| Article written on August 24th, 2016 at 09:08am | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
Sometimes it’s hard to convince distance athletes to do anything else besides put in miles. And unfortunately, they often learn their lesson after some kind of injury or plateau within their training. Implementing functional training and injury prevention strategies can be one of the most beneficial ways to stay injury-free and exceeding expectations. I always say that its the best way to improve your times without actually training.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet Mary Lambkin as she spoke at my learn-by-doing seminar. Mary is an avid distance runner in the Nashville area and also a Swiftwick sponsored athlete. When she shared her insight on running, functional training, and injury prevention, I knew she had something that was worth passing along. Here is the interview with Mary:
Garrett: Firstoff, Mary, I want to thank you for taking time to talk with me about your running and training. I really enjoyed the talk you gave at my last seminar and thought others could really benefit from your knowledge in running. To provide some context, please tell the audience a little bit about yourself.
Mary: Thanks! Happy to “be” here online for this interview. I’m a 29-year old runner who started jogging in 2006. I could barely run a mile when I started running and gradually worked my way up to my first half marathon a couple of years later. In 2009, I ran my first marathon in Baltimore and finished in four hours. In the past few years I have gotten more serious about running, getting faster, and avoiding injuries. I’ve run 13 half marathons and 9 marathons and set new PRs in both distances in 2015: 1:29 for the half marathon and 3:20 for the full. Right now I’m not training for anything since my husband and I are excitedly waiting the birth of our first child in February, but I’m excited to report that I’ve been able to stay active and running in my pregnancy to date!
Garrett: Have you always incorporated functional training into your program?
Mary: Sadly, no! I had to learn the hard way that functional training is essential to running performance. During the first five years of my running career I did zero cross-training of any kind and my only training “strategy” was to run as many miles as possible. This backfired in a couple of ways: for one, I suffered a handful of hip injuries and secondly, my race times began to plateau. No matter how much I ran, I kept crossing the finish line around 1:38 for the half marathon and 3:40 for the full. I struggled through a series of stagnant race times and nagging injuries for a couple of years before hiring a coach. He encouraged me to incorporate functional training into my schedule and I began doing full-body and targeted exercises about twice a week. Most exercises targeted typical “weak spots” for runners like the core, glutes, hips, and back.
Garrett: Since adding it, what kinds of differences have you noticed?
Mary: Interestingly, you can actually see the difference in my body! Before I started incorporating functional movements into my workout schedule, I had very large quads because my running form was heavily dependent on my thighs thanks to weak glute and hamstring muscles. Since I started doing exercises like deadlifts, single-leg squats, bridges, and donkey kicks, I’ve evened out my stride and become less dependent on my quads – which have gotten noticeably smaller in the past few years. Ha! More importantly, this change has made me less injury prone and much faster. After about six months of functional training I was finally able to make a significant dent in my race times and since then I have continued to progress.
Garrett: Obviously you feel that functional training has benefitted you, but do you think it’s for everyone?
Mary: I would say yes. Even if you’re not a runner, I can’t imagine a scenario where having improved balance, agility, flexibility, and form through functional strength training wouldn’t help you in life overall. This is especially true for people like me who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk!
Garrett: Are there key areas you try to focus on that have been worthwhile for you? Or do you practice more of a general approach?
Mary: I’m sure it’d be better to say I have a well-rounded, full-body approach to my training plan but to be honest I spend most of my time in the gym focusing on my core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings since these have been problem areas for me in the past. I do toss in some upper body exercises here and there when I have time!
Garrett: Could you give us an idea of some of the exercises you do on a weekly basis.
Mary: My go-to, must-do exercises for every week include bridges, clams, side leg lifts, single-leg squats, planks, and side shuffles. I’ll add light weights, resistance bands, and Bosu balls to increase the level of difficulty of the movements if I’m feeling up for a challenge, but the great thing about many of these exercises is that you can do them at home. I also like using the Nike Training Club app, which has guided 10-45 minute workouts that hit most major muscle groups with an emphasis on core strength and flexibility.
Garrett: I feel like a lot of runners are overlooking the dynamic warm-up… Do you complete one before your runs?
Mary: Again, I feel like I *should* say I do a dynamic warm-up before every run like a good runner would, but I admit that I do skip it on easier runs! For long runs, track workouts, and of course a race, I always do a dynamic warm-up, though. My favorite warm-up exercises are front and side leg swings, skips, sprints, and karaoke. I look a little silly doing all of these, but it pays off when I start running! I’ve found the dynamic warm-up especially crucial for speed work and short races, which require 100% effort right off the bat.
Garrett: Obviously it’s important to recover and prepare for the next training session, what kinds of strategies do you implement that have helped?
Mary: For recovery after a long training run, I’m a fan of moderate (not crazy cold) ice baths, a balanced post-run meal, some compression socks, and a good nap. After races, I take plenty of rest days and light/recovery days to make sure my muscles repair and I come back stronger for the next training cycle. I think following the “one recovery day per mile” rule has worked well for me – so I’ll take three days easy after a 5k, and about a month (26 days) easy after a full marathon. I generally like to race in the spring and fall and focus on strength and functional training in the winter. This “off season” training pays off for months to come!
Garrett: If there was one take home message for the runners who are reading this about functional training, mobility, stretching, or anything else, what would you leave them with?
Mary: I think that runners often believe that the more you run, the faster and stronger you’ll get. I’ve found that this isn’t entirely true. By replacing a few “junk miles” with some functional training sessions, you’ll become a much better runner — and also benefit from some much-needed time off of your feet.
A special thank you to Mary for sharing her experience with us today. If you want to learn more about her, jump over to her blog called Minutes Per Mile. In the meantime, think about how you can implement functional training into your routine and let me know if you have any questions!
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART