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

3 Reasons to Love Easy Run Days

It’s hard for runners to slow down.  There’s nothing more fun than running fast and knocking out a good, hard sweat session.  How would you get faster without them?  Unfortunately your body can’t handle strenuous workouts all the time without breaking down.  Alternating challenging workout days with easy run days, or even more than one between, is the structure of any solid training plan.  Here are three reasons Team ECRP loves their easy run days just as much as workout days.easy run

Build – You’ll build a foundation on easy run days.  This foundation is how your body adjusts to the stresses of distance running over time.  Easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch, fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity.

Relax – Easy days are low stress.  They’re for running with friends, checking out new routes or trails and forgetting the trials of the day.  You need fast workouts to improve turnover, create more mitochondria and increase VO2max but those sessions aren’t exactly relaxing or fun.  Easy days remind us why we love running.

Recovery –  Going fast is hard on your body.  After tough 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. Easy or recovery runs give 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 and you’ll learn there’s no such thing as a ‘junk mile’.

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

4 Ways to Wreck Recovery

All athletes know their next workout is only as good as their recovery from the last one.  If you’re not able to bounce back from a tough session the next one will certainly suffer.  No matter what type of event you’re training for, proper recovery is key to continuing progress.  While we can’t always be perfect, here are four pitfalls you’ll want to avoid if improvement is your goal.

Starve.  Eat!  Eat something as soon as you can.  Waiting too long will lead your body to breakdown rather than rebuild mode.  Protein bars, chocolate milk, your favorite protein powder or a nut buttered bagel can get you through in a pinch but you’ll definitely want some protein, carb and fat within 30 minutes of wrapping up.  Next be sure to get a full, well-rounded and nutritious meal within two hours.

Get cold.  An ice bath might feel good but it’s not always the best idea.  Dropping your core temperature too soon after a session shuts down the body’s all important inflammation response and prevents damaged muscles from getting the nutrients they need.  This study found that heating muscles improved post recovery performance more than cooling them with a few exceptions.  When working out multiple times a day cooling can speed the recovery process between sessions.  Cooling can also aid in lowering core temperature before bed time, leading to higher quality sleep.  So go ahead and take that hot shower, it won’t hurt.recovery

Booze it up.  That’s not to say you should skip the post race party.  The entire list of pros and cons for a post run beer are covered here but if you’ve just finished a marathon, focus on giving your body something good for it first.  It wants it!  On the other hand, if all you were accomplishing was an easy fun run with pals, you can probably get away with a cold one along side your glass of water.

Skip the Nap.  If you’re not planning a nap after your long run you’re going to miss out.  Sleep is paramount to proper recovery.  There are big benefits to a little snooze.  Those include muscles being repaired, blood pressure dropping and your brain being recharged.  The best idea is always to get a good, full night’s rest with 8+ hours of sleep but a nap is a great way to kick off the process.

Focus on recovering properly from every single workout and you’ll see progress.

Coach Meredith

Running 101: Wearing Headphones

Everyone loves a good song.  It gets you pumped up for your workout and can keep you going when it gets tough.  Unfortunately most training runs don’t feature bands or DJs along the course.  That leaves it up to us runners to provide our own tunes and that’s most often by listening via headphones.  While rocking out during a workout can have benefits there are also potential drawbacks.  Here are a few of the pros and cons Team ECRP faces when making the choice to run with or without headphones.headphones

Pros:
Relaxation – Music is a great tool for helping runners stay relaxed while working out.  If you’re singing along you’re not getting tense and that’s a good thing.  Especially during a tough workout a little distraction, as long as you can keep pushing, goes a long way to making it more bearable.

Cadence – One of the keys to good form and fast finish times is a high step rate or cadence.  Using headphones so you can listen to a song with the right beat or a metronome can be a big help.  The key is to use those headphones as a tool to help you improve and not become dependent on them for success.

Cons:
Safety – The way a song can help you relax or stay on the beat also means it’s a distraction.  From the trail below you to emergency vehicle sirens it’s important to be extra aware of your surroundings when you have something in your ear.  Try only putting in one side or keeping the volume very low.  You’ll be able to hear what’s going on around you as well as your favorite tune.  That’s a win for everyone.

Dependence – Counting on something with a battery life can be risky.  If you’re unable to power through a rough session without your music, what happens on race day?  You’re usually not eligible for awards if you race in headphones anyway.  Get used to ditching them every now and then to prepare for when something doesn’t go your way.

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