Monday, September 25, 2017

How To Approach Workouts

Wish I had this knowledge back when I had this body :-)

A big key to the success and sustainability of our training is how we approach each run and workout we do.  So I wanted to write a blog entry to discuss this topic a little to help us all to enjoy and get the most out of our training. As with our training, let's break this discussion up into stress workouts and recovery runs.

Stress Workouts

Purpose:  Stress workouts are running workouts in which we significantly stress a system or systems of the body in order to produce a targeted adaptation so as to improve certain aspects of our running fitness.  Our goal is to do sufficient and specific enough work in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking.

Primary Goals:  In order to accomplish the purpose of the stress workout we should have 2 main goals for the workout:
  • Effort:  Put in the appropriate effort level for the workout.  Your body gets the benefits from the effort you put in.  If you give the effort you’ll get the benefits regardless of what the watch says.  This satisfies the “significantly stress” component of our stress workout purpose (see above).
  • Execute:  Execute the workout as it was designed.  By this I am not talking about paces, but rather executing the distance and feel of the workout as intended.  (see Stress Workout blog entry)  Stress workouts are designed to elicit certain adaptations, and so good execution is important to satisfy the “stress specifically” portion of our stress workout purpose.  

Time/Pace:  Notice that I did not list times or paces as our primary goals for the workout.  The purpose of our workout is not to hit certain times, it is to significantly and specifically stress the body in order to elicit desired adaptation (improved fitness).  So times/paces should not be a our primary goals in stress workouts.  But what times/paces are good for is to provide us with feedback and sanity checks.  I have extensive pace charts on the MPR website to help runners interrupt the pace elements of workout so that they can do 2 things: 1) have a frame of reference for what to expect in terms of pace in workouts and 2) to understand what certain workout paces indicate in terms of race time fitness.

Attitude:  Far too many runners have significant anxiety and even dread about some workouts primarily because they have things they can’t fully directly control, such as pace/time, as their main goal.   This is an unhealthy way to feel about stress workouts.  Our stress workouts are our chance to stress the body and elicit increased fitness.  We only get 1-2 of these workouts per week (usually) so we should be excited about them and the opportunities for improvement they hold.  And by focusing on appropriate effort and smart execution (or 2 primary goals) we are centered on items we can 100% control. Know going in that if put in the work and approach it smartly that you will get the benefits from it, regardless of what the watch says.  Enter the workout with confidence, excitement and determination because you can 100% control meeting its primary goals.

Mirror Race Strategy:   Physiologically and mentally the best way to approach workouts (and races) is to follow a 3 phase strategy (see Racing blog entry) as follows:
  • First 10%:  start conservative and ease into it
  • 10% - 80%:  strong, smooth and steady
  • Last 20%:  finish strong with whatever is left in the tank
So this is how we want to approach all our workouts and races.  Ingrain this in your mind and body and make it second nature to you.

Example: if you are doing a 10 x 800 workout then start conservative on the first repeat , easing into the workout, run the next 7 repeats (2-8) strong, smooth and steady, then seek finish strong/fast the last 2 repeats.

Write It Down:  I recommend starting a workout diary, where you can write down beforehand what you want to accomplish and then afterwards assess how it went.
Things to include in your workout diary:
  • The specifics of the workout planned (warm-ups and cool-downs, workout type, distances, number of repeats, recovery, etc)
  • Your primary goals (see above), write them out each time to help ingrain them (no cutting and pasting)
  • Any secondary goals you have (this may include time/paces or heart rate targets but doesn’t have to)
  • List at least 2 things you mentally want to work on (such as positive self talk) and 2 things you want to physically work on (such as staying relaxed in the upper body).
  • After the workout objectively state the specifics of how the workout went and how you did on relation to your primary and secondary goals, and how did you do on the physical and mental things you wanted to work on.  
  • Be sure to pick-out at least 1 thing you did very well and at least 1 thing you still need some work on.  Note: be sure to keep this balanced, give yourself full credit for the things you do well, it is important in building up your confidence.
A good training diary is great way to stay objective about your workouts, and to learn your own strengths and how to take advantage of them, and your weaknesses and how to work on them.  Look back on this diary periodically to see your progress and better understand and appreciate your journey.

Recovery Runs

Purpose:  Easy runs are runs we do in order to promote recovery from our stress workouts while maintaining or advancing our cardiovascular fitness and our body’s adaptations to running.  These runs should be kept short enough in duration and slow enough in pace that they do not significantly stress the body’s systems, while being enough to maintain bio-mechanical efficiency and provide cardiovascular benefit.  

Primary Goals:  In order to accomplish the purpose of the recovery run we should have 2 main goals for the run:
  • Recovery:  keep the effort and duration of the run in check so as to not stress the body and let it recover. Keep the effort comfortable and relaxed, a rhythm you can easily carry on a conversation at, never feeling like you are pushing the pace at all.
  • Maintain Adaptations:  get in enough work (duration, effort) to maintain the adaptations/fitness we have built, without compromising recovery.  

See the “Recovery” blog entry for more specifics on duration and paces and common pitfalls of recovery runs.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Chapter 13 - Warm-ups and Cool-Downs

Note: To me coaching is all about stewardship, using the knowledge and experience I have gained over 40 years as a runner, and 10 years as a coach, to help others pursue their running goals.  So rather than publishing a book you have to pay for, I am publishing it here on my blog, free for all (runners and coaches alike) to read and enjoy, maybe learn something from it, or potentially have it prompt you to look at something from a slightly different viewpoint.  If any of those happen, mission accomplished. 

