Shake-Ups: Cool Down Exercises for Maximum Recovery

At the college level, it seemed that we spent as much time doing non-running training than we did running (and we ran 80+ miles per week!).

Cool Down Exercises

Even though we were running nearly an hour and a half every day, there were so many other things to do:

Sometimes, I felt like a part-time student and a full-time runner.

Layered on top of a high-volume training program, these cool down exercises, drills, and strength sessions had the desired effect: I felt athletic as well as strong and fast.

And it’s no surprise that our program was modeled after what the best runners in the world do on a daily basis.

After all: if you want to excel then you should model the best.

Now you know why I’m so adamant about “the little things” that help you run faster. If you only focus on running, you’ll only be a one-dimensional runner without the athleticism for speed.

Today, I want to give you a sneak peak into a drill that we did at Connecticut College to help cool down from a hard workout.

For more dynamic mobility routines, runner-specific core work, and strength workouts, click here to get our full workout library.

Shake-Ups: Cool Down Dynamically

Shake-ups are part of the cool-down process after a particularly challenging workout. They’re not as necessary after an easy run.

They’re designed to be completed as soon as you’re done with the repetitions, intervals, tempo, or otherwise the “workout” part of the training session – but not after the easy running you’ll do as part of the cool down.

How to Run Shake-Ups

Our shake-up video demonstration will show you just how to do these cool down exercises:

These drills are best done on a 400m outdoor track. One set (4 reps) will take you one lap of the track.

And each repetition will take you about 100m and includes:

  • 25m Skip
  • 50m Slow Stride
  • 25m Walk

The skips can be alternated so you’re doing a combination of front and backwards skips, A-skips, and arm swings.

Why Are Shake-ups Effective Cool Down Exercises?

These exercises are done after a challenging speed workout – and that’s the key to understanding their real benefit.

First, let’s take a look at what a hard workout does to your body:

  • Produces lactate and other exercise byproducts
  • Lowers the pH of the blood (making it more acidic)
  • Creates muscle damage that results in “tighter” muscles

Now that we understand some of the results of a fast workout, we know how to cool down effectively.

First, grab a six-pack and fire up Netflix. We’re going to spend the next few hours on the couch.

Ok… that’s not going to work. Actually, that might be the worst thing you can do to recover.

Let’s do this the right way!

Every hard workout should roughly resemble a bell curve of overall effort. Every activity brings you closer to your peak effort:

  • Start with a dynamic warm-up
  • Then do some easy running
  • Follow that with drills and strides
  • Now run the workout!
  • Cool down with shake-ups
  • And some easy running
  • Finish with a strength routine

Shake-ups form a bridge of easy cool down exercises between the workout and more easy running.

You’ll clear exercise byproducts from your bloodstream more effectively, increase your range of motion, build strength, and aid recovery (not to mention improve general athleticism and your running form).

For those days with exceptionally hard workouts, it pays to do an exceptional cool down to help you recover.

For more core, strength, and mobility routines, sign up here to get our full collection!

And a big thanks to Head Track Coach Ned Bishop at Connecticut College for jogging my memory about the structure of this exercise!

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Training for a Marathon? My 4 Favorite Marathon Workouts

The marathon might be the most challenging distance that “normal people” race – and for good reason.

Marathon Training

At 26.2 miles and lasting the better part of a workday for most runners, it will test you in ways no shorter race ever will.

Just stand at the 24th mile-marker at any major marathon and you’ll see injured runners hobbling toward the finish line – faces twisted in agony – with form that more closely resembles a limp than a run.

But one of the most effective ways of making the marathon easier and more accessible is to train appropriately. With smarter season planning, runners will enjoy a litany of benefits:

  • Less risk of injury
  • You’ll actually have more fun during the marathon
  • A faster finishing time!

But for some reason, I’m constantly bombarded by training plan requests from runners who have no earthly business training for a marathon. If you’re running 12 miles per week, then you’re not ready yet. Be patient, young runner.

Sound training begins months and months before the race. With a proper base of endurance and general fitness, most runners will have excellent marathon performances provided they run smart workouts.

Here you’ll learn the most effective workouts to improve your marathon. Since this race is over 99% aerobic, there’s no need to hammer 400-meter repetitions on the track – instead, we’re focusing on endurance-oriented workouts.

And it all starts with better long runs.

Workout #1: The Specific Long Run

There’s no better workout for marathoners than the long run. It’s the most specific to the race itself, meaning it most resembles the marathon and contributes most to your level of preparedness.

For these reasons, runners should complete a long run every week (with an optional cut-back long run every 3-4 weeks). While the purpose of early-season long runs during the base phase of training is to increase general endurance, there comes a time when long runs must become even more specific.

That’s when runners can implement goal pace running during the long run to maximize fitness and the odds of success on race day.

