With Mayfaire finally behind us, runners across Polk County can look forward to a summer of races and runs in the blazing heat (cough). I write this last portion of my introduction with a note of obvious sarcasm because things quickly become tedious when you find your race time stagnating (or heading north).
When this is the case, conventional wisdom tells us to log more miles, address injuries which may limit our performance and hit the gym to get stronger. But when none of these amounts to improved performance on the ground, it is time to take a closer look at your routine.
The majority of training for runners should rightly be focused on optimizing and improving the aerobic energy system which provides the fuel during long endurance events and helps our bodies to recovery after training.
But while it is essential to the aerobic capacity and power necessary to endure and recover from long runs, the problem with this from a performance standpoint are the miles or wear and tear placed on the body.
In many cases, the primary reason why runners do not get faster is not allowing themselves sufficient time to recover when the best fix is often deleting junk volume.
With this in mind, this week’s article is a step by step program to improve your 5k time in just 8 weeks by doing LESS than you probably were before.
Getting to know your heart:
In order to produce and transport energy to power the body, the heart and cardiovascular system rely on three energy systems which engage based upon upon the length of your given activity:
Alactic- 10-12 seconds
Aneroebic- 60-90 seconds
Aneroebic and Alactic training has gained much popularity lately for their applications to fatloss training and sports performance, but a crucial error many athletes and/or fitness seekers make is the failure to develop their aerobic system first.
The aerobic system is also responsible how quickly we can recover and developing this capacity will determine how quickly we return from injury and high intensity activity– cage fight would be my personal choice—as well as performance in endurance events.
Limiting factors to aerobic energy production include how quickly oxygen can be supplied by our cardiovascular and cardio respiratory system, oxygen utilization by the muscles themselves and the availability of key enzymes.
In English, this means we want to train the heart to become stronger at both pumping and processing oxygen as well as the ability of our muscles to accept and process energy. In order to do so, our program will rely on two key methods:
Cardiac output method (Oxygen supply)- This method improves heart rate efficiency and the ability to pump more blood with each beat. It has been around for centuries and is simply performing periods of activity in which the heart is between 130-150 BPM (or 75-90% of max capacity) of maximum heart rate.
Tempo method (Oxygen utilization)- This method works on increasing slow twitch muscle fiber development. Slow twitch muscles fibers activate in response to long duration events such as running and possess the greatest capacity for aerobic endurance. This is beneficial because it allows our muscles to endurance longer bouts of exercise without burning out.
If sound a bit geeky or tedious, simply skip the strength and energy section below to learn how these methods can make you an endurance monster.
Setting the pace:
In the gym, the pace (or tempo) at which we lift weights is crucial to achieving a training effect. Power athletes are instructed to explode the weight up as quickly as possible, pause briefly and control the lowering portion to simulate the explosive nature of their sport.
By contrast, running and endurance events most often involve a constant and uninterrupted pace and strength training for this purpose should be done in the same fashion. This means that developing a strength training program for training our endurance muscle fibers begins with how we control each exercise.
This can be achieved through some very specific guidelines:
Eliminate pauses between the top and bottom of each rep
Each rep should last around 4 seconds
Perform 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps
Choose 3-4 exercises involving multi-joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts, pulldowns, push ups
In our first video, we demonstrate these performance cues for key exercises.
Upping the output:
Often the key factor in injuries and stagnated results in running is too much work on the road. Though I can understand the need to train for one’s sport, racking up too many miles causes repetitive stress on the bones and joints and does not allow for proper recovery.
By incorporating a variety of different drills and avoiding longer sessions, we can get the same aerobic effect necessary to induce a training effect while working on improving necessary skills at a much lower stress level.
For optimal aerobic development, each session should last between 30-90 minutes. This is accomplished by breaking up a 30-60 minute conditioning session in to blocks which focus on specific running related drills/skills:
5-10 minutes: Jumping rope to improve endurance of the lower extremities
5-10 minutes: Upper bodyweight strength circuit to improve
5-10 minutes: Tempo run
By simply dividing the areas above, we get both preparatory and specific training for our event. For those running triathlons or other endurance events, we can simply plug in the drills which most benefit the athlete.
In our second video, I give an example of a bodyweight circuit we often utilize for our runners.
Putting it all together:
To summarize the key points in our article, here are a few guidelines for setting up your program:
Perform 2-3 days of total body strength training and conditioning per week
Break up conditioning sessions in to shorter blocks and repeat several times per day versus one long event to minimize training stress
Wear a heart rate monitor to ensure HR does not drop below or exceed recommended training range
Attempt to progressively increase resistance in weight training for continued gains