Category Archives: Durability – Toughness

Running 101: Cross vs Strength Training

Often used interchangeably, cross training and strength training are something all runners should have in their training plan.  They are, however, not the same activities.  Cross training is any activity that increases or maintains your fitness while giving you a break from your most trained modality.  That means biking or kayaking if you’re a runner and swimming or rowing if strength trainingyou’re a cyclist.  It also means strength training.  Strength training is a type of cross training that makes your muscles stronger, not just give your body a variety of stimuli.

Cross training makes us better athletes.  It gives our bodies different stresses to respond to and leads to more flexibility with improved coordination.  It helps prevent injury, aids recovery and staves off boredom.  Having options other than running is also a must for when the weather gets ugly.  Too hot, too icy, too windy or too dangerous, you don’t need to miss a workout if you have a solid cross training option ready to go.

Strength training, on the other hand, is meant to make us stronger.  Building muscle mass isn’t strength trainingour goal as runners but being tougher is.  A weak core means poor posture and less speed.  Stronger legs generate more power and last longer in a race.  Unilateral strength exercises eliminate muscle imbalances and improve balance.

Runners should focus on exercises and activities that will strengthen running specific muscles while being sure not to neglect your incredibly important upper body.  Improve power with box jumps and jump rope.  Maintain good posture with push-ups and pull-ups.  Keep your core strong with planks and sit-ups.  Stay even with lunges and step-ups.

Any quality training plan will include both cross training and specific strength training.  They are key elements in building a quality athlete who is injury resistant and ready to compete successfully.

Coach Meredith

Upper Body Strength for Runners

All runners know they need strong, stable legs and hips to get the most out of each run.  Equally as important, and often overlooked, is upper body strength.  Being powerful above the hips as well as below will help you run faster and perform better during every workout.  Your arms move in precise coordination with your legs to help maintain rhythm while your shoulders work to maintain good posture that allows your lungs and diaphragm to do they best job they can.  A strong core stabilizes against rotation that wastes energy and helps propel you forward.

So how do you build upper body strength?  There are tons of exercises you can use.  Focusing on muscle groups that improve and maintain posture is the best path to building strength that will make you a better runner.  That means your back, chest, shoulders and, most importantly, core.  While you don’t want to end up carrying extra muscle weight by bulking up, you do want strong, stable muscles that will hold you up when the going gets tough.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite upper body moves:

Push-Ups:  Push-ups stabilize shoulder, strengthen arms and work those important core muscles.  Performing them correctly, with your elbows tight to your ribs and externally rotated shoulders, will improve running form and efficiency.

upper body strengthPlank Rows:  These toughies challenge your entire upper body.  Your shoulders and core work to stabilize your position while your back works to lift that weight.

Pull-Ups:  Adjustable for everyone, this challenging exercise is a great way to get a stronger, more stable upper body.  From strict pull-ups to ring rows, the wide variety of scaling options means there’s no excuse not to try.upper body strength

Overhead Press:  Yes, any overhead press will do.  Whether it’s a strict press, thruster, push-press or clean and jerk, lifting weights over your head takes skill and strength.  Your core stabilizes your entire body while shoulders work to push the weight up.

Use these four moves to help build upper body strength.  You’ll earn better running form and faster race times.

Coach Meredith

The Benefits of Fatigue

Fatigue can be a nasty word.  Like anything else, too much is definitely not a good thing.  Excessive fatigue can lead to over training, stress fractures, mental burnout and loads of other injuries.  An appropriate dose of accumulated fatigue, however, is the prescription for a good training plan.

Most important among those things is adaption.  No workout happens by itself.  It’s surrounded by other workouts, life events, nutrition and sleep.  It’s the build up of stress on muscles and depleted energy stores that make training work.  Our bodies adapt to these tired or less than 100% states and get stronger.  In fact, it can take up to 14 days to recover from a hard fatigueworkout.  But you’ll keep running.  Easy running is incredibly important to help torn up muscle fibers repair.  It keeps our bodies working without adding so much stress we start to break down.

We can also take advantage of accumulated fatigue when preparing for a race.  Since you’re probably not going run 26.2 miles during training, use the previous day’s workout to help make 20 miles feel like 26.  Running a steady state six to eight miler the day before your long run means you’re starting that run with six miles under your belt.  It’s like starting at Mile 6 instead of the start line and both our bodies and brains benefit.

The mental toughness garnered from a pair of fatigue inducing workouts like that is a great tool for race day.  We gain confidence with each tough workout we power through.  Every run that’s one mile longer or 1% tougher tells our brain ‘hey, we can do this’.  Once we’ve broken that ‘I can do it’ barrier enough, it goes away.  We become familiar with the tiredness we’ll experience at the end of a long race and learn to push through it.

Now, let’s not forget to relax.  We all need a down week every four to six weeks.  It gives us a chance to heal significantly before going back to hard training.  That’s also the goal of tapering.  Get rid of all that accumulated training fatigue.  Allow your body to make the final adjustments it can so you are in peak performance shape on race day.  Fill up your fuel tank, let your muscles get as strong as they can and give your brain a breather.