In its simplest form, a marathon-specific long run includes several miles of Goal Marathon Pace (GMP) at the very end of the run. Running at goal pace – on tired legs – is a fantastic way of simulating what you’ll experience during the marathon.

Here are a few examples, with each option becoming progressively more advanced:

  • 16 miles with the last 4 miles at Goal Marathon Pace
  • 18 miles with the last 5 miles at Goal Marathon Pace
  • 20 miles with the last 10 miles at Goal Marathon Pace

Want a page out of my playbook? This is the hardest long run I did before my 2:39:32 PR at the Philadelphia Marathon.

These runs force your body to become more efficient, boost specific endurance for the marathon, and teach you to use less carbohydrate. There’s no better “bang for your buck” workout for marathoners.

Workout #2: The Progression Run

Any marathoner knows that overall effort will increase dramatically in the marathon – especially after the 20th mile.

To help prepare the body (and mind) for the rigors of an ever-escalating expenditure of effort, progression runs can be used during training. These aerobic workouts are best used in the first half of a marathon training cycle and are great foundational workouts before faster, more sustained effort lactate threshold runs are incorporated.

A progression run is executed by gradually speeding up over the final miles of the run so that the last 3-5 minutes are at your threshold or tempo pace. More challenging progressions are longer (not faster).

Most runners can start with 2-3 miles of progression running at the end of an otherwise easy run. Every few minutes, the pace quickens so that runners are gradually running faster and faster.

More advanced runners can do 5-7 miles of progression running. But again, faster is not better! This is an aerobic workout, so the fastest pace that’s reached is about threshold pace during the last several minutes of the run.

For a runner with an easy pace of 9-10 minutes/mile and a tempo pace of about 7:45 per mile, a 6-mile run with the last 3 miles at a progression to tempo might be run with splits like this:

  1. 9:45
  2. 9:30
  3. 9:00
  4. 8:45
  5. 8:15
  6. 8:00

No part of this workout is particularly taxing, but the sum total of the work can be fatiguing.

This type of workout helps increase general endurance, mental resiliency, and helps runners transition to more challenging workouts later in the training season.

Workout #3: The Tempo Run

Tempo workouts really are the bread and butter workout for distance runners.

That’s because they accomplish our #1 goal: they increase our ability to run fast before we need to slow down.

There are three common ways of describing tempo pace:

  1. A “comfortably hard” pace
  2. A pace that a well-trained runner can hold for about an hour
  3. About 85-90% of maximum heart rate

At its simplest, tempo runs are 2-5 mile efforts at your tempo or lactate threshold pace (they’re the same).

They can be run without any recovery or broken up into shorter repetitions, usually longer reps in the 1-mile range.

How exactly do they improve our endurance? Since they’re run at your lactate threshold, they straddle the pace at which your body starts to work anaerobically – or, without oxygen.

At this pace, your body produces a lot of lactate but should be able to clear it about as fast as you’re producing it.

Run too slow and you won’t make enough lactate to practice buffering it.

Run too fast and the workout becomes anaerobic – and you have to slow down.

Tempo runs can be done at virtually any point in your marathon training but it’s ideal to place less emphasis on them during the very early and very late stages of training.

Workout #4: The Lactate Clearance Run

I personally cursed my college coaches for prescribing this workout – it’s a tough one!

Lactate clearance runs are a type of tempo workout. The twist is that you periodically surge to about 5k pace or slightly faster for 30-60 seconds before settling back to tempo pace.

The surge puts the pace much faster than tempo – thereby introducing significantly more lactate into the blood stream. Lactate is responsible for that uncomfortable and often painful burning sensation that’s present in hard interval workouts or short races.

When you settle back into tempo pace after the surge, the body is forced to clear that lactate as best as it can while still running at a challenging pace. This helps the body process lactate more efficiently, ultimately helping push your lactate threshold pace slightly faster.

Lactate threshold has a direct correlation with endurance and performance, so there’s no surprise this type of workout can improve your marathon finish.

Since this workout is quite stressful, it’s best to run them once every 2-3 weeks during the mid-late phase of marathon training. More traditional tempo, progression, and goal pace workouts will make up the rest of your workouts.

Armed with smarter and more specific workouts (as well as a focus on intelligent mileage increases and injury prevention), there’s no doubt runners who train more purposefully will be better marathoners – more confident, less prone to injury, and faster!

A version of this article first appeared on Competitor.

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How to Fix 5 Running Errors that Increase Your Risk of Injury

POP QUIZ: Do you know why most runners get injured? I bet you don’t…

Running Injuries

To answer this question, many runners will go through a laundry list of issues that might cause an injury:

  • I wore the wrong pair of shoes
  • I went out too fast in my last Park Run
  • I stayed out too late, didn’t stay hydrated, visualized the wrong thing…

No.

None of these are why you might get hurt.

For the vast majority of runners, these are not the factors that cause injury. Not even close.

The real reason is what my college coach Jim Butler called “The Three Too’s” – running too much mileage, too soon before you’re ready, at too fast a pace.

In other words, injuries are caused by training errors.

Do the wrong thing (over a prolonged period of time) and you can rest assured that you’re probably going to get hurt.

Recently I interviewed Staci Ardison in our monthly interview series for Team Strength Running about weight lifting and asked about injuries in the weight room. What causes them? How do you stay healthy while lifting?

Her answer was surprising. It wasn’t a neat new trick or fancy wrist strap for dead lifts.

It had nothing to do with what shoes you’re wearing or whether or not you were wearing compression socks.

Her answer was this:

Not doing things correctly. Don’t ego lift.

How simple. And also, how accurate.

In the sport of weightlifting (just like in running), injuries are caused by doing things you’re not prepared to do.

I want to provide a bit more nuance on these training errors so let’s dive into the top 10 mistakes we make as runners.

#1 Weekly Mileage is Skyrocketing

Most runners understand intellectually that you shouldn’t increase your mileage too quickly.

Doing so introduces a lot of stress and your body simply can’t keep up. While you’re perfectly capable of building endurance, speed, and strength, it doesn’t happen in a week or two. This process takes years and years.

But in reality, we’ve all done this…

The race we have on the schedule is fast approaching and (oops!) we’re not quite prepared yet. So we jack up our long run and hope for the best.

This almost always leads to a vicious cycle of never-ending injuries, missed races, and lasting disappointment.

After all, rushed training is risky training.

Before you register for your next race, figure out how much you’re going to run over the course of the season and plan accordingly.

Here are a few resources to help:

#2 You’re Running Too Fast

I see this almost every day. I bet you are running most of your mileage at a pace that’s simply too aggressive.

A helpful tool like a running calculator will tell you what your easy paces should be based on your race performances.

In other words, you have to earn fast training paces by racing fast.

Without faster races, you have to slow down.

Here are a few examples based on half marathon time:

Easy Pace Ranges

You might be asking why the range is fairly wide – that’s because sometimes you feel tired or sore. It’s ok to run on the slow end of this range! Faster is not necessarily better.

The slower end of this pace range is also best thought of as your “recovery” pace while the faster end of this range is your standard “easy” pace.

When in doubt, run slower. You won’t lose any fitness – but you’ll dramatically reduce your injury risk.

Some other context on this issue:

#3 No Training Variety

Overuse injuries are technically repetitive stress injuries. They’re the result of a relatively small stressor, applied relentlessly over and over again.

Here’s a good example: you might pronate a little more than you should. This doesn’t become a problem until you start running for more than 4-5 hours per week.

At that point, your feet get sore, your arch and plantar fascia become tight (especially in the morning), and your risk of plantar fasciitis increases dramatically.

How do we conquer this obstacle? How do we allow this runner to train more?

There’s not much we can do to limit the repetition of running – our sport consists of one simple movement, after all.

But there are small ways to mitigate this stress and limit it from causing injuries. We can:

  • Rotate 2-3 pairs of running shoes so our feet and lower legs experience varying stress while running
  • Perform strength workouts and mobility routines that force us to move differently
  • Run a variety of paces throughout the week rather than the same pace over and over again
  • Run trails to change the mechanics of how our feet impact the ground

With a properly structured program, you’ll vary the distance, pace, and overall effort throughout your training. Smaller changes (like shoes and trails) can be implemented on top of that plan.

If you’re not sure how to structure your own program, consider a custom running plan.

#4 But I Want it NOOWWW

Impatience can be a virtue: it can drive you to succeed and push you to be better. Impatience can light a fire under your ass.

But it can also push you to run too much, too soon, too fast.

Since running is a long-term sport that requires a long-term outlook, you have to be patient.

Adopt the mindset of one of the best college coaches ever: University of Colorado at Boulder XC coach Mark Wetmore. Asked about his “secret weapon,” he replied:

We don’t have any secret weapons…the cornerstone [of our program] is the long-term, patient development of the aerobic metabolism.

With a patient approach to training, you won’t rush your training to get ready for an upcoming race.

There are so many scenarios where this principle will save you from injuries:

  • “I’d like to race a marathon in 10 weeks but my current long run is about 6 miles.”
  • “My running club was doing 10x400m so I thought I could too…”
  • “My half marathon PR is 2:15 but I’d like to train for a sub-4 marathon.”
  • “I’ve been struggling with running consistency, but I promised my friends I’d do Ragnar.”

And the list could go on…

Instead of making these poor training decisions, you’ll have the perspective needed to slow down and actually do less.

When in doubt, sit it out.

You’ll be a healthier – and ultimately, faster – runner when you exercise the discipline to live to run another day.

A helpful way to accomplish this is by hiring a running coach. A good coach will be able to provide that perspective and guide you in the most productive direction.

#5 Weak Runners = Injured Runners

A foundation of strength makes running a lot easier.

