Group Exercise Schedule
December 24-January 1: LINK
Holiday Class Schedule: LINK
12/24: 7am -4pm
Last month, the NY Times Well Blog dropped a piece discussing the results of a recent study of how endurance runners alter their stride as they age. Investigators observed a group of 110 experienced runners aged 23 to 59 making their way around a track. Runners under 40 tended to display greater lower leg activity as they ran, whereas runners over 40 showed impaired lower leg activity. The latter relied more on their hip musculature (the absolute activity of which was still lower than that of younger runners) and showed an impaired “push off”; they had weaker strides and didn’t rise up as high off the ground. Overall, the older runners used their ankles and calves less without increasing hip musculature activity to cover the difference. They just got slower.
The study has its limitations. This study was a brief snapshot in time, rather than a decades-long study of how the same runners change their stride over the years. But it was quite clear: older runners tend to be weaker than younger runners, especially in the lower legs, and this results in a less powerful stride, an altered running gait, and a slower running speed.
What’s my take? I’m completely unsurprised.
This is just the latest in the growing body of evidence showing the beneficial effects strength training has in endurance athletes, especially older ones. Long ago, when I was running marathons competitively, I was one of the few guys paying any serious attention to strength training. It’s partially why, despite my genetic predisposition to joint injuries, I was able to stay in the game as long as I did. Sure, I had sky high inflammation, digestive issues, and some nasty tendinitis, but structurally, I got out relatively unscathed. I look around at some of my peers who are hobbling around and I realize I got off easy.
First and foremost—because it’s what runners truly care about—strength training can improve performance. Yes, even if you replace some of your miles with time in the gym. Yes, even if you spend less time running and more time lifting. Yes, even if you lift heavy, you’re not going to “get too big and unwieldy” enough to hamper your running performance. Why?
Strength enables optimal positioning. When you run long distances, you get tired. That’s unavoidable. Fatigue is a fact of running life and dealing with it is the name of the game. If you’re deadlifting once a week, your trunk musculature will be able to support the proper upright spine during long runs. If you’re not strength training and your lower back is a weak point (as it is for many runners), your body will reduce power output to protect you from injury. By strength training, you’ll increase your resistance to form degradation and increase power output.
Strength actually increases endurance. Lifting heavy things makes the muscles doing the lifting more efficient at what they do. That includes running long distances. And as the NY Times article showed, a distinct lack of lower leg strength may be causing the performance deteriorations associated with increased age.
Strength improves your finishing kick. It’s a pivotal moment of any race: the finishing kick. You’re coming up toward the last leg of the race. You’re exhausted. You want to quit. But what about that poser just ahead of you who’s been leading the entire race? He’s right there. He’s within reach. You can totally beat him if you just summon a burst of strength for the final few hundred meters and go all out. The guy who strength trains every week is going to have the explosive power necessary to make the final kick happen, even when fatigued at the end of a long endurance effort.
Strength reduces unnecessary stress. My friend Dr. Kelly Starrett, master physiotherapist and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard, notes that the optimal positioning provided by strength training can actually make running less stressful. Superior strength allows runners to keep an upright posture throughout the stride pattern, even as you fatigue in the latter stages of a workout. Rather than droop the head forward, roll the shoulders, tuck the pelvis, and constrict the breathing apparatus when fatigue sets in, strength training allows runners to maintain the “power pose.” This minimizes the fight or flight stimulation from the workout and speeds recovery by reducing unnecessary added stress that has nothing to do with the actual training effect.
Strength training improves resistance to injury. For many reasons, lifting heavy things increases your resistance to common running injuries.
First, strength enables good positioning and maintenance of proper technique; bad positioning and poor technique is what ultimately causes most degenerative injuries that occur in runners.
Second, strength training increases the injury resistance of joints and connective tissue. Running puts a huge amount of stress on the knees, ankles, and hips. Lifting heavy helps prepare your joints for some of that stress, and it may even help you recover from existing damage; just last week, a paper was published showing that high-weight, low-volume strength training may heal degenerated discs in the back.
Third, strength training improves bone density. Long distance runners consistently have lower bone density scores than age-matched athletes from other disciplines like sprinting, middle distance running, and power athletics. One reason is that endurance training tends to burn the most calories and cause the most stress to accumulate, leaving little energy left over to devote to bone maintenance, let alone growth. Another reason is that except for the legs, endurance running is low impact. Our bones require the application of direct mechanical stress to stimulate bone density growth. Throwing in a couple sessions of heavy (relative to your capacity) strength training each week can really make up the difference and stimulate bone density improvements. Since older folks are already the population at the greatest risk for low bone density, older folks who are also endurance runners absolutely must lift heavy things.
In the NY Times article, they reference a 2012 list of standard lower leg stretches and exercises older runners should employ to make up the strength deficit, the kind of thing you’d get on a fading printout from the orthopedist’s office. Give it a look. These are actually great choices, but they’re probably not sufficient. For instance, the heel cord stretch they recommend is inadequate. You’ve seen this one. Face a wall and do that thing with your legs where it looks like you’re trying to keep the wall from falling over. It’s the classic calf stretch, but in my experience, it doesn’t do much.
Two better alternatives?
Kelly Starrett’s heel cord wall stretch targets the same tissues with greater intensity. Just wear shoes for this one.
Lately, my favorite calf/Achilles’ tendon stretch has come from Angelo dela Cruz. If I squat, feel a bit stiff, do a few rounds of Angelo’s stretch, and squat again, my range of motion noticeably increases. Really raise those toes off the ground to stretch the calves. This also hits the hamstrings a bit.
The rest of the exercises are actually really solid. You might add some weight to the calf raises or, if you have a partner and a willingness to look ridiculous, try donkey calf raises. Still, simply focusing on the lower legs isn’t enough to truly obtain the benefits listed above.
Going barefoot (or minimalist) will help. Anyone who’s ever gone for a long hike or run in their bare feet or wearing minimalist shoes can attest: it blasts your calves and strengthens your feet. Doing that every once in awhile is a recipe for perpetually sore calves. Doing it habitually and gradually until your lower legs are inured to the stress makes for rock-solid, powerful calves, feet, and ankles. Be sure to run through my barefoot transition exercise recommendations, which are also good for general lower leg health and function, and be extremely cautious if you’ve spent your entire life inside shoes.
To really get the benefits, you’ll want to do some basic full-body strength training. Now, strength training is scary for many people who’ve been told to “take it easy” and warned about catastrophic injuries. Seniors can strength train. Heck, they can do power training. They can move quickly and lift heavy. Why? These are relative terms. A 64 year-old master’s marathoner doesn’t need to do jump squats with his own bodyweight laid across his back. A 55-year-old 10k enthusiast doesn’t have to power clean 0.75x her bodyweight to get an effect. What’s important is that they lift weights that are heavy—for them. One systematic review of the evidence even found that power training is slightly better than standard strength training at producing benefits to functional fitness in elderly people.
Bodyweight movements may be plenty. For most runners who aren’t doing anything strength-related, bodyweight training is perfectly adequate. Establishing proficiency first in the Primal Essential Movements—squats, pushups, pullups, planks—will give an inexperienced runner a huge boost to performance and injury resistance. Bodyweight training also gives a good foundation for further exploration of strength training methods.
The classic barbell lifts—squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, bench press, rows—are difficult to surpass for sheer strength-building. They probably offer the most bang-for-your-buck.
Barbells are great, but machines are not the enemy. While I’ll always celebrate the aging runner who wants to squat and deadlift, the leg press and hack squat machines are both excellent choices for building real strength without requiring the mobility of the barbell movements.
Single-leg and single-arm training (unilateral exercises) build strength and offer a unique stimulus without requiring the loads inherent to bilateral movements. Instead of squatting with a 200 pound barbell, you can do reverse lunges or rear foot elevated split squats with a 50 pound dumbbell in each hand.
