Category Archives: Running

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

Strong Feet for Runners

Runners need strong feet.

Your feet are your base.  They hit the ground first with every step you take and bear the brunt of impact.  Amazing structures with 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons, strong feet help runners do important things. Things like balance, engage their cores and strong feetmaintain proper posture.  Of course, our feet don’t operate alone.  They’re attached to our ankles so those need to be tough, too.  Building a better athlete starts at the bottom with strength and stability in our feet and ankles.  Here are some of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to build a strong base:

Bare them:  Lose your shoes as much as you can.  Go barefoot (or socked).  Proprioception is the ability to sense where parts of our body are in relation to the others and the strength required for movement.  It gets destroyed by wearing shoes.  Limited proprioception makes us visually dependent and slows reactions times.  It can also increase risk of injury.  Bare feet improve our foot’s ability to respond to the ground it touches, even when it’s back in a shoe, for better balance and fewer potential missteps.

Work them:  Do toe gymnastics.  Spread your toes out as far as you can then pull them back together.  Try moving each toe individually.  You can also practice balancing on one foot.  Keep your big toe flat and foot long to exercise the foot’s muscles.  Work towards holding it for one minute with your eyes closed (an additional challenge).  This will help develop balance and the strength of the tendons and ligaments that support your ankle.  You might be surprised how hard this is on your first try but it can quickly improve with a little work.

strong feetLove them:  After all that work, strong feet need a little love.  Take care of them with a roller ball or massage.  The improved circulation will bring needed oxygen and nutrients to hard working muscles.  It’s easy to do while you’re catching up on the paper or binging Netflix.

Remember that each step starts with your foot then rolls up through your body.  Take good care of your feet and they’ll take good care of you.

Coach Meredith

Solutions for Shin Splints

Shin splints are an annoying injury that almost every runner faces at some point during their career.  Whether you’re a 2:30 marathoner or 45 minute 5k racer, it’s one problem no one wants to face.  Identified by throbbing shin bones when running or walking, shin splints are a painful and hobbling nuisance.  Luckily, once you’ve ruled out a stress fracture, the solution can often be a simple and easy one.  Here are three simple fixes for shin splints that Team ECRP uses over and over again to keep runners moving.

Test your shoelaces.  Sometimes the quickest way to get to the root shin splintsof your shin pain is to check the things on your feet.  Connected to your ankle and therefore your shin bone, anything awry with your foot can lead to serious problems anywhere above it.  How?  Our feet shin splintsflex to absorb impact every time we land, they move around to help us balance and are how power goes from our bodies to the ground.  If our shoes are tied too tightly we take that away from them.

Fix:  Make sure you can fit at least a finger under all of your laces except the top one.  Try different lacing styles based on your foot type.  Kicking those shin splints could be as simple as letting your feet do their jobs.

Gait Analysis: OK, it’s not the laces.  You tried loosening them and nothing changed.  The next step is to have your gait checked out.  Serious heel striking or over striding with a locked out ankle can send shock waves right up those fragile shin bones every single step.  Have a qualified coach watch to help determine if the way you run could be causing yourshin splints problem.

Fix:  Work towards shorter, softer steps.  Not all heel striking is bad but all over striding is sure to cause some trouble.  Film yourself and work with a coach to treat the source, not just the symptom.

Strength Training:  We always want to treat the source of an injury so it doesn’t happen again.  That makes the gait analysis mentioned above a key component of healing your hurting shins since weak hips or poor posture can lead to lots of problems below the knee.  Proper strength training will help prevent the overuse that typically leads to torn up shins.

Fix:  Work with a coach or trainer to develop a plan that includes runner specific strength work and a gradual build up of mileage.

A completely avoidable injury, don’t let shin splints won’t sideline you again.

Coach Meredith

Cross-Training: Cycling for Runners

Cross training is an important part of any effective training program.  OK, what kind and how often should it be done?  The answer depends on you as an individual athlete but here are a few reasons you might want to give cycling a try.