Just consider the benefits:

  • You’re more resilient to training errors (so even if you do make a mistake, you might not get hurt)
  • The impact forces that travel up your legs from running downhills or hard surfaces like concrete are mitigated
  • Your capacity for a higher workload is increased, making mileage and intensity increases far more manageable

Strength training is so important that I don’t consider it cross-training. It’s simply part of your training as a runner.

Not sure where to start? A progressive approach to adding strength work is the best idea.

If I were to design the ideal strength program for distance runners, it would include several pieces:

  • Runner-specific core routines (a singular focus on “abs” is not enough!)
  • Bodyweight strength routines that focus on the hips and glutes
  • Two lifting workouts per week in the gym, focusing on strength and power

This approach aids recovery, improves strength, develops power, increases speed, and prevents injuries.

There’s not much better than that for distance runners!

Want to learn more? Listen to strength and conditioning coach Tony Gentilcore on why runners need to lift.

How do Elites Stay Healthy?

Avoid these mistakes and you’re well on your way to running stronger and healthier than ever before.

I know that if you can string together a full 1-2 years of consistent training, you’ll absolutely smash your current personal bests.

Now, I understand that I don’t have all the answers.

It’s best to hear from a variety of experts in the running industry on how best to prevent injuries.

That’s why I invited orthopedist Dr. David Geier on prevention for kids. Or spoke with coach James Dunne about keeping bigger runners healthy.

And it’s why learning from elite runners can be so valuable.

These are runners who are putting in 100+ miles per week, running grueling workouts, and suffering through 100-mile trail races.

The insights from the world’s best can help steer us in the right direction and focus our energy on what actually works.

That’s why I interviewed 9 elite athletes on their favorite injury prevention strategies – and put it all together for you here.

Hear from Dathan Ritzenhein, Ian Sharman, Amelia Boone, David Roche, Kelly O’Mara, Joseph Gray, Andy Wacker, Devon Yanko, and Max King on their preferred methods for staying healthy.

But also note what they don’t recommend.

Avoiding the wrong things is often just as important as doing the right things.

Download your free copy now – and here’s to healthy, happy running!

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Elite Runners on Failure: How 6 Pro Runners Deal with Disappointment

Runners are a unique breed of athlete: our sport is so hard, we know that we’ll fail often. And that’s what makes us better!

Running Fail

Have you ever attempted a Personal Best, only to have that race be more of a Personal Worst?

Or perhaps you tried to break two hours for the half marathon… and failed so spectacularly that you’re embarrassed you told your friends about it in the first place.

Running is the great humbler-in-chief. It forces us to confront our own limitations and live in the realm of the possible.

But it’s not always easy.

I was pumped to attempt my first ultramarathon – but not quite so excited when I had to tell the world why my name was followed by the dreaded letters DNF.

It’s difficult to swallow your pride and admit that you fell far short of your own expectations.

But failure has a way of being a great instructor, teaching you that:

  • Hard work works
  • Realistic (but aggressive) goals are preferable!
  • Failure is not always failure…

And while I’ve written before about the virtues of failing, there’s nothing more powerful than hearing about disappointment from the world’s best runners.

The Elites on Overcoming Setbacks

Elite Runners Failure

As you might realize by now, I love studying elite runners. They’re textbook examples of how “the best” operate.

You can see this in action on the SR blog:

Studying the top runners in the world provides us lessons and principles that we can apply to our own running – to great advantage!

But we almost never discuss the failures of the world’s best runners.

What does it feel like to never achieve your biggest goal throughout your entire career?

How does an elite keep perspective? Do they ever think about quitting?

Most importantly… how do elites bounce back from setbacks? Do they have a different mindset than us normal runners?

What enables them to continue training at high levels for years?

How do they overcome a bad workout, long run, or race?

These are the questions that I couldn’t get out of my head.

So I interviewed six pro runners to get their hot take on failure:

They’re the stars of Episode 39 of the Strength Running podcast. I think you’re going to love this episode.

We talk about their own personal failures, how they bounced back, and whether their approach to failure has changed over time.

Subscribe on iTunes or on the Stitcher platform.

These athletes are Olympians, national champions, and winners of the most grueling endurance events on the planet.

Use this podcast to change how you think about failure. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a productive approach to setbacks?
  • How can I better use disappointments to my advantage?
  • Do I use a Plan A, B, and C?
  • Can I succeed with a better support network of runners, coaches, and other experts?
  • Do I see the “silver lining” of falling short of my expectations?
  • When is not achieving a goal a good thing?

Many runners are months – sometimes weeks – away from a breakthrough.

But their mindset about failure holds them back.

They overthink things, fail to draw the clear lessons from their setback, and stagnate.

It’s my job as your virtual coach not to let that happen. And instead, push you to be a better version of yourself.

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a runner that you think needs some words of encouragement!