Use accumulated fatigue to your advantage and reap the benefits on race day.

Coach Meredith

Easy Running for Faster Running

Easy running might seem pointless.  How can you get faster if you don’t actually run faster?  The truth is you can’t.  To improve speed, running economy and endurance you do have to run faster than you are comfortable.  But you don’t have to do it all the time, nor do you want to.  A balance between hard and easy workouts is the best way to build fitness without risking injury easy runningor burnout.  The purpose of easy running is to build a foundation.  Building this foundation is how your body adjusts to the stresses of road running over time and will ultimately lead to improved race times and a lower risk of injury.

Easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch, fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity without beating yourself up.  You need fast days to work on turnover, mitochondria and VO2max but easy running days are not necessarily ‘junk miles’ because you’re still working towards a goal.  As long as each run has a purpose your time and effort is never wasted.

That’s because going as fast as you can all the time is asking for trouble.  Your body has to take care of itself after hard workouts.  It has to repair damaged muscle, expand blood vessels and learn to process more oxygen.  An easy workout helps clear out waste from muscles, improve circulation and might actually help speed muscle recovery.  If you push all the time, those processes never get to finish their jobs and you’re inviting over training and burnout.  Alternating hard and easy running workouts gives your body a chance to make all of the positive performance enhancing adaptations it can.

The most important thing is to make sure your easy running is just that.  Easy.  Aim to be at least one minute slower than your goal race pace for the duration of an easy workout.  As your fitness level increases it can become hard to slow the pace down.  Keep the goal of each workout in mind when you’re out there feeling like you’re not accomplishing anything.  Your body has to have time to adapt to training stimuli so you can ultimately increase your performance level.

Coach Meredith

Understanding Your Injury Matters

Injuries happen all the time.  Athletes of all levels and even those who aren’t athletes can experience an injury.  Recovery can be as simple as a little ice or heat and elevation.  It can also understanding your injurybe as complicated as surgery and take months.  The key to recovering is understanding your injury and preventing it from happening again.

Were you tackled in a football game?  That’s easy to source.  Do you have daily low back pain and discomfort?  Maybe your hamstrings are tight, maybe it’s something else.  Are you having knee pain because you’re heel striking while you run?  Are your knees falling in when you squat under weight?  Lots of day to day and chronic injuries are not so easy to pin down but discovering what caused the problem is the best possible thing you can do to move forward.

Unfortunately just taking time off until your injured body feels better isn’t the answer.  Without understanding your injury you’re likely to go out and sooner or later go through the same thing again.  So understanding your injurywhat’s the solution?  Treat the problem (poor mobility, bad form), not the symptom (pain, strained muscle).  Ask yourself these questions when you get hurt to get to the bottom of what went wrong:

What was I doing?
Are my movement patterns correct?
Do I have adequate mobility to perform these movements safely?
Am I using the correct equipment?
Do I take care of my body before and after a workout properly?
Am I over training?

If you can’t answer these questions or answer them satisfactorily, get help from a trainer, doctor or teacher who will guide you in the right direction.  Stripping your activity down to the bare minimum will highlight the root of what caused your injury and help you avoid it in the future.

Coach Meredith

Durability: Physical Toughness

Entry fees are paid, a hotel is selected and celebratory champagne brunch is booked!  You are financially invested in and 100% dedicated to your athletic goal.  Now you have to prepare to fight for it.  You must become durable.  The term durability refers to one’s ability to “resist wear, decay; [to be] lasting, enduring.”  A durable athlete maintains a steadfast course towards their physical toughnessgoals with a combination of physical toughness and mental toughness.  Both are assets East Coast Run Project seeks to create while helping you become a better athlete.

Physical Toughness

Physical toughness is more than just fighting it out for a sixteen week training cycle while avoiding injuries and staying focused.  Another term for mind over matter, physical toughness means bearing down and making your way through uncomfortable situations without any thought of quitting.

Physical toughness is not just strength.  You can be plenty strong without having much toughness.  The ability to overcome challenging situations and still perform well is the trademark of a physically tough athlete.  They can adapt to difficult terrains, continue functioning after a misstep and recover quickly.  This kind of grit, however, does not develop overnight.

You have to be disciplined and dedicated.  You must acknowledge that you are capable of more than your mind leads you to believe.  Push yourself each day to give your body a new challenge: shorter rest, a workout outside, a run through the deep sand.  Each test will make your body physically tougher.  Ultimately, the key to being a physically tough athlete is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  And that takes practice.

Finally, physical toughness is not blind.  It has a soft side.  A tough athlete knows how important it is to listen to and respect your body because the last thing they want is to push it beyond its limits into over training or injury.  Challenge your body while being sure to give it the water, food and rest it needs.

East Coast Run Project is here to guide you on your journey to becoming a more dedicated, physically and mentally tougher athlete.  We can’t wait to have you visit again!

Coach Meredith