5 Strategies for a Successful Running Programme

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You’ve booked in a big race and you want to use the upcoming months to prepare and be in the best shape possible on the start line. Here are 5 principles that are essential for a successful training period:

Plan thoroughly

Every time you lace up, you should know exactly what session you’re about to perform. Having the distance and pace in your mind will allow you to focus and get the work done. Deciding what to do during your warm-up will inevitably lead to a below par session as when on the spot, it’s easy to just do what you fancy doing rather than what you should do. Or if you don’t have a target to aim for, you may just stop the run or slow down when you’re feeling tired. I’ve certainly done this in the past and have regretted not having a plan from the start.

Vary your pace and distance

If your training consists of runs with the same distance and pace several times a week, not only will you get thoroughly bored but you’re also not helping the body to reach it’s physiological potential. To achieve it’s capabilities, the body requires a range of stimuli in order to create various stresses and train different energy systems. This is why sessions need to be varied with the inclusion of long easy paced runs, short faster paced runs and interval training for example.

Simple and consistent is far more important than complex and sporadic

For a block to be effective your training doesn’t have to be massively complicated but it does need to be frequent. When coaching my own clients, I ensure they’re performing their must do sessions regularly and this brings about far better results than it would if they were doing the odd highly intricate workout. If you want to improve, consistency is the key!

Ensure you include de-load weeks

It’s really important to include de-loads in your programme. A de-load is a period of time (typically a week) where the amount of training you undertake is reduced. This reduction is commonly included every 4th or 5th week. In a running programme, the number of miles would be lowered significantly and if you’re concurrently strength training, you’d lift lighter weights or decrease your training volume.

The point is to encourage recovery before the next block of tough training commences. It’s essential as training for months with running volume increasing every week will most likely lead to overtraining and therefore injury or illness.

Add strength training to your program

To improve as a runner, plenty of miles of course have to be covered. However, if your only form of training is running, then it’s highly likely that you’ll experience an injury, plateau in terms of your performance or simply get bored with a lack of variation. Strength training has the ability to:

  • Reduced risk your risk of injury
  • Improve your running economy
  • Help maintain good running form
  • Generate higher force output when running (increased distance with each stride)
  • Reduce body fat levels
  • Improve flexibility, mobility and coordination

I firmly believe that if you’re not currently strengthening and mobilising your body, you’re missing out on a host of benefits!

Adopt these 5 principles and they'll form a solid foundation for a successful programme. Remember to train consistently but listen to your body when it needs rest, and above all else, enjoy your running!

 

Written by Marc Brown

5 Things to Consider When Hiring a Coach/Trainer

This time of year resolutions bring more people into the gym or out to train for sports than possibly any other. Many of those people, like you, consider hiring a coach for the first time but how do you know who is right to train with and why? My advice is based on a new acronym (the fitness industry seems to love them) which I’m calling RUTTE principles. All will become clear as my experience over a decade of new years stampedes sheds light on why some coaches are worth every penny, and why some people never achieve what they set out to.

 

Research

Do the letters after my name mean anything to you? I mean that both figuratively and literally. Do you know what they stand for? Does it matter to you either way? It should matter, I think, that some professionals take the time and show the passion to become well qualified and accredited by national governing bodies. Personal relationships matter too. Few people spend as much concentrated time with anyone as much as with their coach/trainer. Choosing a coach simply because you get on well with them is not always the best thing for your athletic development. Truth be told, you don’t really need to like the coach much at all but I’ll come to why a little later on.

Getting back to researching… Take some time to figure out what the proposed coach is actually qualified in. The fitness industry is full of weekend courses and tick box certificates that fill out a CV impressively. Unless you can distinguish between someone with degree level education, years of professional development and a proven track record* from a good sales-person who recently did a 6 week course with a 50% pass mark, you could be in for a shock. The saying “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, try hiring an amateur” could not be more true. Your body and your health deserve the best, most attentive and experienced coach you can find and afford. Prices will be different, of course and a high price doesn't always guarantee quality. Importantly, sometimes new developing coaches are also very good and there should be more to your decision than a CV and letters after a name.

*achieving goals like yours with clients not just themselves!

 

Understanding

It is said that people will buy from people that seem to understand them and offer something to meet those needs/wants/desires. You need to be understood by your coach. What drives you? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What is it you really want from your coach and your training? Why? Take a second to answer those questions now. After all, you should know the answers before your coach does!

