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Runners: How To Vary Your Training to Optimize Your Results!

Implementing variety into training is something that is commonly underutilized and overlooked among recreational runners. This is often the topic of conversation after we perform our running analysis or within a sports physical therapy session.

Varying speed, intensity, and distance can be a useful tool in run training, whether you’re training for a big race or just getting back into it.

Running at different speeds or intensities allows you to vary which muscles and tissues you are repeatedly straining. When you sprint, your technique is going to look very different than when you are going for a long, slow jog.

Including both in your training helps you to disperse the stress of the workout over more tissues, and can help prevent overuse injuries! Some examples of what this variety might look like: 

  1. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) runs: “sprint” training! Work to rest intervals should be greater (1:4, 1:5). For example. sprinting for 10 seconds and walking/jogging for 50 seconds. Repeat for 10-15 minutes. Great for a track or grassy field! 
  2. Interval training: longer bouts of faster running, not as intense as a full sprint. Work to rest ratios are going to look more even (2:3, 1:1 or 2:1 ratios). For example, fast running for 1-2 minutes, jogging for 2-3 minutes, repeat for 10-15 minutes. 
  3. Tempo training: usually done as a “long run”. Pick a pace, and try to stick to it throughout the duration of your run. Distances should be specific to what your goals are!
  4. Using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale: If you don’t know what pace time is right for you, start with RPE! You can use a scale of 0-10, with 0 being completely at rest and 10 being a sprint as fast as you can possibly go. Fast bouts of HIIT training should be performed at an RPE of 8-10, whereas interval training should be closer to RPEs of 5-8. An example of an RPE scale can be found here 

In addition to preventing injuries, adding sprints and interval training can help increase muscle mass, cardiovascular endurance, and improve your ability to cover more distance in a shorter amount of time. If you’re finding that you’re constantly dealing with the same injury, consistent soreness in one muscle group, or you just want to shake up your training, a performance physical therapist can help find the right running program for you! 


1 Trick to Perfect Running Foot Strike Position

If you ever experience back pain when running, are a runner that has been to physical therapy, or are curious about foot strike position, this article is for you!

One of my favorite workshops to conduct is the CHP Running Technique and Performance lab. I have a blast throughout the workshop, but the Q&A portion is my favorite. I have gotten the opportunity to answer many different questions which have forced me to expand my knowledge and has helped me to create a better workshop over time.

While the questions that I receive consistently differ, one topic remains consistent. Someone inevitably asks about foot strike position and my answer often surprises them.

There is no correct foot strike position.

Among other things, foot strike position is dependent on an individual’s body dimensions (limb length as an example) and the position of the body above.

While we cannot change your anatomy, we can change the position, aka the posture, of our bodies.

A “stacked” posture will facilitate a foot strike that occurs directly underneath the body. This foot strike position results in a more efficient stride and minimal stress to the body. To learn about the stack, check out a previous article that I wrote on Learn to Stack Like a Snowman.

Attempt the drill below to feel what it is like to have a stacked posture while running.

  • Grab a partner and ask him/her/they to stand behind you (you are also standing)
  • Have your partner press down on your shoulders with a moderate amount of force and do not let them squish you
  • As you resist them you should feel your abs engage and feel as if you are standing tall
  • Next, attempt to shift your weight onto 1 leg and pick up your opposite foot while resisting the force of your partner
  • Try the other leg

For a video on this drill, click here.

After performing this drill, you should have a better sense of your optimal running posture. Try to replicate this feeling the next time you go on a run!

Secret to Avoiding Running Related Hamstring Injuries

Many runners and other athletes, like you, understand that strength training improves performance, reduces injury risk and decreases the likelihood that you will see us in physical therapy!

However, we have found that you may be strength training because you feel that you are supposed to but these workouts are more than simply checking a box.

It is important to think about how you are training a particular muscle group during your workout. This change in focus may be the secret to eliminating future hamstring injuries that cause many to look for a physical therapist.

Many people strengthen the hamstrings in a concentric (as the muscles shorten) fashion, however most hamstring strains occur as the muscles lengthen and work to slow down the swinging leg.

It is essential for any runner or athlete that performs a great deal of sprinting to develop a large amount of eccentric (muscle contraction that occurs as it lengthens) hamstring strength.

Eccentric hamstring curls are a great way to build this quality and the double leg variation on a physioball is a great place to start! Click here to see this exercise.

Once you have mastered the double leg eccentric glute bridge, it is time to step things up to the single leg progression.

How do you know if you are ready to move on? A great goal to shoot for on the double leg version is 10 FULL repetitions with a full 5 second lengthening period on each rep. The hips should not be dropping, and you should feel your abs throughout the set!

As we continue to build eccentric hamstring strength, this drill will add some additional challenges.

One leg will be flexed with the hip and knee at 90 degrees, mimicking a sprinting position. The result is one hip in a position of flexion while the other is in extension, much like sprinting or running. This will challenge your ability to control the position of the pelvis as you demonstrate hamstring strength.

Click here for the single leg progression!

Once you have mastered the single leg eccentric hamstring curl on a physioball, you can progress even further. To learn how to do that amongst other ways to optimize your strength training, click here.

Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and facebook @cohenhealthandperformance!

Why Is It So Hard to Return to Running After an Ankle Sprain?

