I often wonder if there are multiple training paths to success, or if there is indeed one best training path that makes a given runner the very best he or she can be. Since Olympic athletes in the same race all have different coaches and therefore don’t train exactly the same way, there are at least a couple of conclusions that can be drawn: (1) there are multiple ways to train to succeed, or (2) there really is a best way, but very few runners, coaches, and scientists know what it is, and the talent of the athletes is the real driver of their success, whether they are Olympians or good recreational runners.
I believe the second conclusion is the right one.
There are many ways to make chicken parmigiana, but there is a way that will make chicken parmigiana taste the best—by adding the precise amount of the right ingredients at the right times during the cooking process. Cooking involves chemistry—the way flavors interact with one another, how the heating process activates the flavor and the nutrients in the ingredients, and so on.
Training a runner also involves chemistry and is even more complicated than cooking because of biological adaptation. How do we know the precise combination of workout ingredients that will lead a runner to a physiological peak? How do we know what the best order of those workouts are? How do we know when in the training plan to do them? How do we know how much of a given type of workout to do? How do we know the right time to do another workout after doing a workout on Tuesday? How do we know what that workout on Tuesday (and then the next one, and the next one) should be?
These are hard questions for science to answer. The questions keep me up at night, because the scientist, coach, and runner in me wants to know the precise combination of workouts that make a runner reach his or her genetic potential. Some coaches try to answer them through years of trial and error. But most coaches and runners don’t pay attention to how they’re cooking the chicken parmigiana.
Ever notice that good female runners have very narrow hips?
Women’s wider hips compared to men create a more pronounced angle between the pelvis and the knee (called the quadriceps-angle or Q-angle), as the femur occurs at a more oblique angle compared to the femur of a man. A large Q-angle causes the patella to be more off-center from the tibia, which affects the alignment of the legs in the frontal plane. Tracking of the patella against the femur is dependent on direction of the force produced by the quadriceps. With a wide Q-angle, there is more lateral movement of the patella as the quadriceps contract, which can potentially put female runners at a greater risk for knee injuries (e.g., patellofemoral pain syndrome) than male runners. Research has shown that, although many females who have knee pain tend to have larger Q-angles, some studies have shown that there is no relationship between Q-angle and the development of knee pain, which suggests that factors other than or in addition to Q-angle (e.g., weak hip abductor muscles) contribute to the development of knee injuries. It seems that Q-angle is at least partially responsible for knee injury risk among female runners since a large Q-angle can influence a female runner’s knee joint biomechanics upon foot strike with the ground, especially when weak hip abductor muscles are unable to compensate to create greater stability upon landing.
A larger Q-angle also puts women at a mechanical disadvantage when running. After a woman’s leg lands on the ground, she must push off the ground to propel herself forward. The application of muscular force has both a magnitude and direction. And the direction the force is applied has both a horizontal and vertical component. The more parallel a runner’s leg is to her body when it’s on the ground (i.e., the smaller the Q-angle), the greater the amount of the applied muscle force is transmitted in the vertical direction to the tendons to move the bones.
With wide hips and a large Q-angle, the femur is at an angle when the leg is on the ground. Thus, there is a greater dispersion of force in different directions, with some of the force of the muscles surrounding the femur (quadriceps in the front and hamstrings in the back) being lost in the horizontal direction rather than being transmitted into propelling the runner forward. If you watch elite female runners, you’ll notice they have very narrow hips that more closely resemble male runners. Research has shown that the hip width of very good female runners is similar to that of both athletic and even non-athletic males. Narrow hips allow runners to direct more of the muscular force into forward propulsion.
Learn more about Q-angle and how to train female runners with the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification.
I started my coaching career in 1997 at a college in New Jersey. I was the head coach at 24 years old, which made me one of, if not the, youngest head college coach in the country. I was very proud of that. I was fresh off my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the top schools in the world for exercise physiology and biomechanics. I was arrogant. In the years since, I have grown as a coach, an academic, and a person, but the deep passion has remained the same. Here’s a few things I love about coaching.
* Being a scientist and researcher. I love applying the science and research to cause specific physiological changes that will enable a runner to get faster. I love finding out why something works and why something doesn’t work. I love hypothesizing and trying training strategies to test those hypotheses.
* Being an artist. I love organizing all of the training components and workouts into a systematic, progressive plan and balancing the right amounts of stress and recovery.
* Being a student. I love learning. I believe knowledge is power. I love understanding physiology, biomechanics, and training, and what it takes to get faster. I’m always reading and studying.
* Being a teacher. I love teaching the how and why of effective training so that the runner understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and can become part of the process.
* Being a strategist. I love strategizing with my athletes on how to train and race.
* Being an inspirer. I love inspiring runners to see and do what’s possible. To be in that position is truly a gift.
* Being a competitor. I love producing athletes and teams who beat their opponents. I have always been extremely competitive.
* Being a pursuer of excellence. I always want to be a better coach and I want my athletes to be better athletes.
Whatever it is you pursue, be a pursuer of excellence.
Stomach get queasy when you run? Feel like you have to poop your shorts? You’re not alone. Gastrointestinal distress is a common problem among runners. Try these 8 things to minimize the risk:
1. Avoid high-fiber foods in the few days before the race.
2. Ingest multiple types of carbohydrates during the race (which use different transporters), such as glucose and fructose, instead of more of the same amount of a single carbohydrate such as glucose.
3. Ingest carbohydrates during the race in more, smaller amounts rather than fewer, larger amounts.
4. Ingest carbohydrates with sufficient water during the race.
5. Avoid high-fructose foods the day before the race.
6. Avoid dehydration. Drink!
7. Avoid aspirin and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen.
8. Practice pre-race and race-day nutrition plan many times before race day.
Many runners and coaches seem to be fond of training at 5K or 10K race pace, designing workouts at those paces. There is not much value to doing that other than to practice specific race pace. While it may seem logical to run at 5K (or 10K) race pace as often as possible to get faster for a 5K (or 10K), it’s not the best (or even a good) way to improve 5K time. It’s better to target the specific physiological factors that influence race performance.
5K race pace is too fast to train lactate threshold and too slow to train VO₂max, and so is not the best use of your training time. Instead, run at lactate threshold pace to train lactate threshold and run at VO₂max pace to train VO₂max. However, if you feel you need to practice specific race pace for the confidence it gives you, then train at that pace to meet the psychological purpose.
When you get REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certified, you’ll learn all about how to do workouts correctly.
If you’ve ever run with a dog or watched a horse race, you’ll notice that other animals don’t stretch before or after they run.
Although most people have been stretching since their middle school gym class to prevent injuries, improve exercise performance, and reduce muscle soreness, the research on stretching tells a different story.
(1) Stretching doesn’t prevent injuries for activities that don’t include bouncing movements, like running, cycling, and swimming. If the activity includes explosive or bouncing movements, stretching can reduce injuries by increasing compliance of tendons and improving their ability to absorb energy.
(2) Stretching can prevent muscle injuries, such as sprains and strains, but not bone or joint injuries.
(3) Stretching doesn’t improve exercise performance. You won’t run faster or longer by stretching before you run. Research on stretching before strength training has shown a reduction in strength performance due to a decrease in muscles’ ability to contract.
(4) Stretching doesn’t decrease post-workout muscle soreness. Soreness comes from the inflammation in response to the microscopic damage to muscle fibers from training. Stretching doesn’t make muscle fibers heal any quicker, so stretching won’t make you feel less sore.
(5) The major benefit of stretching is to increase mobility and flexibility—a joint’s range of motion—thereby priming muscles to move dynamically through their full ranges of motion. When stretching to increase flexibility, doing it apart from your workout makes it even more effective.
Learn more about stretching and everything else at revo2lutionrunning.com
The individuality of training is too often neglected, especially with so many runners running in groups and as part of running clubs. Both research and empirical evidence shows that there is a large inter-individual response to training, both in the magnitude of response and in the time frame for developing and retaining training effects.
What may work for one runner may not work for another. Not all runners who are capable of the same performance have the same work capacity. Some runners may respond better to high volume and low intensity while some may respond better to low volume and high intensity. Some need more recovery days between hard workouts than others. It’s important to know your training needs or, if you’re a coach or trainer, the needs of those you coach, and to individualize the training, even when in a group setting.
Training should also be individualized based on workout stress in addition to the strengths and weaknesses of each runner. For example, since the time under stress is what matters, not the actual distance, base workouts on time. If Jack and Jill do a 5-mile tempo run at lactate threshold pace to fetch a pail of water, and Jack runs 7:30 per mile pace and Jill runs 6:30 per mile pace, Jack has a more difficult workout because it’s going to take him 5 minutes longer to run 5 miles at threshold pace (and Jill will get all the water).