Cadence.  Running at an appropriate running cadence has big benefits.  Hitting 180 steps per minute can reduce injury risk, increase speed and create more efficient movement.  It’s a lot easier to hit that rate of turnover when you’re cycling than when you’re running, especially in the beginning.  Pedal at 180RPM or more to train your nervous system for faster leg movements then watch it happen on your next run. cycling

Muscles.  Pedaling away for an hour doesn’t work muscles the same way as running.  Instead, it builds complimentary muscles that help turnover and strengthen your core.  While both sports use your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves, cycling is a different movement with different muscle fiber firing demands.  Giving those muscle groups a different job makes them more adaptable and able to tackle tough challenges.

Low Impact.  Cycling is a low impact sport.  It builds cardiovascular fitness without pounding your bones on the road and gives your body a break.  That will help it heal and relax and that’s a huge plus for recovery.  Riding a bike is also a good tool when you’re coming back from an injury.  It keeps you fit without opening you up to the chance of re-injury.

Options.  Picking a bike as your cross training tool gives you lots of choices.  You can take an indoor cycling class with your best runner friends or hit the trails on your mountain bike for some peace and quiet.  Try intervals on the road or a long slow ride to lunch and back.  As long as you have a helmet and some reflective gear, you’re good to go wherever your heart desires.

So grab your bike from the garage and go for a ride!  Find that next spin class at your local studio or set up an on-demand class at home.  It’ll be worth it when your body and your next race will thank you.

Coach Meredith

Cross-Training to Run Faster

With the summer training season in full swing and dreams of fall PRs all around, there’s no better time to add cross-training to your plan.  With an option out there for everyone, it’s easy to find something you enjoy doing while giving your body a break from the pavement and the heat.

It’s true.  No matter what you enjoy doing outside of going for a run there’s something for you.  Yoga, swimming, cycling and Crossfit all get the job done while making you a stronger athlete.  Here are some of the big benefits you’ll get from adding two or three non-running sessions to your weekly plan.

Lift weights.  Strength training is a great way to resolve the muscle imbalances many runners experience.  We’re all naturally stronger on one side than the other and running just makes that more pronounced.  By training unilaterally, one side at a time, with exercises like walking lunges, pistols and side planks, you’ll be a more balanced and less injury prone athlete.  Strength training also increases running economy which can help you hit that new PR even sooner.

Move your legs.deadlift  Spinning or cycling is a fun alternative to hitting the track and it’s also a great way to work on increasing your cadence.  A higher cadence means more efficient running and the bike is a perfect place to get your legs used to moving faster.  Cycling with tension uses leg muscles similarly to running uphill without the impact, reducing risk of an injury while building strength.  Hit the trails on a mountain bike or join a spin class to reap the benefits.

Less stress.  Swimming, cycling and rowing are low impact activities that increase fitness without additional stress on bones.  They can lower your risk of overuse injuries and stress fractures while improving overall cardiovascular capacity.  Even strength training can be considered low impact and is hugely beneficial to runners.

Mix it up.  Try different types of cross-training.  There’s no reason your non-running workouts always have to be the same.  Changing the stimulus your body experiences will make you stronger, fitter and faster.  Mountain bike on Monday, take a yoga class on Thursday and a recovery swim on Sunday to keep muscles fresh without overuse.

Find something you love.  The key with cross-training is to find something you enjoy doing.  You might even find more than one thing you love.  You’ll have the opportunity to meet new people, push yourself in new ways and have fun.  No matter what that activity is, you should look forward to your non-running workouts.

The most important thing about cross-training?  Be sure your alternative workout isn’t so hard it takes away from the quality of your target training runs.