If your coach sells you something that you didn't really want, was it in your interest or theirs? A good coach can educate you and change your mind but only after understanding you. To do that they need to ask questions, take time, let you answer without interruption. Coaching is seen as a bit of an art because often it’s what you don't say that is more effective.

Your sport could be long distance running or it could be ultimate frisbee. A good coach will be able to go away and do their own research, hopefully based on legitimate scientific principles, and have an in-depth understanding of your sport, what you require and how you can improve your performance most efficiently.

 

Trust

Once you’ve made a decision to hire a coach you will need to trust their advice and recommendations in order to succeed. This doesn't happen straight away obviously and the more different their information is to your past experience, the harder it is to fully trust it. Luckily there are ways to speed this process up, which if unsuccessful can help terminate a negative relationship before it’s really begun. Trust can be ‘passed on’ in a sort of vicarious way. Testimonials from clients like you who have had the same experiences and achieved what you are hoping for can help you feel more confident in the coach’s process. If you can’t find any, don’t be afraid to ask. Most coaches with a track record can’t wait to regale you with their success stories but be sure to see some evidence! Better still, if you’re unsure ask to speak to existing athletes/clients and see what they have to say.

My ‘strongest’ type of new athlete is one who has been personally referred by an existing client. People trust their friends, who in turn will trust their friends coach if the research and understanding have already been done.

 

Testing

Never forget the reason you started training. Whether for sports performance (measurable) or to increase self-confidence (subjective and intangible) you are paying for someone to help you reach those goals. Now, there are several caveats here, most notably that even the best coaches in the world can’t achieve results for you. You have to do the work. The coach should advise, support and possibly motivate you to improve but the bulk of the responsibility is yours. Money can’t buy speed, power, strength, muscle mass* or turn you into Usain Bolt.

Coaches are employed to know whether you’re getting better or not, and to understand why/why not and adjust things accordingly. To do this they must track things, measure things and test things. The ‘things’ in question will differ depending on your goals but they must be able to show you improvement over time. You in turn must trust that it is a process that WILL take time. You can start to see why understanding and trust are so important. You needn't second guess a good coach that has a wealth of knowledge and proven track record unless you aren't seeing any results in the time frame that makes sense according to biological and physiological principles. Testing should provide evidence of the effectiveness of training and reinforce your trust. Keep the bigger picture in mind here. You can’t endlessly improve all things at all times so maintain perspective.

*excluding the use of performance enhancing drugs which I am certainly not recommending!

 

Education

Does your coach want you to learn? Would they be happy if you became more independent - less dependent on them? Do they care that you understand why you train the way you do? Why you run those intervals, why you lift weights that way, why the programme hasn't changed in 4 weeks?

A good coach takes the time to explain things and give reasoning. Not always there and then, that can be counter-productive to learning movements. Over time, during the coaching process as a whole and as an athlete becomes more mature, learning why you do what you do begins to matter. This ties back into building trust. Coaches can provide a solid rationale for their programmes and teaching methods to enhance an athletes buy in and belief in the system. Both parties win from this kind of relationship.

Remember these RUTTE principles when selecting and working with a new trainer/coach. Do your research, ensure you are understood, build trust and trust the process when you see results, and always learn why. All athletes want to get better. All coaches want the same.


Guest Author: Alex Adams BSc, ASCC, CSCS

Alex has worked in the fitness industry for 11 years, working with clients ranging from elite athletes to general population. Currently based at Performance Pro in London, Alex coaches olympic weightlifting and strength and conditioning as well as presenting and tutoring on both subjects.

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What Is Cadence And How Do I Increase It When Running?

Cadence (or stride rate) is simply “How many steps you take in 1 minute”. When running, knowing your cadence can be a useful tool to help improve technique. Think about cycling up a hill in a high gear. It requires a lot of effort to turn the pedals and is quite inefficient. If you change to a low gear you can turn the pedals much easier and less effort is required to climb the hill. The same is true with your running. If you can take more steps and therefore distribute the load over more strides then it can reduce the effort required to propel you forward. Increasing your cadence does not mean increasing your speed. Speed is a function of cadence and stride length. Increasing either one can increase your speed.

If you are asked to increase your cadence when running we are not usually wanting you to increase your speed at the same time. Therefore your stride length should reduce. Reducing your stride length will cause you to land with your foot closer to under your body rather than out in front which will in turn reduce the load that is transmitted through the limb. This can help reduce symptoms like knee pain with running and improves running efficiency.

What is the “right” cadence?

