Category Archives: Strength Training

Running 101: Racing Weight

Most runners have heard the phrase racing weight.  It’s a recognizable term that indicates your ideal weight for peak performance on race day.  Why does it matter?  For runners who are fit, exercise regularly and aren’t looking to shed any pounds what difference does it make?

In truth, it can make a big difference.  The addition of 5 pounds in body weight can result in a 5% detriment to race times and vice versa.  Leaning out or dropping a few pounds without sacrificing strength and power might lead to a slew of PRs.  There are also other advantages such as more efficient oxygen delivery to working muscles and improved heat dissipation.

Leaning out or losing a few pounds isn’t all about getting super skinny.  The goal is to improve power to weight ratios and become as efficient as possible.  That means muscle is incredibly important.  Having a balanced weight to power ratio makes you a faster runner.  Note that it’s racing weightunlikely, especially for women, that you’ll gain so much muscle mass it becomes detrimental to racing paces if you’re not specifically eating and training for it.  Strength training, plyometric work and hill repeats all make you a more robust runner without adding bulk.

And while being at a weight where you race your fastest and feel your best is rewarding, it’s not sustainable over long periods of time.  For recreational runners who race week in and week out or more often than once every six weeks an ultra lean, peak performance isn’t attainable at every turn.  Nor should it be.  Professional athletes push their bodies to the max with the help of coaches, dieticians, nutritionists and doctors to monitor every metric.

The diet and lifestyle required to hit a desired weight on race day isn’t easy.  It can involve strict dieting or food deprivation that aren’t the key to a healthy long term weight management plan for anyone.   The rest of us lack intense guidance from professionals and shouldn’t be taking big health risks.  Restricting fuel can lead to weak bones, softened immune systems and, for women, missed periods.   Sacrificing food for a lower number on the scale won’t help your body get stronger or faster.  Being properly fueled is a must if you want to perform well.

Remember, your weight can and should change throughout the day, week and year.  In the end, racing weight just happens to be where your body ends up when you’re peaking and shouldn’t be a predetermined number on a scale.

Coach Meredith

Running 101: IT Band Syndrome

The IT Band is a running mystery.  A frequently experienced injury, many runners don’t know what it does.  The illiotibial band (ITB) is a large fibrous group of fascia that runs longitudinally down the outside of the upper leg.  Anchoring at the iliac crest and tibia, it’s a bunch of passive rubber bands that extend, abduct and rotate the hip laterally.  It also helps stabilize the knee while storing energy to support running and walking.IT band

IT Band syndrome (ITBS) is an inflammation of these tissues and typically presents with outer knee pain.  That is the area where the ITB should slide over bone and muscle easily. If it’s not sliding due to inflammation or tightness, pain will result.  Sometimes the pain can be felt along the entire length of the outer thigh and it’s often a result of overuse.  Two examples of exercise patterns that can lead to overuse are increasing mileage too quickly or adding lots of plyometrics.

There is good news, however.  There are several ways to treat and prevent ITBS.  The first step in treatment is to rest long enough for the inflammation to subside.  Second is to work on improving mobility of the hip and knee.  Limited range of motion in either joint can cause extra stress to the ITB and lead to inflammation.  Foam rolling and proper warm up to increase circulation to these fibers before a workout will help it slide painlessly.

Strength training with a qualified coach is one of the best solutions to ITBS.  Having muscles strong enough the support your increase in mileage or the strain of a downhill marathon will help prevent ITB irritation.  Hip, glute and abdonimal core strength are paramount to any solid strength training plan for runners who want to stay healthy.  These muscles also ensure your IT band gets the support it needs.

A final possibility is that it might not be it your IT Band at all.  The ITB is so passive it’s hard to know how it might get injured.  Since that research isn’t ready yet take a look at the muscles around it: your hamstrings and quads.  When these muscles get tight or damaged they can put stress on the IT band.  Relaxing the tight muscles through improved mobility or foam rolling can release stress on the ITB to reduce or eliminate pain.

Want to stay ITBS free?  Take good care of all the muscles it works with.  Be sure to strengthen, stretch and warm up properly.

Coach Meredith

4 Upper Body Exercises for Runners

Upper body strength is just as important for runners as lower body.  When those legs get tired something has to support continued movement and that’s going to be your upper body.  Having a strong back, powerful shoulders and a stable core will all help you run faster and with lower risk of injury.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to earn them.  Each one will help you improve running form and stay strong over any distance you cover.