"A proper warm-up and cool-down is our first line of defense against injury"

Next, I want to talk to you about the importance of a proper warm-up and cool-down and my recommendations on each.  

The primary mission of a warm-up is to get the body ready for the run or workout we are about to get started on by engaging the muscles and tendons we are about to work.  Secondarily it also helps us gain and retain a sufficient range of motion in our muscles, tendons and joints.  A proper warm-up goes a long way to keeping injuries at bay.

The specifics of what is needed from a warm-up can be as individual as the person engaging in it.  So my recommendation is that you follow the basic outline below as your base warm-up routines and then add to it as needed to cover any individual requirements you have (i.e. problems or weakness in an area).  

Before An Easy Or Long Run - Dynamic Warm-up Routine
1.  Standing High Knees Lifts - slowly march in place bring your knees up so that your thigh is parallel with the ground - 10-12 lifts for each leg
2.  Standing Butt Kicks - standing in place alternately bring your heel up and back (with thigh staying in place) towards your buttocks - 10-12 lifts for each leg
3.  Leg Swings - holding a wall, bench or partner for balance, gently swing your leg forward and backward while keeping it mostly straight. This should not be a violent or over exaggerated movement - 10-12 swings each leg
4.  Cross Over Leg Swings - holding a wall, bench or partner for balance, gently swing your leg back and forth, side to side, across the front of your body  while keeping it mostly straight. This should not be a violent or over exaggerated movement - 10-12 swings each leg
5.  Walking Karaoke - this is a sideways walk alternating with your lead leg crossing over in front of your body - 10-12 steps per leg (face the opposite direction but go the smae direction to work the other leg).
6.  Ankle Rolls -  while standing, place your toe on the ground behind you with your heel straight up in the air - make 10-12 circles with your heel (leaving your toe in place on the ground) on each leg.

Before A Quality Stress Workout Or Race
1.  The Dynamic Warm-Up Routine described above
2.  Easy warm-up run - length depends on individual factors - with the last 90 seconds done at a up-tempo pace (LT to AT pace) in order to stir up the aerobic enzymes and prime the aerobic engine for the workout/race.
3.  Any light drills or strides as needed or if needed to feel ready to roll for the workout/race

Keep all warm-up activities dynamic in nature (i.e moving) as static stretching can temporarily weaken the muscles - not what you want before exercising them.

The cool-down has 2 main purposes depending on what type of run or workout it follows.  Following an easy run it is an opportunity to stretch the muscles when they are warm and pliable and receptive to the stretching.  This helps the body attain and maintain a proper range of motion in all running related muscles, joints and tendons.  Following a stress workout or race (speed, stamina or endurance) our cool-down flushes the muscles with new blood flow, carrying away and "junk" accumulated in the workout and helps to jump start the recovery process.  The cool-down is your first step in the recovery process after stress workouts and races.  

Similar to warm-ups, what is needed from a cool-down routine can be an individual thing, so my recommendation is to use the routines described below as your base and then add to them as needed to address any individual issues/needs.  

After An Easy Run - Static Stretching Routine
1. Walking (2-5 mins) - great opportunity to start rehydrating/refueling
2. Calf Wall Stretch - using a wall, post or partner to stretch the calves by pushing gently against it while driving our rear heel towards the ground - 20-30 seconds on each leg
3. Sped Leg Stretch - with legs straight (slightly bent - never locked out) spread them a comfortable width apart (past you shoulder width but not straining) and bend upper body downward, stretching in middle, towards left leg and toward right leg 20-30 seconds each.
4. Together Hamstring Stretch - standing with legs together straightened (slightly bent - never completely locked out), bend at the waist and reach down towards the ground and hold for 20-30 seconds. 
5. Standing Quad Stretch - start straight, with feet should width, bend one knee and gently pull heel back towards buttocks (straight back) while keeping thigh perpendicular with the ground, and hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat with other leg. 
6. Cross Over Glute Stretch - seated on the ground with legs straight out in front of you, bend one leg and place foot on far side of opposite knee, twist upper body towards the side of the bent leg and hold for 20-30 seconds then repeat with opposite leg. 
7. Raised Lunge Stretch - start by standing a short stride away from a bench, chair or bumper of a car, place one foot on the bench, keeping the other leg straight foot on the ground, slowly lunge forward towards the raised foot and hold for 20-30 seconds and then repeat with opposite leg. 

After A Quality Stress Workout or Race
1.  Walking (2-5 mins) - great opportunity to start rehydrating/refueling
2.  Easy jogging - duration depend on length of workout/race and individual level of mileage.
3.  Light and limited range dynamic movements or gentle rolling as needed 

After An Endurance Stress Workout (Long Run)
1.  Walking (2-5 mins) - great opportunity to start rehydrating/refueling
2.  Light and limited range dynamic movements or gentle rolling as needed 

Note:  We do not want to do any hard or significant static stretching immediately after a stress workout or race as highly fatigued muscle are easier to strain as they are weakened and the sensory feedback they provide is compromised for a period of time. 

While the routines above are short and simple and only take a few minutes to do, the consistent use of them before and after your runs will make a big difference in how you feel on your runs and in reducing the likelihood of injury in just a short time. It is a great 5-10 minute investment of your training time.  Ingrain these into your running routine to the point it comes as second nature, so that without even thinking you automatically launch into your dynamic warm-up routine before runs and go through your cool-down protocol afterwards.   It will help you get the most out of the work your do in your runs.