Here is some great advice from Andy Matson, our fitness expert and coach.
Runners and tri-athletes are always looking for a competitive edge and a desire to increase their knowledge for optimal performance. The tips and advice together with the exercise testing procedures mentioned in this information will provide an evaluation of an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses.
The evaluation can then be used to design a training programme that is specific to the athlete. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or returning from injury you will find some of this information beneficial to your overall fitness capabilities.
Tips for optimal running style
This is a hot topic amongst the experts and of course runners/triathletes themselves. What constitutes to correct technique vary enormously depending on the professional you talk to and their speciality, so rather than striving for the perfect running style it’s far better to aim for optimal running style that’s right for you and works with your natural physique. So how do you know your optimal style, below are some questions to ask yourself first.
- Does it feel comfortable when you are out for an easy run?
- Are you seeing positive rewards from your hard work?
- Are you injury free and rarely pick up injuries especially when you increase your training.
- The head- your eyes should be looking ahead and at the ground between 10-30 meters in front of you. Looking straight down will throw your spine out of alignment.
- The arms- imagine your arms as pistons and moving forwards & backwards. Keep them close to your sides and avoid excessive crossing over the centre of your torso. Arms should be bent close to 90 degrees.
- The core- this is an area that a lot of runners/triathletes neglect. A weak core will cause many injuries that could have easily been avoided. Try running tall and don’t arch your back and avoid sticking your buttocks out. Imagine your pelvic area is a bucket of water. Your aim is to stop the water from tipping out, so you need to keep it as level as possible. To do this you need to engage your core and glute muscles, so pull in your bellybutton and squeeze your butt tight to keep the bucket level.
- Over-striding- This is one of the most common injury-causing problems in running. Landing heel first with your foot well ahead of your body's center of gravity is the same as putting your brakes on in a car. Some runners assume that a longer stride will improve their speed or running efficiency, but that's not the case, it wastes vital energy needed for running economy. Make sure that you don't lunge forward with your feet. Focus on landing mid-sole, with your foot directly underneath your center of mass with every step. Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you're stepping on hot coals.
- Breathing- proper breathing is just as important to your running economy as stride and posture. If you don’t take in enough oxygen, you will find it more difficult to keep a relaxed form and maintain your pace. Shallow breathing pattern will replace depleted oxygen, but one that is deep and rhythmic oxygenates your whole body and increases your endurance.
Assessing your core stability & balance.
Below are two simple exercises you can do to test your core stability & balance.
Core stability test- stand with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart. Lift one leg off the ground up to 90 degree angle without tipping or sliding sideways (relax and avoid tensing up). The more stable and upright you remain, the better your core stabilizers are working.
Single-leg reach- Place one cone (or similar object) about two feet in front of you, and stand on your left foot. Bending your knee, while keeping your core tight and your back straight, reach forward with your right arm to touch the cone (or come as close as possible). Stand up and repeat. Start with 8/10 reps, and work up to 30. As you become stronger, vary the cone positions—put one at 9 o'clock and one at 3 o'clock, for instance—and challenge yourself by going barefoot. "Make sure the whole foot stays in contact with the floor; don’t let it roll to the outside. Repeat for the right leg.
Benefit: This exercise strengthens major leg muscles—glutes, quads and calves—but doesn't allow you to favor your strong side. It also teaches balance on one foot while your knee is bent, and strengthens the stabilizing muscles in the foot so that when you land on each foot your body is ready for impact.
The warm-up (Dynamic)
The warm-up is not only used to increase the body temperature & heart rate, a good dynamic warm-up is a complete total body workout for runners & triathletes. If performed correctly a dynamic warm-up can result in positive training adaptations to improve performance, help prevent injuries and prepare the body for competition. This is time to focus on improving strength, power, speed & agility and should last for 10-20mins. Dynamic warm-up sessions should focus on stretching muscles and movement patterns that require a combination of muscles & joints that are specific to your sport.
- Toe & heel walking- for strength/stability and help reduce the likelihood of shin splints.
- Knee to chest walking- balance & postural control & stretching gluets.
- Walking quad stretch- flexibility in quads/hip flexors, also improving leg balance.
- Stork walk- balance & multi-limb coordination & hamstring strength.
- Hamstring walks (inchworm) - develops range of motion in hamstring & lower back, also good for core.
- Toy soldier’s march- develops hamstring & lower back flexibility- progress with a skip.
- Lunge walking with arms- range of motion in the hip flexors, strengthens quads, glutes & core.
- Counter-movement-jump (CMJ)- explosive power throughout the entire body.
- High knee running- improves the forward drive when running.
- Heel flick running- improves the recovery phase when running.
- Backpedal – strengthening quads & hamstrings and for balance also helps with range of motion through hips. This is a good exercise to do before a speed session.
Why test? The aim is to develop knowledge and understanding of exercise capabilities of the athlete. A practical outcome of the testing is enhanced performance of the athlete being tested. Testing should be an integral part of an athlete’s training program and should be conducted regularly and frequently.
Try the following tests by Top End Sports
VO2max is a measure of a person's aerobic fitness. The table below categorizes VO2max scores for adult men and women of various ages. These are relative VO2max scores, in the units of mls of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml.kg-1.min-1). Click here to see to VO2 norms for your age group.
- Reliability: The reliability of the beep test would depend on how strictly the test is run and the practice allowed for the subjects.
- Advantages: Large groups can perform this test all at once for minimal costs. Also, the test continues to maximum effort unlike many other tests of endurance capacity.
- Disadvantages: Practice and motivation levels can influence the score attained, and the scoring can be subjective. As the test is often conducted outside, the environmental conditions can affect the results.
Heart Rate ZonesIn order to structure training more accurately and to analyze sessions effectively, Heart Rate zones have been developed. The table below shows the 1-6 HR zones used by British Cycling (BC is one of the most highly regarded models for HR zones). There are alternative models that use more or less HR zones and arguably the three broad zones of basic, intensive and maximal would be sufficient for most ages up to regional level competition.
Table: Training Intensity Zones (Adapted from British Cycling Level 3 Coaching Handbook: Coaching for performance) This table also represents the relationship between %max heart-rate VO2max. thus, one only needs to monitor heart-rate to estimate the relative exercise domain or VO2max.
Recovery Zone – Purpose: Recovery
Adaptation: Increase blood flow to muscles to flush out waste products
Zone 1 – Purpose: Base endurance
Adaptation: Increase in cycling/running economy, improves fat metabolism i.e. fat is the main energy source.
Zone 2 – Purpose: Improve efficiency
Adaptation: Mainly fat burning, significant cardiovascular overload, improvements in biomechanical and physiological efficiency.
Zone 3 – Purpose: Improve aerobic power and endurance
Adaptation: Improves carbohydrate metabolism, some fast-twitch fibres change to slow-twitch fibres, increased cardiovascular efficiency.
Zone 4 – Purpose: Raise lactate threshold
Adaptation: Improves carbohydrate metabolism, develops lactate threshold, some fast-twitch fibres change to slow-twitch fibres.
Zone 5 – Purpose: Sustained maximal aerobic power
Adaptation: Develops cardiovascular system & VO2 max, improves anaerobic energy production and tolerance/removal of end products i.e. lactate shuttle.
Zone 6 – Purpose: Increase maximum muscle power
Adaptation: Increases maximum muscle power & resistance to fatigue, develops cardiovascular system & VO2 max.
Note: Should only be undertaken when fully recovered from previous sessions. Taking fluid/fuel between efforts helps avoid premature fatigue.
Aerobic capacity improves if exercise intensity regularly maintains heart rate between 55 and 70 % of maximum. Clearly, achieving positive training adaptations does not require strenuous exercise. An exercise heart-rate of 70% maximum represents moderate exercise with no discomfort.
An alternative and equally effective method to establish your training zones is the karvonen method, Kavonen method takes into account your resting heart rate. For more details on this method see www.topendsports.com or www.briancalkins.com
NOTE: You can also go onto topendsports website and calculate you actual Vo2max scores from the bleep test. Look under fitness testing calculators.
Rate of perceived effort (R.P.E.)
R.P.E = Rate of perceived effort: this R.P.E is based on a similar scale to the British cycling scale and the Borg scale. You can make up your own scale as long as it relates to your training zones. When training you should always refer to your perceived effort in addition to your heart rate monitor for feedback. Heart rate monitors are a guide only and do have a degree of error in predicting you HR.
R.P.E. Is an effective way of measuring your effort levels and correlates highly with VO2max, HRmax and your training zones.
These are the level of effort you need to put into your sessions in relation to R.P.E.
- L1- very light with no effort, this is for recovery to bring heart rate back to normal.
- L 2-4 very easy gentle pace with little effort.
- L 5-6, is coming out of comfort zone but still able to hold a conversation with someone.
- L 6-7 getting out of breath, can only speak two/three words before needing to take a breath.
- L8 race pace, can’t talk & hard.
- L9-10 maximum effort, anaerobic energy system, example sprinting.
I hope you have found some of this information useful, all of the information above has come from reliable and valid data bases that are backed by scientific research. Remember that it is best to take a holistic approach to your training and listen to what your body is telling you. That balance, agility, strength and speed are all vital components of most sports including running, cycling and triathlons. Regular testing and assessment of your fitness is a vital component to stay injury free and maintain optimal performance, happy training.
You can read more about Andy Matson here, or at his website AMActiv.co.uk