Whichever you choose, go high-weight, low-rep, low-volume. Keep sets short. Take breaks. It’s better to do 5 sets of 3 reps with slightly more weight than 3 sets of 5 reps with slightly less. You’re not trying to get huge (well, maybe you are). You’re not trying to destroy yourself and ruin the next day’s run. You’re looking to enhance your endurance work with smart, targeted strength work.
In my upcoming book Primal Endurance, I’ll lay out the optimal way for endurance athletes to strength train for performance, injury resistance, and longevity. For now, though, just go lift!
here’s only so many miles that you can run in a week. At some point, no matter how fast or fit you are, your body will break down from the repetitive stress that running places on the joints of the lower extremities.
The good news: To get faster, you don’t necessarily have to run more miles. Yes, you’ll still need to run for the majority of your training, but supplementing with other activities is a good way to take your running to the next level without risking injury.
Instead of piling on the miles, incorporate swimming into your training regimen to improve your strength, aerobic fitness and flexibility, all without placing any additional impact stress on your knees and ankles.
The Cross-Training Solution
Swimming is a great way to recover in between hard days of training. You’ll still get an excellent aerobic workout and train different muscles that will help with your running economy. It can also help strengthen your lungs through hypoxic training, improve ankle flexibility, and allow you to boost your weekly training volume without risking injury.
If you aren’t sure how to include swimming into your running routine, try swapping out an afternoon recovery run or a 4-mile morning jog with quality time in the pool.
Try these three swim workouts to train smarter and get faster.
Workout #1: The Puller
A good way to let your legs recover is to use a pull buoy on your main swim sets. It will allow your legs to recover and make your upper body do most of the work. This is a great workout to try after a morning session at the track.
Warm-up: Swim 400 meters at an easy pace.
Main set: Complete 6 x 200 pull builds. Increase your speed every 25 meters. Start slow and finish with a sprint.
Cooldown: Swim 400 meters without the buoy at a recovery pace.
Workout #2: Lung Builder
This exercise will strengthen your lung capacity by limiting the number of breaths you take during the set.
Please note: Do not hold your breath during this exercise. Instead, practice controlling your breath so that you exhale slowly when your face is in the water. Take a controlled breath as indicated below.
Warm-up: Swim 200 to 400 meters at an easy pace.
Main set: Complete 12 x 100 meters. For the first 25 meters, take a breath every three strokes. From 25 to 50 meters, take a breath every five strokes, and from 50 to 75 meters, take a breath only every seven strokes. Sprint for the last 25 meters of the set.
Cooldown: Swim 100 to 200 meters easy.
Workout #3: The Kicker
The kick in swimming works to strengthen the hip flexors, IT band and hamstrings without adding the pounding you would get on the road. If you want to increase your ankle flexibility during this workout, use a pair of short-nosed flippers.
Warm-up: Swim 200 to 400 meters easy.
Main set: Complete five sets of the following interval: 50 meters easy, 100 meters fast kick, 50 meters easy, 100 meters fast swim, followed by 15 to 20 seconds of rest. Repeat.
Cooldown: Swim 200 to 400 meters at a recovery pace.
You’ll notice that these workouts are only 1600 meters in length. For a swimmer, 1600 meters isn’t much, but for a runner it should be more than enough. You’ll stretch your legs and get in a great cardiovascular and muscular workout.
Where’s the best place to triathlon train in Lexington?
Lexington Athletic Club! …Especially in the winter offseason!
—Olympic size pool? Check!
—Spin classes? Check! (12 per week and their included!)
—CrossFit and cross-training? Check! (CrossFit Boot Camp classes are included too!)
And check this out: You can join now on a four-month short-term winter membership for as low as $225!
P.S. You can “TRI” before you buy! Click HERE for a FREE 4 DAY pass!
Join now and get FOUR months FREE and pay NOTHING until 2017! This is our best offer of the year!
Our Labor Day hours are 5am-11pm, stop by and get a tour or a free workout!
We are open regular hours on Labor Day, 5am-11pm!
We are hosting the USAW Bluegrass Regional Open on Saturday August 13th in our CrossFit space. Admission is FREE. Competition will be from 8am-3pm. The Saturday morning CrossFit Boot Camp class has been canceled.