Ankle sprains are commonly perceived as a mild injury, however, they often cause runners and other athletes to seek physical therapy.

The severity of these injuries are often downplayed as athletes return to running and sport far too quickly.

The most common form of an ankle sprain is an inversion sprain. In this instance, the foot is usually planted as the ankle turns inwards causing the outside edge of the foot to roll onto the ground (hence the term “rolled ankle”). As this occurs the ligaments on the outside of the ankle are damaged and usually torn to some degree.

The severity of the injury and number of ligaments involved dictate the grade of the ankle sprain, ranging from grade 1 through grade 3.

After an ankle sprain occurs, it is essential to rule out a fracture. An athlete is instructed to have an X-ray if he/she/they is unable to bear weight on the injured leg and/or has severe pain around the malleolus (prominent ankle bone on the outside of the ankle).

If an athlete does not have any of the findings mentioned previously or an ankle fracture is ruled out, then we can move on to returning to running!

When running there is not a single time when 2 feet are on the ground at once. Therefore, the body is constantly bounding from one leg to the other, forcing the ankle to repeatedly absorb the impact of the entire body.

Unfortunately, after an ankle injury the stress capacity (the amount of cumulative stress an area can handle prior to injury) is limited. For this reason, the recovery from an ankle sprain often takes much longer than necessary. Runners and many other athletes commonly attempt to run before the ankle is ready.

All injured tissues must progressively re-acclimate to the amount of stress associated with running or the sporting activity.

A thoughtful and progressive return to running may begin with non-weight bearing movements, then progressed to include non-impactful weight bearing activities such as squats, split squats, and lunges. Next, single leg activities can be included such as single leg balance drills and single leg squats before progressing to plyometric drills that involve jumping off 2 legs and finally, hopping on 1 leg.

Finally, activities such as jump roping, short runs, and longer runs are implemented into the routine!

In conclusion, every ankle sprain is different, and it is essential to ensure that a trained medical professional assesses the injury to rule out a fracture. Finally, the professional can design the optimal return to sport program for you.

Visit our website for help in this regard and for more information on how we can help!

What Should You Be Drinking Before, During, and After a Run?

Much like other areas of performance training, proper hydration as an essential aspect of a comfortable, enjoyable run. Although it’s normal for runners to experience a small amount of dehydration, drinking enough fluids can significantly reduce the chances of any adverse effects. On top of that, proper hydration can improve your energy and endurance and even minimize recovery times.

Here are some general hydration recommendations to maximize run performance.

1. Pre-Run

Your hydration strategy should begin long before you start putting on your running gear. What you drink in the hours before a run is perhaps one of the most important aspects of hydration. Be mindful to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day before your run. Then, about 15–30 minutes before heading out the door, drink 250–500ml of fluids.

2. During The Run

The general rule of thumb is to drink 5–10 fl. oz. every 15–20 minutes while you are running. Again, this requirement can vary based on your individual needs or the temperature at the time of your run. However, this is a great general rule to set a baseline for how much water to bring along for your run.

If you don’t like carrying a water bottle or wearing a hydration belt, you can plan out a running route with access to water fountains along the way.

3. Post-Run

Post-run hydration is essential to get your fluid levels back to normal and helps prepare you for the next run. The general rule of thumb is to drink 16–24 fl. oz. of water for every pound lost during your run. 

Final Thoughts

Everyone — and every run — is different. Some days it’s hot and humid, and you’ll likely want to increase your fluid consumption. Other days you may only be running for 20 minutes, in which case you might not even need to bring water on the run. The more you experiment with different hydration techniques, the more in-tune you’ll be with your body and its unique hydration needs. 

Could this be the missing piece of your marathon training?

In a previous blog post, we introduced mat Pilates and how it helps people that are struggling with back pain.  However, many athletes use Pilates to improve other aspects of their performance and CHP’s own, Dr. Ciara Petry, uses it as part of her physical therapy treatment sessions.

As you know, Bethesda and Chevy Chase are packed with athletic people and runners of all levels. Many of these runners are preparing for a variety of races. Running volume increases as a runner prepares for a race, which increases the need for cross training. Cross training allows runners to enhance qualities that improve running performance.  However, it is important to avoid adding more pounding to the body in the process.

At Cohen Health and Performance, we have found Pilates to be incredibly helpful in this regard. Weekly supplementation of Pilates training helps to improve performance and/or reduce the risk of running related injuries.

Pilates includes low impact and multi-planar movements that enhance core stability, mobility, and other foundational components necessary for healthy running.

In an article published in 2018, Finatto et al performed a study measuring the effect of a 12-week Pilates mat program on running performance. The participants in this study were separated into 2 groups. Both groups participated in a run training program, however one of the groups also participated in classic mat Pilates training 2x/week for 1-hour per session. The study found that the Pilates group had been more resilient to fatigue when running. It was also found that runners in the Pilates training group significantly improved their 5-km times, thus suggesting that distance runners can transfer the gains made in Pilates to running!

Integrating Pilates into a runner’s performance training just 1-2x/week can improve running efficiency and performance. How cool is that?!

Here at CHP, we help our athletes conquer injury and optimize performance. Reach out today to schedule a running analysis with one of our performance physical therapists and to Dr. Ciara Petry, a certified Mat Pilates instructor, for personalized Pilates sessions!

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