Friday, July 11, 2014

Feature in Running Times on sports drinks

I've been up to a lot behind the scenes recently: doing a lot of research for an upcoming injury article, doing freelance work, and keeping up with my regular articles at  One of my biggest recent projects was an article for Running Times magazine on some of the marketing claims of new sports drinks.  The hard copy version came out in the July print issue, and the online version was just posted.  Check it out!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The different roles of strength training for distance runners

Strength training for distance runners is a pretty popular and contentious topic in the world of training, and I don't have much up on my blog about it.  I recently got an email asking about my opinion on strength work for distance runners, and it spurred me to condense what I know so far about the subject, so I've adapted my response to that email into a blog post.

Strength work, and especially weight lifting, is in a bit of an awkward place right now, because (unlike most things with training) the science is actually ahead of the coaching—or at least the coaching material that's out in the open.  Weight lifting was dismissed for so long for distance runners that there's very little training literature on how to actually go about integrating it into a training routine.  On one hand you've got running coaches who know nothing about lifting saying you should only do body weight stuff 1x a week, and on the other you've got weight lifting coaches who know nothing about running saying you should lift heavy 3-4x a week and not run on those days.

Whether it was fears that weight lifting would cause a runner to "bulk up" and slow down, or claims that most strength work isn't specific enough to distance running, a comprehensive theory of how strength training fits into an overarching training plan is distinctly lacking in the coaching literature.  I don't doubt that there are plenty of coaches out there who are far more knowledgeable than I am on this subject—there certainly are—but there's a distinct lack of literature (books, articles, interviews) describing how to go about piecing together a comprehensive strength program.  Sure, you can watch a video on Flotrack of Galen Rupp doing single-leg barbell squats, or read a magazine article about how Shalane Flanagan does hurdle drills for hip mobility, but there's no Daniels' Running Formula for strength work.  This problem is particularly bad when it comes to weight lifting.

When evaluating whether a certain kind of strength work is useful for you, you need to ask yourself "what purpose is this serving?" and "is this the best way to achieve the outcome I want?" Weight lifting and strength training in general can serve one of several purposes in training: injury prevention, general strength, maximal muscle fiber recruitment, or running-specific explosive training.  I'll go through each of these four purposes one by one.

Strength work for injury prevention

A lot of people think that you should lift or do "core work" to prevent injury, but really, the best kind of strength  for injury prevention is boring, physical-therapy style exercises for hip strength.  Scientific research supports strengthening the hip muscles, ESPECIALLY the abductors and external rotators, as a way to prevent injury—especially knee injuries like runner's knee or IT band syndrome, but hip strength appears to be connected with overall injury rates as well.

There's a huge range of hip strength exercises out there.  Based on some rudimentary research on muscle activation patterns, I particularly like these four:

*Side leg lifts
*Clamshell leg lifts
*Glute  bridge with leg lefts
*Monster walk with theraband

I myself do these four exercises six or seven days a week, 20-25x for the leg lifts, 90-120sec for the glute bridge, and 2x30 for the monster walk.  This is just one example, and there are a lot of other exercises that are likely equally good, but if you're ONLY looking to prevent injury, this is the kind of strength work you want to do.  It's not fun, it's not exciting, and it's not physically challenging in the same way a pushup is.  That's why I call this routine "the boring exercises" with the high school runners I coach.  Instead of a 30min ab strength routine, you're far better off just doing hip strength.  Ab strength isn't bad,  per se, but it's not been directly connected to injury risk.

Instead of core strength routines that only strengthen the abs and the lower back, I'm partial to the Pedestal routine, developed initially (I think) by Dan Pfaff and probably popularized among distance runners by John Cook, who coached a number of American elites, including Shannon Rowberry and Leo Manzano.