Resources not to be missed:

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Devon Yanko – Leadville Trail 100 Champ – on Recovery and Prevention

Meet Devon Yanko. On August 19, 2017 she won the Leadville Trail 100 – a race where 9,200 feet altitude is the lowest you’ll experience on the course.

Devon Yanko Leadville Trail 100

She finished in 20:46:29, averaging 12:28 per mile – a half hour ahead of her nearest competitor.

With nearly 16,000 feet of elevation change through Colorado’s gnarliest mountain terrain, the course is so difficult that in most years, less than half of the field finishes the race.

Having run in similar places, I can vouch for how strenuous this terrain can be (even for experienced runners). With precious air at a costly premium, the steep grades and uneven footing make traversing these trails a form of slow-motion torture.

Going uphill burns the lungs after just a few steps. Each muscle contraction seems to draw double the amount of oxygen to fuel their movements.

Running downhill isn’t much better. The rocky terrain is a nightmare for those with weak ankles.

Try running fast on a technical downhill trail after running for 3+ hours (in the dark, no less). It’s terrifying.

To win Leadville is like single-handedly winning the World Series or the Superbowl.

With a course and altitude like this, it’s not hard to imagine why:

Leadville Trail 100 Course Profile

Leadville is one of the top ultramarathons in the world. Winning it is a career-defining moment for trail runners.

But for Devon, it’s just one more race on her long list of achievements:

  • 3 time member of the USATF 100k National Team including 2009 Gold Medal winning team in Belgium
  • 2007 RRCA Marathon National Champion
  • 2010 50 mile road National Champion
  • 2012 Olympic Trials marathoner (PR of 2:38:55)
  • 2011 100k National Champion
  • Set Fastest Known Time on the Grand Canyon R2R2R trail with Krissy Moehl in April 2011
  • 3rd place at the Two Oceans Marathon (56k)
  • 5th in Comrades Marathon (89k, as well as first novice and first American)
  • Ran the 3rd fastest trail 100 miler ever for a North American running 14:52 at the 2015 Javelina 100

Not to be outdone, she’s also the owner of M. H. Bread and Butter bakery in San Anselmo, CA with her husband.

Strength Running readers will also be familiar with Devon – she joined eight other elite athletes in sharing her best injury prevention and recovery advice for The Little Black Book of Prevention & Recovery (it’s free – download it now).

You’re going to love my conversation with Devon – but not just because she’s one of the best long distance runners in the world.

She’s also hilarious.

It doesn’t matter if she’s talking about hitting her head on a rock or playing HORSE, she’s laughing about it.

Devon is a force to be reckoned with and I’m excited to share our interview with you.

Listen on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Don’t forget to download Devon’s best injury prevention advice here (she’s only had one major injury… ever).

Show Links & Resources

Please join me in thanking Devon for sharing her journey at the Leadville 100 this year!

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Olympian Alexi Pappas on How Not to be Boring

Have you ever been around somebody who’s downright fascinating? They’re a never-ending stream of hilarious stories, wise observations, and boundless curiosity.

Fun Run

Anytime I find somebody like this, I hold onto them forever. These people light up the world.

These days, I rush to get them on the Strength Running Podcast to share their insights with you:

These people inspire me because of their drive, creativity, ingenuity, passion, and tenacity.

And now, we can add one more to our growing list: Alexi Pappas.

A Greek athlete who recently represented Greece in the 10,000m (and set a national record in the process), she’s also the co-author and star of Tracktown:

Alexi’s talents extend far beyond the track and screen. She’s been a…

  • columnist for Women’s Running Magazine
  • improvisational comedy performer in Los Angeles
  • author of a one-act play

As you can see, Alexi has done a lot more than just running. That’s why, in this interview, we don’t talk much about running.

I didn’t ask her what it was like being a multiple All-American for Dartmouth College. Or how it felt to set the Greek Record at the Rio Olympics of 31:36 in the 10,000m.

Instead, we talk about what it’s like to pursue so many goals, what she’s reading, and how she differentiates between her creative pursuits and being an elite athlete.

Alexi Pappas: Renaissance Woman

Alexi Pappas

This conversation will show you how to pursue many goals and interests (while still prioritizing what’s most important to you).

Alexi is a boundless source of quotables and wisdom that I found refreshing. I hope you enjoy this episode.

And please, don’t criticize my Haiku poem at the end of the show. I’m not a poet!

Listen on iTunes or download on Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources

This episode of the podcast is made possible by Inside Tracker – and they’ve generously offered 10% off any test with discount code strengthrunning (not case sensitive).

Inside Tracker is a health analytics company that tests for over 50 major blood biomarkers and based on your physiology, offer custom solutions to help you optimize any areas that are outside of the normal zones.

So if you’re training for a difficult race, want to ramp up your recovery, or are just a passionate running geek like me who’s always searching for more ways to improve, this is a great option for seeing (and fixing) your areas of deficiency.

Get 10% off any test at insidetracker.com with code strengthrunning at checkout.