Banded Pull A-parts – This simple banded exercise strengthens your shoulders and upper back.  Strong shoulders lead to better posture and running form by setting the shoulders in an externally rotated position.  That means arms will travel forward and back without wasting any energy crossing the mid-line.

Push-ups – There are lots of variations for push-ups and they’re all good.  Starting with a basic push-up to strengthen your shoulders, chest and core you can use them as part of a warm-up or any strength workout.  Whether you modify them by dropping to your knees or maintain a plank position all the way through, push-ups will help train your shoulders to maintain good position when the going gets tough.

Renegade Rows – This key push-up version combines strength on both the anterior and posterior chains by adding a row.  Using a light dumbbell you’ll train for good posture and a strong core with this one.  Try to avoid round headed dumbbells, especially in the beginning, because they’ll want to roll and make you work a whole lot harder to stay in a good position.

Squat to Overhead Press – A fantastic combo move, the squat to overhead press works the whole body in one motion.  Building power, improving coordination and getting stronger all are benefits of this simple exercise.  Start with light weights and make sure you’re keeping your chest up without letting your knees fall in for 10 reps before stepping up to heavier dumbbells.

Add these four movements to your routine to build the stability and strength your upper body needs to carry you over every distance you cover with good form.

Coach Meredith

4 Hip Stretches for Healthy Running

Loose hips are very important to any athlete.  Unfortunately they often get overlooked in favor of large muscle groups like the quad, hamstring and calf that are easier to stretch.  With hip extension being a major player in quality running form, tight hips can really hold you back.  Not any more!  Loose hips mean your glutes, piriformis, hip flexors, hamstring and quad can all move through a full range of motion with ease.  All of those muscles play a big part in strong running and keeping them happy can lower your risk of injury while improving speed.  Here are four simple hip stretches that will open you running powerhouse up.

Low Lunge.  This simple hip opener is a classic.  It opens the hip flexors and gets them ready to hip stretchesallow that all important hip extension.  Beginning in a lunging position with your back knee on the ground, push the front foot away, engage your glutes and drive your hips forward.

hip stretchesFigure Four.  Hit major muscle groups including the glutes and lower back along with your hips in Figure Four.  Being laying on your back.  Raise both knees over your hips and cross one ankle over the other knee.  This is one of the best stretches you can do after a workout to aid recovery and stay ready for your next session.

Piriformis Stretch.  The piriformis is often mistaken for the glute.  Instead, it’s buried deep behind the gluteus maximus and rotates the hip outward.  While you’ll also hit this muscle in a Figure Four but the spinal rotation here is a nice touch.  Begin with both legs out straight.  Cross one leg over the other and place the foot flat on the ground.  Use your elbow on the outside of your bent knee to rotate away from the flat leg.

hip stretchesPigeon.  This tough movement will open your hips right up.  To perform it begin in a plank or downward dog position.  Cross the leg of the hip you want to open in front of the other, aiming your foot towards the opposite hip.  Rest your elbow on the floor as you ease deeper into the stretch.

Adding these hip stretches to your warm-up, post run or strength routines, even all three, will not only feel great but make you a more mobile, injury resistant runner.

Coach Meredith

4 Ways to Stick with Your Workouts this Holiday Season

The holiday season can be challenging.  There are parties and sugary goodies everywhere you look.  Sleep might suffer with travel while stress can sky rocket with family and delays.  Whether it’s a running workout or a gym based strength session planning ahead can keep you on track with your training plan.  The holidays season can be stressful enough without adding a a few marathon training mileage weeks.  Here are the ways Team ECRP keeps their workouts kicking while not missing one second of family time.

Include your family.  Make it a relay race or competition.  Especially if it’s a speed workout.  Hit the local track and take your intervals to the next level as you compete with brothers and in-laws.  Stuck with a group of non-runners?  Go on a scavenger hunt through the neighborhood.  You can run while others stroll.  Getting creative and being flexible will not only get your session in, you can make memories that last a lifetime.

Do research.  Get on the internet and find a gym with a daily or weekly drop in rate near your parent’s home.  Discover a new running club and explore a new city with them.  The people you meet will not only be new friends but give you leads on other trails, routes, yoga studios and maybe even a local 5k.holiday season

Schedule it.  Flying?  Arrange your training plan so that flight day is a rest day.  Airports are rarely on time during the holiday season so planning ahead is paramount to staying on a training schedule.  Planes are germ boxes and uncomfortable which can also make sleep suffer.  Having a plan for moving workouts or even skipping one can lead to a healthier you when the new year kicks off.

