Saturday running, thoughts on strength training

Went for a short run today, more of a scouting expedition.  Definitely feeling some fatigue so I wanted to take it easy.  Just over an hour, call it 7 miles.  I was looking for a few things:

  • a soft surface with a very slight downhill over a quarter mile or so
  • a really steep hill or two

I found both of what I was looking for in some local parks.  I plan to use the downhill for fast running.  I want to be able to teach my body learns the feel of fast running.  Neuromuscular stuff.  The steep hill will be used for steep hill sprints, essentially a form of strength training.  I managed to locate two steep hills, one that I could run in about 12 seconds and the other that would take about 30 seconds.

The steep hill sprints had me thinking more about strength training.  I  know it’s good (probably mandatory at my age), but I can’t wrap my mind around just lifting weights.  I’ve never done it consistently, and it was one of the main reasons I quit football in high school.  I didn’t want to be in the gym.  I think back then it was more because I was self conscious.  Now I just think there are so many other interesting things to do.

For me right now the strength training will happen, but it’ll take a few different forms.  The first will be the steep hill sprints I mentioned above.  The second will be just outside work.  I have rocks and trees all over my property, and I think I can get a great leg strength workout by moving those.  One example—I could load up my yard cart with fire wood and drag it up my driveway.  I could also see myself moving heavier branches and logs across the yard to my outside fire pit—I could figure out a way to work squats into that mix.  It would accomplish a few purposes…getting me outside, building strength, cleaning up the property…all good.

I also switched up my pre-run ritual today.  Most of the time I like to stretch (I’m a bit obsessive about active isolated stretching) before I run.  It’s more of a mental thing at this point; almost everyone agrees that you don’t need to stretch before you run.  Today I did something different….jump rope, the lunge matrix and some aspects of the myrtl routine.  It was good to get a quick warmup and then get going, and I could see myself doing these things when I get home.  I am neurotic, so I did manage to sneak in a stretching session later in the day.

Speaking of steep hills, I was fascinated by this video which describes some stuff that Blake Griffin does.

“If you can run up a 60 degree incline in sand with a 60 pound weight vest then running 94 feet down the court on a flat surface should be easy.”

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Non-running workouts for breakthrough performance, Part Two: Stretching

When I was young, stretching was simple.  I’d perform about five exercises in about ten minutes.  I’d bend over to touch my toes, lean against a wall to stretch my calves, pull my foot to my butt to stretch my quads, and then I was off running.

Things have changed since then – today there are as many types of stretching as I did exercises back then.  Each type of stretching has a set of exercises and each type of stretching affects the body differently.  Understanding these differences can help you decide which makes sense for you.

Why should you stretch?

Lots of runners don’t stretch at all, and they seem fine.  Studies have demonstrated that some types of stretching, performed at some times, could harm running performance or cause injury.  Given the body of evidence collected by these studies, why should you incorporate stretching into your training program?

A large body of evidence suggests that the right type of stretching, performed at the right time, can:

  • Increase flexibility and range of motion, which improves performance and reduces injuries
  • Increase blood flow to muscles, which improves the speed and degree of your recovery from workouts

What to do when research demonstrates both negative and positive outcomes from stretching?

The key is to match the type of stretching with the time when you perform it.

The basic types of stretching

Two major types of stretching are commonly available to runners – static and dynamic.  Other types of stretching exist, but static and dynamic are the most common and relevant.

Static Stretching

“Static” indicates lack of movement – stretching a muscle or group of muscles to its farthest point and holding the position for a period of time (usually 15-30 seconds).  Common static stretches include the ones I described above – bending over to touch your toes, leaning against a wall to stretch your calves, or the butterfly to stretch your groin.

The term “passive” stretching is often used interchangeably with “static” stretching.  There is a subtle difference – in passive stretching, you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body or with an external apparatus.  One passive stretch is putting your foot on the hood of a car and bending over to touch your knee (stretches your hamstring).

Dynamic Stretching

“Dynamic” stretches involve movement.  They consist of controlled body movements that gently take a person to the limits of their range of motion.  Each individual dynamic stretch is held for a brief period of time (up to 5 seconds).  Common dynamic stretches include butt-kicks, walking lunges, and leg lifts.

“Active stretching” is closely related to dynamic stretching.  Active stretching utilizes the physiological concept of “Reciprocal Inhibition.”  In reciprocal inhibition, contracting one muscle causes the opposite (or “cooperating”) muscle to relax.  One example is the biceps – triceps combination.  If you contract your biceps, your triceps relaxes.  Since a relaxed muscle is easier to stretch, active stretching exercises consist of contracting various muscles to help stretch their “cooperating” muscles.  Active Isolated Stretching uses a rope and body positioning to isolate and actively stretch muscles.

When to use what type?

The table below summarizes when to use what type of stretching.

When

Static

Passive

Dynamic

Active

Before training

No

No

Yes

Yes

After training

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Alternate time (not immediately before or after training)

Yes (with warm-up)

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

To sum up my research and experience:

  • Static or passive stretching before a workout is not recommended.  It increases injury risk since muscles are not warm and reduces performance by sapping muscle strength and reducing muscle tendon stiffness.
  • Consider dynamic or active stretching before a workout.  Besides increasing range of motion and flexibility, dynamic or active stretching effectively warms up running-specific muscles.
  • Post-workout stretching can dramatically improve recovery.  Post-workout stretching improves the quality of your next workout, resulting in more breakthrough training sessions.  It also relaxes muscles and makes you feel better!
  • Consider fitting in a stretching routine whenever you have time.  While stretching before and immediately after workouts might be most effective, stretching at any time can improve flexibility and range of motion, reduce injury risk, and make you feel better.

These days, I stretch more often than ever – both before and after a workout (or later in the day if I don’t have time immediately after a workout).  Active Isolated Stretching comprises 95% of my stretching program.  Stretching has made a major contribution to my breakthrough running performances.  On the rare occasion when I can’t stretch after a workout, I feel it the next day – my legs are stiffer and weaker and my performance suffers.

While living in New York City in 2001, I attended an Active Isolated Stretching class offered by Jim and Phil Wharton.  They asserted that lack of flexibility was the root cause of many different physical problems.  They cited leg length discrepancy as an example, suggesting that lack of flexibility could cause what might appear as a leg length discrepancy.  This hit home for me, since another doctor had prescribed orthotics for me due to (you guessed it) a leg length discrepancy.  Stretching helped me eliminate the orthotics.

Stretching is a valuable, almost essential, element of a breakthrough training program.  The right kind of stretching has a major impact on range of motion, flexibility, and injury risk.  If it’s not part of your training program now, you should consider adding it.