Trail Running

There has been a major influx in trail runners over the past few years. Active noted that there has been a 36 percent increase over the the last five years in people who consider themselves avid trail runners. Why is it that more and more people are hitting the dirt instead of pounding the pavement? It turns out that trail running offers three huge benefits to road running. Trail running can be easier on your body, it can be a better workout and it offers scenery that can not be seen from any concrete sidewalk.

Health Benefits

Dirt trails can be far more forgiving on joints than concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads. The softer dirt surface helps to alleviate strain on your feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips. running can be hard on the body because of large amounts of repetitive force placed on our joints, running on softer surfaces such as dirt, sand or grass helps to reduce the maximum force on joints and can help promote healthier overall joint health.

Some of the forces that would normally be transmitted from the pavement up to the ankles, knees, shins, and hips are dissipated when the foot hits the ground on the trails because there’s some give there.

Dr. Scott Levin

Trail running is generally done in desolate remote areas removed from cars and building and typically have a high quality of air that you breath during your run as well. Making it healthier for both your joints and your lungs.

Training Benefits

There are two main performance benefits to trail running. Trail running typically involves a lot more hills that road running and will thus help build more muscle and power. Trail running also recruits stabilizing muscles that would not be used as much on a flat stable concrete side walk.  The imperfections of an uneven dirt trail helps strengthen these supporting muscles and ultimately increases overall ankle strength.

Running over uneven and varied surfaces makes the muscles of the lower leg work especially hard; think specific strength training for the lower leg muscles. I recently noticed how sore my lower legs were after a competing in an off-road multi-sport event. The tendons, ligaments and muscles all get stronger in response to this type of stress.

Matt Russ

Scenery

Finally and arguably the most valuable is the scenery involved with trail running. There is something special and relaxing about being able to remove yourself from the modern world and its distractions. Trails are an excellent way to get away from the busy city and allow yourself to connect with wilderness.

Photo by Reebok Fitness

Are you a trail runner or a road runner? Comment below which and why.

Stretching

Before beginning any physical activity it is wise to stretch to avoid injury, right? That is what most of us have heard for the majority of our lives. The fact is that stretching before activity may not actually help reduce the risk of injury at all though. If stretching isn’t the answer to avoiding injuring during physically straining activities then what is?

Robert Herbert and Marcos Noronha from the University of Sydney conducted an analysis and concluded that static stretching before exercise has been not been shown to prevent either overuse or acute sports injuries. Additionally its been found that static stretching before exercise can actually have a negative impact on performance. This negative impact may be due to muscle exhaustion while holding a stretch.

How to Avoid Injuries

To avoid injury during exercise it is recommended to spend additional time warming up and less time performing static stretches. Ideally, depending on the intensity of the exercise being performed you would warm up for at east 15 minutes followed by dynamic stretching. After the exercise, while your body is warm, it is then recommended to perform static stretches. Static stretching at this time helps improve overall flexibility and allows your body to cool down and your heart rate to drop post exercise.

 

 

brooke thomas, stretching, flexibility, mobility, stretching doesn't work
Photo by Breaking Muscle

How Much to Stretch

Flexibility is essential for avoiding injury, but too much of a good thing can be bad. It seems that the more flexible you become the less efficient your muscles also become at generating power. The tightness of your muscles allows them to act like a spring along with your tendons to generate power. A balance is necessary to be flexible enough to avoid injury but not overly flexible where your muscles lose their “natural spring“.

While performing static stretching post exercise, a good rule of thumb is to hold each stretch for 30 seconds. 30 seconds allows your body to reap the benefits of the stretch, whereas 60 seconds does not seem to add much, if any, additional value to your stretches.

Comment below on your stretching routine. What do you do prior to exercise to avoid injury?

To Walk or Not to Walk?

Any time I go for a run with a running group on a particularly steep hill, I hear a lot of comments such as “be sure to conserve your energy on the hills” and “don’t let your pride get in the way of walking the hills”. This always seemed strange to me, is conserving energy a common excuse used among runners so they can walk difficult section of a course without feeling bad about it or does it actually contribute to a faster overall race time? I set out to find the answer.

The justifications I have heard for walking up particularly steep sections of hills always boils down to energy conservation. I found that it can actually be beneficial to your overall race time to walk some hills in some situations. It is very similar to coming out too fast in a race. When you come out with too fast of a pace in a race and expend too much energy you can not maintain as past a pace over the remainder of the race thus resulting in a slower overall time. Walking up hills is very similar, if you expend too much energy on running them then it is possible that you will not have enough energy for the remainder of the race to get your optimal time. Clearly then, the decision to walk up a hill would depend on, where the hill is in the run, your current fitness level, and many other details.