Coach Meredith

3 Reasons to Run Without Your GPS Watch

Leaving your GPS watch at home can be scary.  Luckily learning to let go of stats and numbers can be beneficial for lots of reasons.  Want proof?  Here’s why professional runner Molly Seidel started hiding her stats.  Easier than hiding your run data is not taking them it all. Also known as running naked, here are three reasons to take a deep breath and start running with a bare wrist.gps watch

Relaxing.  Leaving the watch at home can be absolutely freeing.  No beeps, no splits, no pressure. Lots of runners are very connected to their tech and discovering that you can rack up miles without it might come as shock.  It is possible, however, and people did this for hundreds of years.  Running sans GPS watch is perfect for recovery runs after a tough workout or race.  It’s also useful for runners in a rut or coming off a big training cycle.  Put the joy in and take the splits out to get back to the core of running: FUN!

See the scenes.  Run the same routes frequently?  Odds are you’re looking at your wrist every time that pesky watch beeps to check on your split.  Since those splits occur at roughly the same spot every time you travel the same route you’re probably too busy looking to notice what’s going on around you.  Abandon the GPS watch at home and open your eyes to scenery you might have been missing.

Run by feel.   Listening to your body is incredibly important.  Easy runs are important and should actually be easy while hard ones should be difficult.  Running naked is a good way to learn how each type feels.  It can open your eyes to potential a prescribed pace was preventing you from seeing.  If you think a 7:00 mile is supposed to be hard and see it on your watch, you might think you’re working harder than you actually are.  Logging some faster miles without the pressure of a watch can lead to big gains and faster races.

Still need data?  Try putting tape over the face of your watch or sticking it in a pocket.  While you won’t see it, stats will still record for your viewing pleasure post run.

Coach Meredith

5 Ways to Prep for Summer Running

Summer running is coming.  It might already have hit summer time temperatures and humidity, where you are but that doesn’t mean your training is over.  The fall is a wonderful time to race any distance and to get there you have to fight through some tough summer days.  Here are five tips that will help you keep summer running safe, effective and fun.

Hydrate.  Nothing is more important than staying hydrated when it’s hot or humid, or both, outside.  Even if your summer running mostly takes place in the shade, fluid intake is a must.  Run somewhere with easily accessible water fountains or place bottled water along your route.  summer runningSports drinks, electrolyte and salt tabs or even some table salt added to your water are also good ways to ensure your body gets what it looses from sweating out there in the warmth.

Cover up.  Pants and long sleeve shirts will definitely be too much but you still need to protect your skin as much as possible.  Wear light colored clothes that reflect the sun’s rays and slather on the sunblock.  A hat and sunglasses will also help keep sun damage at bay.  Use the shade from trees and buildings as much they’re available.

Adjust your schedule.  It’s easier said than done but moving the times you hit the road can have a big impact.  Weather is usually cooler in the morning or evening and you’ll have the benefit of being out of the directly overhead sun.  There’s more coverage from shade as the sun rises or dips so plan routes accordingly.

Slow down.  Your body will be working hard to keep you cool before you even finish your warm up.  It’s not a good idea to the additional stress of running as fast as you can on top of it.  Women tend to fare better than men and smaller people better than large ones but everyone feels the pain.  Dropping your pace is a must.  With decreased blood flow to muscles, increased sweating and more demand planed on the heart, trying to maintain your January paces is just not worth the danger.  Summer running paces can drop by as much as 3 minutes per mile compared to cooler weather!  For a more detailed breakdown, check this out.

Relocate.  No, don’t move to a cooler climate.  Take your workouts somewhere else.  If you’re always training on the sun baked roads, try shade filled tree lined trails.  Committed to working on your tan?  Try the waterline on a beach.  Neither of those sound reasonable?  Head into the AC and have some fun on the treadmill with these workouts.

More than anything else, stay alert for signs of any heat related difficulties and listen closely to your body.  Take the dangers of summer running seriously, prepare to beat them and you’ll be ready to PR this fall.

Coach Meredith

Are Racing Flats Right for You?

It’s race season!  That brings up the question of needing a pair of racing flats.  With so many fancy shoes out there, do you need a special one for race day?

