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We all know that muscles rebuild—and therefore grow stronger—during rest from running. But what if there were non-running activities you could do during that rest that would lead to gains? Here are some ideas to maximize your downtime, plus some ways to level up your efforts to help you be consistent and have fun along the way.
Improve run efficiency with strength training or plyometrics
There are a few parts to speed, efficiency and fitness. In other words, the world’s fastest are fast because they probably have a good engine, but they’re also efficient. That is, they have good movement patterns and muscle recruitment. If you can make improvements in this area it could lead to free speed.
Physical therapist and coach Carrie Smith recommends adding some strength and plyometrics into your routine. “Resistance training and plyometrics improve the strength and elasticity of your soft tissues. This can lead to improved running economy so you use less energy for a given speed.” If you’re worried about adding one more thing into an already packed schedule, don’t despair. Just a few minutes per session and a few sessions per week can make a difference.
Level Up: Consider making it a group thing. For your run training you likely take advantage of group workouts or peer accountability. Doing the same for strength training will help you prioritize it.
Make a game out of the little intangibles to get faster
Foam roll daily? Boring. Eat small, balanced meals every few hours to keep your metabolism revved? Yawn. No one would argue that these things aren’t good or important. The issue is more that the long term payoff is vague and therefore hard to get excited about. Furthermore, the alternative choice often leads to instant gratification, i.e. watching a tv show instead of foam rolling or eating a donut instead of that balanced meal!
There exists a checklist of things that runners should be doing but don’t always make the time for. Some examples are getting more sleep, eating healthy balanced meals, foam rolling, stretching and regular maintenance for physical issues (massage, chiropractor, etc.). These decisions can lead to improvements whether from decreased recovery time, or time off training due to injury or illness. It’s when hundreds of these tiny decisions add up over time that things start happening, so how can we better make that happen?
Level Up: The goal is to make this as exciting as the immediate gratification alternatives. Consider gamifying this with your friends. For example, you all could have a checklist of possible items and compete to see who can do the most or the most consistently over a mutually agreed upon time period. Make the to-dos (or don’ts) specific, and add in some type of reward. Least number of points buys dinner!
Use this list as a guideline. One of these items may not make a huge difference but all together, little changes add up!
- Stretching Daily
- Core exercises
- Checking off list of agreed upon weekly workouts
- X hours of sleep
- X amount of water per day
- X servings of vegetables
- Avoiding or limiting alcohol
- Fueling pre and post workout
- Be creative! What types of consistent small things have supported your efforts in the past?
Add in some cross-training
Many runners don’t want to take time away from their primary sport to cross-train, but what if it could actually make you faster? At our cycling studio, Energy Lab, we see the impact of cross training firsthand. Many runners who come to our cycling studio are surprised when they see real run improvements from adding in one or two challenging cycling classes per week. Sometimes they come in initially because they are injured therefore running less, yet still see improvements!
Temilola Sobohemin, founder of the runningnerds run training and lifestyle group, found when she started cycling as cross-training: “I really felt the impact of cycling in my running after a solid month of interval work on the bike. It seemed to impact the drive phase immediately and improved endurance in the long run.” Could cross-training work for you? See below to help you decide which type to pursue.
Level Up: Consider what type of cross-training would benefit you the most. Do you have poor flexibility that affects your stride? Something like yoga can help restore your range of motion. Do you have poor core strength and lose form at the end of a challenging run? Try some type of organized full body strength routine. Do you get injured every time you incorporate speed work? Perhaps a challenging cycling class can help support your easy run miles.
Bethany Rutledge, M.A. is the Atlanta Triathlon Club Coaching Director and Energy Lab Fitness Program Director.