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For More Strength, Use Progression in the Weight Room

Fast runners have one thing in common: they produce a lot of force, meaning they’re capable of strong muscular contractions.

Strong Runner

Those strong muscle contractions translate into speed.

Just think: if you want a bouncy ball to to bounce higher, you throw it down to the ground with more force.

Your legs are just like a bouncy ball (or a Pogo stick). More forceful contractions give you higher levels of force, which gives you a longer stride and a faster running pace.

Now the opportunistic runners reading this are all nodding their heads and thinking, ‘How do I get more forceful muscle contractions?!’

The most efficient way is with heavy weight lifting.

But not everyone is ready to head to the gym for a round of heavy squats and dead lifts. That might be too advanced.

Instead, runners should begin strength training with a proper progression.

How Runners Can Use Progression with Strength Training

Most runners know that to get faster, their workouts have to gradually get more difficult over the course of a training cycle.

This concept is called progression and helps runners achieve new levels of fitness as their bodies adapt to higher workloads.

But many runners don’t follow the principle of progression for their strength workouts. They do the same core session year after year, or always stick to a similar series of exercises in the gym.

Running the same workouts at the same pace isn’t the best long-term strategy to improve and get faster, so why do many runners never implement progression in their strength workouts?

After coaching hundreds of runners, my experience is that most runners simply don’t care that much. We want to run, not lift weights!

But overlooking this crucial aspect of your training is only going to cause problems:

  • You’ll leave extra speed on the table, never able to generate as much force as a stronger runner
  • Your risk of overuse injuries will increase
  • Running economy, or efficiency, will suffer and be lower than those who lift weights

Instead of letting your strength stagnate, let’s discuss the goals of strength work and how to properly implement progression in the gym.

The Goal of Strength Work for Runners

Many runners misunderstand why they should be lifting weights. The most common mistake is lifting for endurance by doing high reps with short recovery intervals.

Instead, runners should lift for strength—or the ability to lift more weight (rather than lifting for endurance or hypertrophy). By getting stronger, runners will improve their efficiency, muscle fiber recruitment and power.

These adaptations have distinct benefits for distance runners, allowing them to impart more force into the ground and run faster. The hormonal response of lifting heavy, including increased testosterone and human growth hormone production, can improve recovery and ultimately the ability to tolerate higher workloads.

Ultimately, it’s best to lift heavy weights at the gym (rather than bodyweight exercises) to prioritize strength.

You can do so by following these rules:

  • Each exercise should be limited to 4-8 reps per set
  • Lift so that the final set is challenging, but don’t lift to failure
  • Complete 2-3 sets for each exercise
  • Take 2-3 minutes in between exercises to ensure ATP (the main energy source for the cells in your muscles) is replenished
  • Use free weights (not machines) and focus on basic lifts that maximize muscle fiber recruitment like squats, dead lifts, bench press, cleans, lunges, and pull ups.

Following these practices will ensure you’re maximizing strength gains from each workout.

Start General, Then Get Specific

If you’re new to strength training, it’s not a smart idea to jump into a series of heavy dead lifts on day one. Instead, follow the first rule of progression: start general.

General strength forms the foundation that allows runners to progress to more advanced lifts in the gym. Start with relatively simple core exercises like planks, oblique twists and side planks. Exercises performed on the ground in a prone or supine position are more general than those performed standing up, since running is a standing activity.

After 3-5 weeks of consistent core workouts, you’re ready to progress to more advanced exercises. A valuable way to bridge the transition from bodyweight core exercises to difficult gym workouts is by starting with a medicine ball workout.

Medicine balls are a helpful strength tool that can be used as the next logical step after bodyweight exercises become too easy. The same exercises you’ll soon be doing in the gym—like squats, dead lifts, and lunges—can be done with a medicine ball.

After another 3-5 weeks of combining general strength and medicine ball workouts, you can progress to more advanced lifts in the gym.

Strength Training Tips to Remember

Now that we know to start general with bodyweight exercises, move to medicine ball workouts and finally transition to weight lifting in the gym, we can fine-tune our approach to strength training with these 3 rules:

  1. Lifting is secondary to running. Strength work should enable and support your running, not detract from it. If running workouts are compromised by gym sessions, reduce the intensity so you can maintain the appropriate volume and intensity on workout days.
  2. Skip the bicep curls – and any other body-builder-centric exercises like tricep extensions or calf raises. Focus on movements, not muscles, by doing the exercises discussed earlier in this article. By maximizing muscle fiber recruitment, you’ll get a bigger hormonal response that will aid recovery and strength gains.
  3. Lift on hard days. Too many runners schedule hard strength workouts on rest days or after an easy run. Instead, lift after your long run or faster workout to stimulate additional fitness adaptations.

Lifting is as much about benefiting from neuromuscular adaptations as muscular adaptations. By lifting in a pre-fatigued state, the body learns to work hard when it’s low on glycogen and still clearing byproducts from the running workout.