Jack Daniels conducted an experiment in the 1984 Olympics, looking at every distance runners cadence. Only 1 athlete ran at a lower cadence than 180 steps per minute (and she was (176). Most elite athletes run with a naturally high cadence of between 180-200.

A lot of recreational runners tend to run with a cadence around 150-170 with long strides. Increasing your cadence by 5% can demonstrate a reduction in forces absorbed through the knee and increasing cadence by 10% can reduce forces through the knee and hip.

How to increase your cadence:

First, count your steps while running. Count how many times your right foot lands in a 30-second period and then multiply by four to get your total stride rate per minute.

It’s easiest to improve your cadence on a treadmill where you can set the speed to stay the same and work on increasing the number of steps you take. Try and aim for 180 steps per minute. It may take you a while to work up to this tempo.

If you can run in time to music, Spotify has a great feature which can help: - Find the running section. Select a sound track. Start running or skip this step and set your cadence. The music will automatically adjust to your stride rate to help you maintain the cadence. Now all you have to do is run in time…


David Harris - Physiotherapist

David is the clinical director of Oxford Circus Physiotherapy. He’s actively worked in physiotherapy for 15 years and specialises in spinal pain, sporting injuries, muscular imbalance and exercise prescription. David has worked for professional sports teams and was part of the New Zealand Health team for the Olympic and Commonwealth games. For more information about Oxford Circus Physiotherapy, please click here.

 

The Marathon - 10 Race Week Tips

The week leading up to a marathon is a critical part of the training process. If you get it right, you'll be on the start line feeling fresh and raring to go, but a major mistake could undo all that hard work. So here are 10 tips to help you ensure that you get it right:

Don't try anything new - You've been training for months. During this time you've practiced your nutrition and figured out what equipment works best for you. It's really important that you don't make any last minute changes that could potentially disrupt your performance. So don't try any new foods or make alterations to your kit, stick with what's worked throughout the training process.

Resist the temptation to cram - More often than not during a programme, people miss sessions. Whether it's due to injury, illness or perhaps a holiday, it does happen. The important thing is to let it go, and resist the temptation to make any last minute gains. Doing a long run or big hill session in the final week to 'catch up' is a very bad idea and will only prove to be detrimental!

Try to get your mind off running - The lead up to the marathon can be a bit 'run heavy'. People will inevitably ask you about the race, and the expo can be pretty full on, so during the week before try to relax as much as possible and keep your mind on other things. Spend time with friends and family and avoid stressful situations where you can.

Don't be an expo loiterer - Road race expos are an inevitable part of major marathons. If you've never been to one, they often involve dozens and dozens of stools marketing anything from trainers to energy bars to upcoming races. They can be chaotic (particularly the day before a race) and as you want to avoid stressful situations and hours on your feet, my advice is get in, register and collect your race number, then leave.

Avoid illness - With all the hard work you've put in, the last thing you want is to get ill on the week of a race. So take precautions by getting plenty of sleep, avoiding alcohol, staying hydrated and it's also a good idea to carry around a bottle of hand sanitiser if you want to be extra cautious.

Ensure you're organised - You don't want to be wasting energy when you really don't need to. So get all your food in and plan what you're going to eat during the days preceding the race, and make a kit list so you can prepare all your equipment in plenty of time. Don't use up energy rushing to shops after work to pick up something or rushing around on marathon morning looking for the right pair of socks.

Practice race pace - Whilst you would've done your longer runs at slower than race speed and you may have carried out some tempo runs a little quicker, it's a good idea to do some short runs at race pace during the final week. This will ensure you’re using the correct energy systems and it also provides you with that last minute reminder of what your pace should feel like.

Make a conscious effort to get sufficient sleep - Compared to one of your peak weeks, the time you spend training during the final few days will be very low. So use this time to relax and get plenty of sleep. Plan to be in bed at a reasonable time and do all you can to ensure good sleep throughout the run up. It'll really help you to feel rested and fresh come race day.

Look over your training log - Doing this the night before can be a useful thing to do. It's a reminder that you've done all the hard work, your preparations have been thorough, and you're ready to go out there and do what you've been training for.

Expect nerves - Let's be honest, running a marathon is a big deal (particularly if it's your first) so there will inevitably be nerves in the lead up. But if you let your nerves take over you will be mentally fatigued on the start line, so when an anxious moment occurs, acknowledge it but then push it to one side and think about something else. Do your very best to relax, smile and enjoy it!

 

Written by Marc Brown