Keep it simple.  Remember you don’t even need a gym.  There are thousands of body weight exercises you can do without any equipment in a small space.  While it might not be fancy this type of workout can be extremely effective, especially if it’s not your usual routine.  It’s easy to throw a resistance band in your suitcase.  They don’t take up much room and can expand the number of exercises available to you exponentially.

Start planning now for that road trip and you’ll have no trouble staying on track with your workouts this holiday season.

Coach Meredith

3 Core Exercises for Runners

Every runner knows that having a strong center can help you run faster.  What isn’t clear is what core exercises are best for building the stability and strength that best supports running at any distance. While your core is made up of many muscles this blog’s focus is on the core’s core.  Made up of your abs, obliques, lower back and transverse abdominis they’re the muscles that keep you aligned and upright.  That’s pretty important stuff for running.

Whether you’re an 800M runner or an ultra marathoner here are are three of Team ECRP‘s favorite core exercises.  Trust us, they’re so much fun you’ll want to add them to your strength training routine as soon as you can.

Planks.  Runners can never plank enough.  Well, a world record isn’t necessary.  With so many varieties available there is a plank for everyone.  One great tool for continuing to challenge your core exercisesbody to get stronger is plank flash cards.  Write a type of plank on one side of a card, repeat for a number of styles then record your history on each one.

Twists.  Rotational stability is key for not wasting energy while we run.  The more power going forward the better off we are.  Strengthening our twisting muscles provides the support we need to run faster and more efficiently.  You can twist in a plank and with a ball, cable or resistance band.  Whichever one you choose is sure to benefit you.

Dead bugs.  More like a dying bug since you’re moving but this simple looking move can really be tough.  This move exclusively hits that all important transverse adominis.  Right in the middle of your body this muscle is the center of your core providing stability for your spine and pelvic floor.  Laying on your back it’s important to keep your lower supported and move your legs independently.

With so many core exercises to choose from it’s hard to go wrong.  Give the choices about a try to develop a well rounded core that will support every mile you run and those last few marathon miles will thank you.

Coach Meredith

Agility Training for Runners

Runner need to do things other than run to become faster, more powerful athletes if there’s a PR sometime in the future.  While strength training is incredibly valuable, agility training is equally as important and unfortunately also overlooked.  Agility training has lots of big benefits from making you a stronger all around athlete to building better body awareness.  Here are several fun ways to enhance your running with simple agility exercises.

Form Drills.  Running form drills are usually included in a good warm up.  That’s because they get your body ready to run and ready to run well.  Drills such as carioca, ‘a-skips’, ‘b-skips’, butt agility trainingkicks and high knees all build strength, coordination and promote high quality running form.  These agility skills can be also be practiced on their own, outside of a warm-up.

Agility Ladder.  Also called a speed ladder this simple tool can have big benefits.  Moving your feet fast through the ladder will carry over to less contact time when you’re running.  Jumping movement will build ankle strength, foot responsiveness and explosive power.  An agility ladder is a good place to improve footwork, learn how to control your body and the amount of energy you’re putting into the ground.

Cones.  Like the agility ladder, there is an endless number of exercises you can perform with a bunch of cones.  These provide a chance for bigger lateral movements than the ladder and can be especially beneficial to trail runners.  Using cones will develop your ability to accelerate, change direction and move your feet quickly.  Try a variety of configurations and run on angles for the biggest benefits.

Include at least some of these agility training exercises in each of your warm-ups and add a few more to your normal non-running routine.  You’ll get stronger and faster with their help.

Coach Meredith

4 Reasons to Trail Run this Spring

There’s nothing quite like going for a trail run in the spring.  Blooming flowers, cool breezes and fresh air make for lovely running weather after long cold winters.  Whether it’s you and nature or a group of your favorite running buddies there’s something special about getting away from the road.  Here are four great reasons to check out your local park this spring.

Scenery – The city and its lights are awesome.  They provide the opportunity to run at all hours in relative safety.  But even those attributes can’t beat getting lost in the woods.trail run  Of course, not actually lost.  There’s no better place than a nice long trail run to spend some time with your thoughts while admiring the foliage and animals waking up for summer.  The change of view will also do your brain good.  Check out this study on just how hitting the trails makes us happier.