The answer is maybe.  The contrasts between training shoes and race flats isn’t as dramatic as the differences between basketball and trail shoes but they are there.  More than looks or drop, the type of shoes you want for race day depend on what kind of runner you are.  Here are 5 ways to tell if you’ll want to stay clear of racing flats.racing flats

You’re a new runner.  Throwing on a lighter shoe won’t actually make you that much faster.  Hours of training and hard work do that.  A less cushioned, less supportive pair of racing flats is more likely to lead to an injury than a new PR.

Marathoners.  The marathon is a long race and you’ll be taking lots of steps while beating your body up.  Don’t make it worse by stripping away the layer of protection between your foot and the road.  Happy feet are fast feet so give them a little love on race day with nice comfy shoes.  The longer the race, the more shoe you’ll need.

Heavier runners.  You’ll need that extra cushioning for support over the length of the race and the barefoot movement hasn’t been all its cracked up to be.  Typically, less protection means more injuries.  No matter what the scale says, your gait can have a big impact on how much pounding your bones take with each step and swapping into a lightweight shoe on race day can change the way you move and lead to injury.

You’re injured.  If you have any hint of soreness, fatigue or muscle strain, stick with your trainers since you probably won’t be pushing yourself for the race’s entire duration anyway.  It always better play things safe than toy with making a minor injury more serious.

You didn’t train in them.  Nothing new on race day, right?  That especially goes for shoes.  Whether you’re tackling the course in brand new trainers or fancy racing flats, definitely spend time training in them.  Take them out for easy runs, a track session or two and maybe even a long run.  You have to prepare your body for the demands of a lightweight shoe.

Coach Meredith

Easy Running for Faster Running

Slow down!  We’ve all heard it but we might not know why. Here are a few of the reasons easy running is important and how it will benefit your next race.

Easy running might seem boring.  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 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 and remember that easy is relative.  Some days it will be closer to race pace while the run after a hard workout might be slower. Make sure the pace is conversational and your heart rate stays low.

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

Tin Foil Chicken and Vegetables

We all know nutrition is an important piece of building a better athlete.  I like to use the 80/20 rule, and this tasty tin foil chicken and vegetables makes it easy to save that 20% for pizza or cookies.  A fantastic week night meal that’s quick and simple, it’s also packed with muscle building protein, good for you fiber and lots of healthy nutrients.  Switching out one or two ingredients makes the dish easy to customize for multiple uses during the week.  With the ingredients below each serving is home to less than 300 calories and quite filling.

Tin Foil Chicken and Vegetables
Servings – 2-4
Prep Time – 10 minutes
Cook Time – 30 minutes
Difficulty – 1

Ingredients
2-4 boneless, skinless (antibiotic free) chicken breasts (to lower cook time, divide into sections)
1 cup frozen corn (thawed)
2/3 cup black beans drained and rinsed
2/3 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2-4 Tablespoons taco seasoning
2-4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2-4 large squares of tin foil

Instructions
Pre-heat oven to 375.
Add olive oil, peppers and onion to sautee pan and cook until onions start to become clear.
Place each chicken breast in center of one tin foil sheet.
Season chicken with taco and cayenne powders.
Top each chicken breast with tomatoes, corn, black beans, green pepper and onion.
Fold tin foil into packet around chicken with small opening to vent.
Place in oven for 25-20 minutes or until juice runs clear.
Serve by carefully opening foil packets and pouring chicken, vegetables and juice onto a plate.chicken and vegetablesThis simple tin foil chicken and vegetables recipe can be switched up by adding squash and carrots or swapping out taco flavors for basil and thyme.  You can see how the calorie count would change when plug in your choice of ingredients in or add a side of quinoa here.  Use fresh vegetables for a colorful and delicious meal that’s great all year long without pulling you away from family or training time.  Give this tin foil chicken and vegetables recipe a try.
I love it and know you will too!

Coach Meredith