This principle fits with the philosophy to make your “easy days easier and hard days harder.”

The best runners are often the strongest runners. By implementing a sound strength program within your training cycle, you’ll realize all of its benefits:

  • enhanced recovery
  • a faster finishing kick
  • increased strength
  • reduced risk of injury
  • improved running economy

Plus, you might enjoy how much better you look!

A version of this article initially appeared on Competitor.

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Orthopedic Surgeon David Geier on Injury Prevention for Kids

Some of you might know that I have two little kids. When they’re not throwing food on the floor, they’re practicing their drills:

As a parent and coach, I have a few “rules” I like to follow when it comes to exercise and kids:

  • It’s not exercise. It’s play.
  • Be a generalist (sport specificity is too advanced – and risky)
  • It has to be fun

So on a typical weekend, you’ll find us at the playground, beach, or just running around the backyard like crazy people.

And over time, my wife and I have gradually built more physical play into the backyard:

  • A trapeze for upper body strength
  • A sandbox for fine motor skills and hand strength
  • A bunch of tires for crawling, lifting, and hiding (and for Dad to throw around, too!)
  • And a stick fort for hiding, crawling, lifting big sticks, and hiding beer when they’re teenagers

Now of course, my kids are 4 and 2 right now. They’re not ready for “sports” yet – but it seems like that time comes earlier and earlier.

So I want to be prepared.

When they’re hurling their first lacrosse ball, what’s the best way to not only ensure they stay healthy but thrive as athletes?

Are there things we can do now to help them become the best athletes they can be (if they choose to be athletes)?

I’m admittedly not an expert in this area. I can’t tell you what’s developmentally appropriate for a 3 year old vs. a 7 year old. Or even how to coach little ones.

I just want to make sure my kids stay healthy when they start playing competitive sports.

So I asked an orthopedic surgeon to come on the podcast to chat about kids and injuries.

Dr. David Geier on Maximizing Youth Performance and Limiting Injuries

David is here to share numerous ways that young athletes can improve their performance without sacrificing their careers in the long run (these puns are my lifeblood).

We’re coming at this topic as a surgeon, coach, and two dads with different aged kids.

You might know David from drdavidgeier.com where he simplifies the complex area of sports medicine.

He covers a lot of areas that I love to geek out on:

David’s most notably an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina.

He was Director of MUSC Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina for eights years and is currently the Communications Council Chair for the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Board of Directors.

Major media have featured his advice in interviews from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC News, The Atlantic, Forbes, and many others.

Check out David’s new book, That’s Gotta Hurt! The Injuries That Changed Sports Forever.

As you can see, I was quite excited to chat with him about the best injury prevention practices for younger athletes.

Listen to our conversation on iTunes or if you use the Android OS, Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links:

Preventing injuries is one of the running topics that I’m most passionate about because it enables you to run more consistently.

With more consistent running, you’ll be able to run more and train harder.

The result?

You’ll be a stronger, more capable athlete who’s crossing the finish line sooner than ever before.

And THAT is what gets me excited.

Don’t miss our injury prevention resources – they’ve helped tens of thousands of runners just like you.

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Joel Runyon on Overcoming Insane Challenges

Runners have a clear super-power: we persevere when the tough gets tougher. We revel in adversity.

Runners Cross Country

Maybe you’re a totally new runner… but you sign up for that 5k anyway.

Or you’re a multi-year veteran of the sport… but you’re gearing up for an audacious marathon attempt.

You might also be like one of my clients who struggled to run a disappointing, hot, technical trail marathon (she literally said “the hardest race of my life”)… only to dust herself off and keep training for her ultra this fall.

There’s an interesting “glitch” in our psychology that tells us to defy the odds, believe in ourselves, and never give up.

Perhaps running causes that mindset.

Or maybe running attracts folks who have a predisposition for grit.

Either way, running makes me feel like I’m in a private club of super heroes.

And sometimes, we go for broke:

As many of you know, I love goals like this.

Goals that might seem “impossible,” but with the right approach (and a healthy dose of some old-fashioned tenacity), are ultimately achievable.

That’s why I don’t promote get-fast-quick-schemes or “run less, run faster!” empty promises.

Just actionable coaching guidance that’s proven to work with no fluff (ok ok, this article was definitely fluff – but I think we can all agree it’s hilarious).

And I love highlighting those runners who are accomplishing epic, “impossible” goals.

Recently I introduced you to Joel Runyon who recently ran an ultramarathon on every continent – and raised a staggering $190,000 in the process.

Today, we’re diving deeper into the obstacles he faced, lessons learned, and what he’d change if he were to do it all over again.

“26 miles into a 39 mile race I completely wrecked my ankle”

In part two of our conversation, Joel opens up about the obstacles he faced while attempting to finish the 777 Project.