Photo by Competitor

Even Max King, elite trail runner, walks up hills on occasion. In the 12K 2010 World Mountain Running Championships he managed to be the second American finisher by walking about 1/3rd of a kilometer over the race up particularly steep sections of the course.

I didn’t walk much, but there was a steep two-mile section of which I walked probably 10 percent. I never like to [walk], but sometimes it just makes sense.

-Max King

There are many different ways to walk a hill.  The correct form can be determined based on current fatigue level during the race as well as heart rate. The different variations of walking hills allow your body to recover and conserve energy in unique ways.

Try not to use energy conservation as an excuse during a run to walk because you are tired. When used appropriately in moderation and during the correct circumstances, walking can in fact yield a faster overall pace.

What are your experiences with walking up a steep hill vs powering though? How else do you conserve energy on race day?

You Gotta Tabata

Tabata is a form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). As the name implies this type of training can be quite intense and is recommended for individuals who currently have an intermediate to advanced level of fitness. While intense, this type of workout generates awesome results and is extremely effective at improving your metabolism for over 24 hours which makes it an incredible form of exercise for fat loss. This workout is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata who, with help from Irisawa Koichi, mainstreamed this style of workout by using it to train the Olympic Japanese speed skating team.

Tabata is an extremely simple yet strenuous exercise technique. It consists of 20 seconds of all out 100 % intensity work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This 30 second cycle is repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes. Although 4 minutes is a short time, this workout can be quite difficult.  This short rest period doesn’t allow your heart rate to fully recover and thus results in significant aerobic and anaerobic gains. A typical Tabata session will consist of four to five of these 4 minute rounds separated by a 1 minute rest period.

One beautiful thing about Tabata training is that the exercise performed at full intensity can be any exercise you would like. See below for a few recommended exercise options. Note that some are significantly harder than others to perform for 20 seconds at a time for 8 cycles. This variety of possible exercises allows you to work your full body each workout and allows for significant variation between workouts.

  • Jumping Lunges
  • Standard Lunges
  • Air Squats
  • Weighted Squats
  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Planks
  • Sit-Ups
  • Crunches
  • Leg Raises
  • Push-Ups
  • Pull-Ups
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • Cardio (Running, Stairs, Rowing, Jump Rope etc.)
  • Curls
  • Dips

Above is just a sample of the many exercises that you could perform. Compound exercises are a good choice, since they work multiple muscle groups at once.

Photo by Elevate Interval Fitness

A good example routine could be:

  1. Air Squats
  2. Mountain Climbers
  3. Jumping Lunges
  4. Sit-Ups
  5. Burpees

If the above workout doesn’t leave you completely exhausted then you did not perform it at a high enough intensity. Try your luck with a Tabata routine and leave a comment below on your thoughts.

How Not to Overtrain

Overtraining is a common condition experienced by most athletes at some time in their lives. Overtraining can impede results and hinder continuous improvements from workouts, the good news is that it can easily be avoided by following a few basic steps.

Prevention

Rest

Overtraining is the result of not getting enough rest between workouts.  To avoid overtraining ensure that you are properly resting your body.  Workouts break your muscles down and it is during the rest phase that your muscles actually repair and become stronger. The majority of this rest occurs during sleep so it is important to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. If you begin to feel like you may be entering a state of overtraining then it is advised to take 48 hours off from working out to allow your body to properly heal. If you continue to workout during a state of overtraining you could experience chronic overtraining which could require multiple weeks of rest to fully recover.

 

Diet

In order for your body to recover and your muscles to become stronger you need to supply your body with the proper nutrients. It is imperative to supply your body with sufficient macro-nutrients, especially carbohydrates and proteins. If you begin to feel the onset of overtraining it is wise to increase your caloric intake to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients. While you increase your calories be sure to consume nutrient dense foods such as vegetables and fruits as well as lean proteins. Competitor has identified a list of the top-30 super foods based on the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) which includes: Collard, Mustard & Turnip Greens, Kale, Spinach, Brussels Sprouts, Berries and more. Competitor has also developed a sample diet for the average athlete fighting off overtraining.