Surface – The dirt you’ll face when on a trail run is a welcome break from the hard pavement most of us usually run on.  Even treadmill runners can benefit from the soft surface of dirt.  The decreased rebound you feel on turf means your race tired knees and hips take a little less pounding every step.

Strength – Running on an uncertain, uneven and sometimes covered surface means your ankles and feet have to work extra hard to keep you upright.  Not only do your feet have to quickly react to the challenges of climbing hills, hoping over roots, dodging rocks and splashing through streams, your calves, quads and core are also pushed to respond quickly to the constantly changing path.  A little extra work on the trail means better results on the pavement and a stronger, more durable running body.

Accessories – There’s no better time than a nice long trail run to try out new running toys.  Check out some new trail shoes (they’re comfy).  Want a brighter headlamp?  Perfect opportunity.  That old CamelBak need replacing?  Good timing.  You can also stock up on things for the upcoming fall and winter with sales at your favorite running retailer.

**Trails are also dangerous places.  Wild animals are exactly that, wild.  Remember to play to safe with snakes, bears and even squirrels.  Wear some reflective gear, a headlamp if the dark is a risk and bring water.  Be sure someone knows where you’re going, what time you should be back and how to handle it if you’re not.**

Coach Meredith

Strong Hips for Runners: 3 Exercises

Runners need strong hips.  They’re the driving force behind every stride you take and the better they are able to perform the faster you’ll cover ground.  Tight hip flexors and weak glutes are common and contribute to a myriad of injuries from IT Band syndrome to runner’s knee.  Strengthening your hips and glutes helps prevent injuries while improving running form and increasing speed.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite hip power building exercises.

Fire Hydrant.  This simple body weight exercise is a winner for working the hip abductors.  Start with your hands and knees on the ground in an all fours position then lift your leg away from your midline.  Be sure to keep your hips still while focusing on the activation of hip and glute strong hipsmuscles.  Pause at the top then repeat for your desired number of reps and sets.

Clam Shells.  Another uncomplicated exercise, clam shells also work the hip abductors.  You can step the difficulty up by adding a resistance band above your knees but that’s not necessary to get the benefits.  Begin lying on your side with a neutral spine.  Bend your knees to 90 strong hipsdegrees and hips to 45 with your top leg stacked directly on your bottom one.  Keeping your feet together raise your top knee away from the bottom one (abducting your hip).  Pause at the top then repeat for your target number of reps and sets.

Seated Band Hip Abduction.  Use this move to earn strong hips anstrong hipsd glutes.  Begin sitting on a bench or chair with a flat back and feet flat on the floor shoulder width apart.  Place a resistance band around your legs above the knees.  Grip the front of the bench with both hands and maintain good posture while you pull your knees apart.  Do not let your knees cave in after you pause and return to the starting position for your goal reps and sets.

Strong hips are important and using these three exercises will help you earn them.

Coach Meredith

3 Reasons to Plank Every Day

It sounds boring.  Perform a plank every single day.  There’s good reason to, however, especially for runners.  With endless options for the type of plank you choose to do there’s bound to be a few you can pick from.  No matter which ones you end up practicing you’ll get these three benefits and become a stronger runner.

Strength.  Planks increase core strength and stability while activating lots of other supporting muscles as well.  Regular plank works your entire frontal plane, from your chest to your quads.  Reverse it to hit shoulders and glutes along with those all important core muscles.  You can even add other movements to your planking.  Try a renegade row or windshield wiper for a planktougher challenge that will build strength through your whole running body.

Balance.  Performing unilateral varieties like side planks will help eliminate muscle imbalances  that can, eventually, lead to injury.  Less risk of injury is a big benefit of all strength training but especially of one side at a time work.  We all have a tendency to favor one side that becomes more and more dominant as we ignore it.  Making both sides pitch in leads to more power and more even impact during activity.

Better running.  With the strength and balance you’re building by tackling that plank each day your running form will improve.  You’ll have better posture with an upper body and core that can support faster running for a longer period of time.  Proper positioning also stretches the muscles of your foot, an area that often gets overlooked.  Fully functioning feet are an important part of quality running and planks can help.  Add those benefits together and it all means better race finishes.

Tip:  Create a set of flash cards each featuring a different variety with the type on one side and your times or reps on the other to record progress.

Coach Meredith