comfortable in ideal positions.  Whether it’s squats, pulls, or presses building strong isometric contraction will help you become a stronger athlete.