Planning

A properly planned workout routine is essential to avoid overtraining. A properly planned workout will include plenty of rest, a combination of high intensity workouts and low intensity workouts, and it will not increase duration or intensity of workouts too quickly.

A good workout plan should include plenty of rest. It should include one to two rest days a week, depending on the intensity of workouts. It is important that your plan include rest weeks as well as rest days.

It is wise to not increase your weekly training volume by more than 10% from one week to the next. This is refereed to as the 10% rule and can help keep inexperience athletes from trying to increase their workloads too quickly.

Photo Credit

If you begin to feel the onset of overtraining then be sure to get ample rest, eat a clean nutritious diet and plan accordingly. Comment below on what you do to recover from overtraining.

Are You Overtraining?

Overtraining occurs when your body does not have enough time to recover between workouts. Workouts break your body down by inducing stress on your muscles, it is during the rest phase that your muscles repair and actually become stronger. When you do not give your body ample time to repair and heals itself and you continue to work out and break your body down more and more you enter a state of overtraining.  Overtraining is often referred to as “burnout” and is experienced most often by athletes who are participating in high intensity training.

Causes

The sure fire way to cause overtraining is to not allow your body to recover sufficiently in between workouts. The three main reasons why your body may not have had time to recover are: too frequent high intensity workouts, not enough sleep and/or improper diet. Working out for over 90 minutes during any single session, working out every day with no rest days or having multiple high intensity workouts in a row are red flags that you may trigger overtraining to some degree. Another red flag is if you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night. It is during your sleep that your body does most of its recovering and healing. Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

Boosting the intensity of a workout routine too suddenly can cause excess stress on your body that can lead to overtraining as well. Always follow the 10% rule.

Symptoms

One of the most sure ways to tell that you have overtrained is if you are experiencing an elevated resting heart rate. To check what your resting heart rate check your heart rate before getting out of bed in the morning.

exhaustion
Photo Credit

Many of the most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Exhaustion
  • Excessive Muscle Soreness
  • Trouble Sleeping at Night
  • Constant Dehydration
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Increase in Injury or Illness Rate
  • Nagging Injury or Illness that Wont Heal
  • Decrease in Performance
  • Performance Plateaus
  • Decreased Motivation
  • Elevated Resting Heart Rate

Leave a comment below if you have overtrained and how you managed to do it.

 

 

 

 

Hill Training

Hill training is a incredibly simple way to supplement your training routine. There are a variety of ways to use hills to achieve the results you are looking for, and the benefits of running up hills are tremendous. Below I will discuss a couple of the benefits as well as a few of the more versatile ways to perform hill training.

Benefits

1) Intensify The Work Out

Hill training can greatly intensify your work out. Hills are an excellent way to gain strength, in fact they are arguably better at gaining running strength than lifting weights. Running hills activates all the muscles of your legs and core and makes them work in symphony with each other increasing overall muscle coordination. Because of this, hills are an exceptional way to increase endurance and stamina as well as increase overall speed. Hills burns more calories that running on flat ground as well. According to Shape.com:

There’s a pretty big difference between a totally flat treadmill and one with a five percent incline — almost 100 calories in difference.

 

2) Easier on Your Body

Another big benefit of running up hill is that it is easier on your joints. Running hills has been shown to reduce the likely hood of getting shin splints compared with running on flat ground. It also has lower impact on all your joints specifically you knees.  Going down hill in turn is harder on your joints and thus it is recommended to climb hills with high intensity and descend hills with low intensity during training.

Photo by Angry Jogger

Types of Workouts

Competitor does an excellent job of explaining three of the more versatile hill work outs you can perform.  I will summarize them below:

1) Short Sprints

Short uphill sprints would consist of running up a 5%-15% grade at full intensity for 10 to 15 seconds followed by a complete recovery, usually 2 to 3 minutes. A work out like this is awesome for increasing blood flow through the heart, which in turn will decrease your heart rate in the future and make your heart more efficient.

2) Long Hill Repeats

Long hill repeats are similar to short sprints in nature just slightly longer in duration and on a slightly less steep hill. Long hill repeats are generally about 90 seconds in duration and are excellent at increasing VO2 max while increasing running strength and overall fitness.

3) Rolling Hills

Rolling hills are essentially going for your typical long run but on a hilly course.  This is the most effective method for increasing your ability to race on hills.  Rolling hills are also effective at improving form over longer and more gradual hills.

Find a hill near you and try one of the above workouts to supplement your next training day!