They included injuries, unrelated lawsuits, brutal trail races in the mountains of Thailand, and the normal logistical nightmares of running races all over the world.

Of course, Joel didn’t quit.

It didn’t matter that he had to take 6 months off to rehabilitate a peroneal tendon injury.

He didn’t care that every race – and the travel that went along with it – was self-funded.

Nor was it even an option to quit during a race (how’s that for commitment?).

More important than the mindset that allowed Joel to leapfrog these obstacles is the impact and lessons learned from the 777 Project.

We cover all that and more in today’s episode of the Strength Running Podcast:

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If you enjoyed this episode of the Strength Running Podcast, an honest iTunes review is most appreciated!

This episode is sponsored by Health IQ, an insurance company that helps health conscious people get special life insurance rates. Head on over to healthiq.com/strengthrunning to see how your running can help you save on insurance.

They’ve pulled the latest data on runners’ health risks to convince insurance companies to offer cheaper rates. Just consider:

  • Runners have a 41% lower risk of heart disease
  • Runners also have up to a 35% lower risk of premature death

And they’ve been successful: over the last three years, they’ve helped health-conscious athletes secure billions of dollars in coverage.

Want to see if you qualify for cheaper life insurance? Check out this tool to get your free quote.

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Madga Boulet on How to Overcome the Daunting 100-Mile Ultramarathon

Can we all agree that running is hard? Whether you’re training for a 5k or running up a staircase built into a mountain (see below), running has its unique challenges.

But what if your goal is nearly four times longer than a marathon? What if your goal is to run 100 miles – competitively?

This distance usually takes about 15 – 30 hours depending on the athlete’s ability and the course itself.

And there’s one particular ultra that stands above the others: The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. It’s the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race and one of the most formidable tests of endurance on the planet.

If you’re crazy brave enough to tackle Western States, you’ll need to overcome more than 18,000 feet of climbing and 23,000 feet of descending reaching altitudes approaching 9,000 feet.

The heat is yet another cruel obstacle, sometimes surpassing blistering high temperatures of 110° Farhenheit.

Western States is the crown jewel of ultra running and often considered one of the most difficult races in the world.

Succeeding at Western States requires a combination of skills:

  • A monster aerobic engine to power you through 24+ hours of running
  • The resilience and strength to overcome tens of thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss
  • Logistical prowess with coordinating fueling, pacers, and support

But in fact, running 100 miles is not as different from running a marathon as you think.

To help you shatter your perception of what’s possible, discover the training necessary to run 100 miles, and inspire you to chase your next stretch goal, I’ve invited Magdalena Boulet onto the podcast to talk about her performance at this year’s Western States Endurance Run.

Magda Boulet on Western States

Magdalena Boulet Ultra Marathon

One of the biggest names in the world of ultramarathons, Magda Boulet has an impressive list of credentials:

  • 1st – 2002 and 2003 Pittsburgh Marathon
  • 1st – 2002 San Francisco Marathon
  • 1st – 2006 Orange County Marathon
  • 2nd – 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon
  • 1st – 2015 Western States Endurance Run
  • 5th – 2016 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc
  • 2nd – 2017 Western States Endurance Run

She prepares methodically for challenging races, leaving no stone unturned as she strives to compete with the fastest endurance runners on the planet.

This unique “testing mindset” helped her identify potential injury warnings before this year’s Western States, vaulting her onto the podium.

Using a blood analytics service called Inside Tracker, she identified biomarkers outside of her optimal zones – and then went to work fixing them through diet and lifestyle changes.

She’s on the podcast today to talk more about:

  • What it takes to train for 100 milers
  • Are they so different from marathons…?
  • Her personal fueling approach for ultra marathons
  • Pre- and post-race blood testing goals
  • How her blood test results impacted her recovery

Listen to the latest episode on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links:

This episode of the podcast is made possible by Inside Tracker – they’ve generously offered to give 10% off any test with discount code strengthrunning (not case sensitive).

Inside Tracker is a health analytics company that tests for over 50 major blood biomarkers and based on your physiology, offer custom solutions to help you optimize any areas that are outside of the normal zones.

So if you’re training for a difficult race, want to ramp up your recovery, or are just a passionate running geek like me who’s always searching for more ways to improve, this is a great option for seeing (and fixing) your areas of deficiency.

Get 10% off any test at insidetracker.com with code strengthrunning at checkout.

Join Me in Testing!

I recently got my own Ultimate Package from Inside Tracker to see my own shortcomings.

Will my testosterone be low from running at altitude?

Will my Vitamin D be deficient even though I usually expose as much thigh as possible (even my sister calls me out on this…)?

Short Shorts

Will my blood glucose be too high from treating myself to more Bacon Habanero chips than is reasonable? (see podcast #29)

The results will be in soon and I plan to post an update on the results.

If you’d like to join me on this adventure, get your own test (don’t forget the discount code ‘strengthrunning’ to save 10%). This should be fun!

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