| Article written on January 4th, 2016 at 10:34am | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
Over the past year, I have made a big effort to serve runners and triathletes in their effort for faster race times, pain-free movement, and the joy of doing what they love. What I’m noticing is that many are omitting the same valuable areas which can be the difference maker in improved performance and injury resilience. Below are 3 of the most important strategies that I guarantee will provide you better results in 2017:
Developing an effective pre-run routine/dynamic warm-up
If you follow me on social media, you know that I devoted whole seminars and tons of content to this topic over the past year. The dynamic warm-up is by far the most valuable 5-8 minutes an athlete can invest in. But, what I hear too often is that many don’t have the time or don’t see it’s value in improving performance.
Let’s be honest, not having enough time is just an excuse. We make time for things that matter to us. Maybe it’s that you haven’t spent enough time to truly see it’s benefit. Or maybe you haven’t found a structured system that produces repeatable results.
Why I feel so strongly that a basic pre-run routine is essential has to do with the body’s response to jumping into exercise so abruptly. Many runners/triathletes complain that they feel sluggish during the first 10-15 minutes of their training. To say this infuriates me is an understatement… Why? Because they are doing it to themselves!
Preparation is key and the dynamic warm-up helps increase body temperature, create an efficient neuromuscular connection, and lubricate the tissues and joints. All of which will help the body feel primed and ready to move at the onset of training. This is especially true as we age and with the growing percentage of people sitting throughout the day.
So, where do you begin?
Creating an effective dynamic warm-up can prove to be challenging. Without a structured outline of what areas need to be targeted, many athletes just throw things together haphazardly and call it a success. Over the last year, my clients have found great results in following the RAIL system. This stands for Release, Activate, Integrate, and Locomote.
The RAIL system was adopted while following Perry Nickelston and I immediately saw it’s application to adequately preparing the body before training with a function-based approach. It’s not just a list of what needs to be accomplished, but in what order. I cannot overstate how important the order is in your preparation. Why? Because when done properly one thing enhances the next. But, when completed in reverse order the benefit is limited.
Let’s breakdown the RAIL system:
Release: Target areas of increased tension, limited flexibility, and/or poor mobility. This can be done with diaphragmatic breathing, foam rolling and trigger point ball release, static stretching, and joint mobility drills. Focus on getting the body “loose” by hitting those nagging and/or constantly tight areas.
Activate: Address specific musculature that is not firing to it’s fullest extent with isolated, activation exercises. Some key areas of interest for runners and triathletes are often the gluteals, scapular stabilizers, and core. You can also enhance the contractile ability of muscles that are most commonly used in your training for that day. This will give you that “umph” to start training with authority.
Integrate: Complete functional movements that ‘integrate’ the areas you have addressed in the previous two sections with the nervous system. Just because you foam roll doesn’t mean you will have better flexibility. Follow-up your foam rolling and mobility work with a movement that places that body area through it’s range of motion in a controlled fashion. For example, foam rolling the hamstrings can be paired with the dynamic single leg reaching deadlift. In this case we are showing the brain what we temporarily improved in search of more long-term benefit.
Locomote: Let’s move! Locomotion can come in many forms, such as: rolling, crawling, hopping, skipping, bounding, running, and jumping. Even though you will see an increase in tissue temperature from the previous steps, locomotion is where you put the body in motion and tap into it’s ability to move from point A to point B. Oftentimes, locomotion suffers as we age. Yes, you can walk and run. But, can you crawl and skip effectively? This step does not just serve to increase body temperature, but reinforce good mechanics, reciprocal patterning, coordination, and timing.
That is an overview of the RAIL system dynamic warm-up. If you are looking for an additional resource to provide a deeper look, feel free to download my free RAIL system PDF guide and video series. This will walk you through step-by-step to create your own effective dynamic warm-up.
Resolving muscular imbalances
The body is a complex and asymmetric being. With it’s non-symmetrical anatomy, especially organs, it’s no wonder why we often have better strength, stability, and mobility in certain areas over others. This is often compounded in repetitive sports such as running, cycling, swimming, and triathlon training.
I find it interesting when athletes tell me, “my left hip has always been weaker than my right.” If you know this is the case, what are you doing to resolve it? Many complete the same sets and repetitions on the weaker side as they do the stronger side. Will this ever completely fix your imbalance? I tend to think not.
How to uncover your imbalances
The first step in uncovering any imbalance is to find a test, exercise, or movement that magnifies your weakness. Once you find it, complete the same test or exercise on the other side. Notice any difference?
The key is to challenge your body to failure. If you notice you can only hold a side plank on your left for 26-seconds, test it by holding on your right side for as long as possible. If you cannot hold it for 26-seconds then you know this is the weaker side of the core. Vice versa, holding it longer than 26-seconds will tell you that the left side is an issue.
This same concept can be done with single arm rowing, side planks, single arm chest pressing, lunges, step ups, and many more. Any and every exercise that has a unilateral emphasis is fair game to test for imbalances. The next question is, what do you do once you find the areas which need to be addressed?
How to resolve imbalances
After finding an imbalance, the key is to either add more sets or more repetitions on the “weaker” side. If my left side core is weaker and my workout plan calls for 3 sets of 30-seconds of side planks that day, I may add a 4th set ONLY on the left side. Or, fight to hold the side plank on my left for 40-seconds. Once you have actually tried to correct the imbalance, you must re-test until your are even from side-to-side.
I have come across so many people that are aware of these differences but have yet to address them. Follow these steps:
- Find an exercise that magnifies your imbalance
- Add more sets or repetitions on the weak side
The process is quite simple. Uncovering imbalances and asymmetries before they become injuries/symptomatic is key. Watch the video below for a better look at resolving muscular imbalances:
Creating an accommodating functional training program that revolves around your sport training
Alas, functional training… Undoubtedly the most impactful area for distance athletes to improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury.
What we need to realize about functional training is that it has a place alongside your training program regardless of mileage. That is because functional training is an all-encompassing term that doesn’t just mean strength training or lifting weights.
People often get into trouble when they think they need to “strength” train to become a better athlete. Yes, strength is a HUGE component to perform at a higher level. But, it’s only one piece of the puzzle and often leaves distance athletes debating when to scale back closer to race day.
What’s Included in the term functional training?
First, let’s look at all the components that are present within a proper functional training program:
- Corrective movement- addressing your known weaknesses/dysfunctions
- Dynamic warm-up and movement preparation
- Jumping and landing mechanics
- Footwork and plyometric movements
- Lower body, core, and upper body power development
- Strength and endurance training
- Core specific strength and stability work
- Metabolic conditioning- cardiorespiratory focus
- Cool-down and recovery
As you were reading that list, did you notice how much more there is than just strength training? And that isn’t even going into detail about modifying sets and repetitions to accommodate your sport training.
So, what’s the solution?
The point is, functional training is a well-rounded approach that, when applied correctly, plays a valuable role alongside your training plan. Next time you begin increasing mileage and are worried about soreness and fatigue from the your lifting setting back your long training days, think about where you can adjust. In these cases, incorporating more low repetition weight training, with emphasis on maintaining strength, stability, balance and mobility may be beneficial. Also, utilizing strategies to improve recovery, like self-myofascial release, diaphragmatic breathing, mobility work, and cross-training can make a huge impact.
How can I help you
For 2017, I designed two new programs specifically for distance athletes called the Integrative Approach to Movement and Ignite Your Run Group Functional Strength & Mobility. If you have questions about how to make a dramatic improvement in any or all of the areas I mentioned above, feel free to contact me with any questions. Best of luck in your training, as I hope you make it a year to remember!
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART