Functional training is often considered a big no-no in close proximity to upcoming races. This is usually the case for those that don’t understand that functional training is much more than just building strength. We aren’t only lifting weights to get stronger, but focusing on joint mobility and range of motion, stability and balance, recovery and regeneration, etc. All of these characteristics can be targeted without creating unwanted soreness and fatigue on race day.
For years I have been educating my clients that their program needs to adjust based upon mileage and is even more valuable as distance increases. That is because the repetitiveness of running often causes predictable patterns of injury which we can offset with the right supplemental training.
Even if you think it’s the right thing to do by playing it safe and focusing solely on your running weeks before the race, I may have one benefit that’s hard to overlook…
Recently, I was talking with one of my clients (shout out to April!) and she mentioned that her running improves on days that immediately followed our sessions. I have heard this before from numerous athletes but never payed much attention to it.
Luckily, April was well informed and sent me an article on how increasing muscular tension can improve running economy and the ability to store and utilize elastic energy. This makes perfect sense and the thought of a rubber band quickly came to mind.
I know you have seen those loose rubbers bands that have to really be stretched in order to snap back. While there are others that are very taut and spring back instantly as soon as you release them. Which one do you think will create a more effective running cycle?
Now, how do we create adequate levels of tension to utilize this mechanism for improved running performance? We incorporate various functional movement strategies such as power training, plyometrics, strength work, and locomotion drills. All of which can be valuable right up until race day when programmed effectively to supplement your training without interfering with long runs and causing overtraining.
Are you starting to see another avenue in which functional training can be effective?
Instead of just leaving you with this thought that lacks actionable information, here are some of my favorite exercises for runners that create a ‘good’ tension:
Pop & Float
While implementing the aforementioned exercises, limiting volume is important. Because you are already ramping up or at a higher mileage, we don’t want to add excessive stress on the body that makes recovery inadequate. In these instances, completing no more than 2-4 sets of 3-5 repetitions is important.
You may also want to consider limiting self-myofascial release and flexibility drills that aim to reduce tension and increase muscle length. Although I am a big advocate for restoring optimal range of motion in joints that are restricted, there is a case for tension playing a pivotal role in performance.
Could this be one of the ways your program needs to adjust up until race day? Starting with a function-based approach to restore alignment, range of motion, and symmetry to the kinetic chain, and then progressively increasing tension to improve economy and elastic energy…
This concept does have merit and can be debated either way. For now it serves as an approach which is new to me that I will explore more deeply over the coming months. Feel free to drop a comment below with your thoughts.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART