strength

Running Requisites

When contemplating a running program, the question that often comes to mind first, is “Where do I start?”

I mean, you inherently know you cannot just go out and run a marathon on day one. 

So you vow to be sensible. You grab the latest issue of Runners’ World or Google the best beginners’ 5K program you can find.

You might even buy yourself brand new Nike’s to protect your joints or a cute new Lululemon outfit to get motivated.

You promise to follow the plan and take things slow.

You think you’re doing all the right things. You’re being responsible.

But, what if I told you, you’ve likely already jumped the gun?

Hold up, WHAT?

Your Body Needs Preparation

September is like the second coming of the new year for fitness. The weather is just right to lace up your kicks and get outside. It feels unquestionably like the perfect time to get started on some new goal.

Your mind is definitely poised for the challenge. But maybe your body is not is not so prepared. 

Just as a football player needs to have a certain amount of skills to cut down the field, a runner also requires some foundational strengths to traverse the trails or hit the pavement.

Like any other sport, running is stressful, and in a repetitive fashion.

Your body needs to be resilient enough to withstand that stress and strong enough to power you through the mileage with relatively good mechanics.

So before we get into what you need. We must talk about what running actually is.

 

What Is Running?

As we said, running is repetitive. One run of any distance, is a very, very, very long series of single-leg hops from one leg to the other.

That means you’ve got to be able to complete a real nice hop. And repeat.

So you need all the components of this skill. Lower body joints that work really nice. Hamstrings and calves that can withstand heavy loads. Trunk stability to keep you from leaking efficiency. And then the related strength to keep executing it well.

These components of preparedness are necessary to ensure that along the way of your fitness journey, you don’t hit the wall with an unexpected injury.

As many of my new clients were surprised to discover, running does not have to, and should not hurt. And it is absolutely possible to get more fit without that seemingly inevitable breakdown. 

For real.

 

You Need Skills

So I’ve enlisted the help of my good friend and colleague, Dr. Kyle Balzer, to compile a list of skills that we believe, are good indicators of a potential athlete’s readiness to run. And this includes the more casual recreational runner as well. You don't have to be a competitive athlete to call yourself a runner.

It all starts with showing up to the line with the right running requisites. How do we know what we're talking about?

Kyle is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist, with specific expertise in ensuring athletes return to the field or gym in better condition than ever; and helping clients who are injured, continue to train.

I myself am a highly qualified running coach. I’ve studied intensively under the LSU track coaches with special focus on the sprints. I’ve been around Olympic athletes in the gym. And I’ve coached cross country and track and field teams with great success, due mostly to getting my high school girls STRONG. 

Before you begin to run…

 

You should be able to forward lunge…

And what we’re really focusing on here is ankle mobility. If your ankles are locked up tight, you’re going to find lunging and running to be very tough endeavors.

How can you be sure that your joints are working well? Use a simple half kneeling assessment. Position your forward foot 4 inches from the wall. While keeping your heel down and the knee moving straight forward, can you reach the wall? 

Kyle adds that perhaps asymmetry between the two assessments is even more important. ROM in both should be within 5-10% of each other. 

What to do if they are not symmetrical or close to that 4 inches? You might want to check in with a good clinician like Kyle, or even an experienced and educated trainer to figure out why your ankles aren't moving adequately.

If you are not experiencing pain, you can also try working on the following mobility drill.

 

You should be able to load up a deadlift…

And what we’re really focusing on with this one is your ability to hinge well from the hips (as opposed to the waist), to ensure stride efficiency. And the ability to load up the legs and build strength to withstand the stressful and repetitive nature of running.

The deadlift, and all it's lateralizations, is super important for building that posterior chain strength that many runners are lacking.

Kyle points out that the single-leg version has even greater carryover. Runners should have great balance on both legs independently prior to getting started.  If that stability is present, single-leg deadlifting is a great way to build capacity within the tissue involved in single-leg landing.

Here is my absolute favorite cue for a successful single-leg deadlift.

 

You should be able to land a single leg hop…

Once you can  balance and then deadlift on a single leg, you can progress the challenge with jump training. We said running is a series of single-leg hops. So you better be able to execute one.

Kyle says plyometrics are great for creating the adaptations runners need for their sport, like creating power and absorbing stress. Hopping, bounding, and skipping are all great progressions that you can practice in the gym.

The video below is from my exercise library on YouTube. Hop out to a distance you can land successfully. Push the limit a little bit further when the hop becomes easy.

 

You should be able to dead bug like a pro…

As Kyle points out, running doesn’t require a whole lot of upper body strength. But it does require you to be able to dissociate or separate your shoulder and arms from your torso. And specifically in a reciprocal and alternating fashion. That means you need to be able to move your arms independently of your body. A dead bug requires you to do just that. Can you say core stability

Here I show you what to focus on in your dead bug practice.

 

Now let's be clear! Kyle is a doctor. But this check-list by no means serves as a doctor's clearance. If you've got major issues going on, or you're working through an injury, be sure to check in with a qualified professional IN PERSON.

We do however, wholeheartedly believe, that for the average recreational to competitive runner, proficiency in these skills can keep you much happier and healthier on the path to fitness or performance.

And contrary to current trending beliefs, running is a completely valid and useful way to increase your fitness. You just better be ready for it.

 

For more nutrition advice, fitness articles, and workout sign up for my newsletter. You'll also be the first to get access to the second round of the Sophisticated Stride Coaching Group for runners.

Are Your Ankles Adequate?

And What To Do If They Are NOt!

Lunges are necessary—The split stance should never be ignored. And I don't care what anybody says on that particular subject. Front squats are a great introduction to the world of barbell lifts—the one true 8-minute ab workout among the gimmicks. Sprints are theoretically the best choice for cardio—and can turn you into a fat-burning machine.

All three of these exercises have two things in common. The first is that they are all simple but excellent staples, that merit a place in any good training program. From fat-loss to core strength, they all hit the marks with multiple shots.

The second, is that they require a certain amount of mobility to be completed successfully. Lunges, front squats, and sprints all require you to have ankles that move pretty damn well.

And bad ankles affect more of the population than you might think. It’s kind of a hidden problem because tight, locked up ankles typically don’t result in pain at the site. It’s a rare occasion that any client ever comes to me actually complaining of ankle pain.

Limited ankle mobility affects other joints, and shows itself as seemingly unrelated issues. So it can be really difficult to realize unless you actually measure it.

Clients DO often complain of knee pain during lunging.They experience back pain after goblet or front squats. And I’ve seen a slew of runners with frequent ankle sprains. These are merely possible clues. But, any one of these issues could prompt an ankle investigation. 

The simplest way to know? You don’t need a kinesiology degree to dig a little deeper. You just need a dowel(could be the swiffer mop in the closet) and a ruler(your phone works fine. An iPhone6 is about 5 and a half inches long for reference).

How To Know If Your Ankles Need Work

Now, should you find that your ankle mobility is less than stellar—as you learned from the video, a distance from the wall of less than four inches, you need to work on your ankles before you jump into any of the aforementioned exercises. 

In the meantime, you can swing and snatch yourself silly. Do all of the deadlifts. And any upper body stuff is of course fair game. Simultaneously, you’ll be working towards earning your sprints and front squats back. 

Here is a quick routine to run through, with a bonus exercise at the end after you’ve been working for about two weeks(every day 2x a day or 4weeks 1x a day).

**Should you find that one ankle is tighter than the other, you'll complete 50-100% more work on the challenging side.

***THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT! If you experience closing joint PAIN-- and that means that as you push the knee further in that ankle mobility assessment and the front side of your ankle hurts--DO NOT try this routine. DO NOT even bother reading the rest of this blog. Proceed to your nearest body work professional. This is not going to work for you and might make the situation worse. 

If everything feels good, let's get going!

(1) Foam Roll Calves

As we covered in the last blog, we don't necessarily know why it works, but foam-rolling the calves can get you a little more range of motion in a snap.

(2) Stretch Calves

Push into the wall as you drive the heel back into the floor. Make sure that foot is straight and hold for thirty seconds.

(3) Mobilize Ankle

This is my go to mobilization if I know my client is going to be working out alone. All you need is a sturdy band and an anchor to tie it to.

Post stretching and foam rolling, you should have gained more flexibility. Now move through it! 8-10 strides is perfect.

(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold

This one can seem kind of silly. You might even get into the hold and think, What's happening here? Where's the work?

The feedback from the cables(or a band works here too!) teaches you to push into the ground with the standing leg and elongate your body, creating space in the joints. In yoga, we call this rooting to rise.

All of our joints work better when there is adequate space to move properly. Including those pesky ankles that can get otherwise squashed in single-leg balances. LENGTHEN.

If you pay attention to this subtle activation, you'll learn to apply the concept to the next two exercises...

And maybe EVERYTHING you ever do. And then maybe EVERYTHING you do gets better as you set yourself up for increased core stability with this one simple cue. BOOM. Automatic sophistication. You can stop reading now. Ok, just kidding.

(5) Assisted Split Hold

OK, Ok I know we said lunges will cause you problems if you have tight ankles. 

But! If we dial it back down and regress our split stance to an isometric hold, and we take off some of the load by adding assistance, you should be able to find the perfect first challenge. 

Progressively load the ankle by using the straps less and less as the exercise becomes easier. Thirty seconds on a hold is great.

(6) Squat Toe-Touch*

*To be completed only after progress has been made and confirmed by reassessment. 

Not to be confused with a typical bend-patterned toe-touch. Don't worry about hinging back. I want you to drop that booty for 8 reps on this one.

I also want you to look for a lot of ankle dorsiflexion i.e. push that knee forward to challenge your new range of motion. 

And move slow! Speed makes everything harder. A four count down and a four count back up, minimizing any shift on the foot as much as possible to be successful. A loss of balance is an indicator to you that your learning speed may be slower than you think.

And finally, remember that space concept from the hurdle holds? Root to rise! 

The Program

(1) Foam Roll Calves (60sec)

(2) Stretch Calves (30sec)

(3) Band Ankle Mobilizations (x8-10 strides)

(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold (30-60sec)

(5) Assisted Split Hold (30sec)

*(6) Squat Toe-Touch (8 reps) After clear progress has been measured

 

Now, once you get to that magic 4-inch mark, don't just jump right back into long sprints and heavy front squats and loaded bulgarian split-squats.

Adding load and jumping ahead too quickly is a sure-fire way to negate your progress.

Start with short sprints. Begin with unloaded split-squats and lunges. Stick to easy reps on the front squats. 

The benefits don't just stop here. Your single-leg lifts should all benefit from the ankle work. And you may even find your glutes engage a little bit better as well. As your newly named glute goddess, I know a thing . 

#adequateankles #sophisticatedstrength

Hip Flexor Happiness

Tight hip-flexors are a serious problem. They are annoying enough as is, getting super uncomfortable just walking around. But they can also cause you a number of other issues. For instance, they can prevent you from pulling yourself into a squat. They can mess with your stride efficiency when you run or sprint. They can cause your lower back to spasm in pain. And, as Drive client Sheila pointed out yesterday, they can make you look fat. “Is that why my belly sticks out?”

OK, that’s not entirely true. Nor could Sheila ever look fat. Lady must be walking around at 10% body fat. On the average day. At age 40. She’s amazing. But anyway, tight hip flexors can add the appearance of an extra few pounds by altering your standing posture. 

Tight Hip Flexors Affect Your Posture

This is because tight deep hip flexors can pull on your pelvis in such a way that you end up looking like you have what I affectionately call “shelf butt.” Your tail bone points behind you instead of down. Your belly is lengthened (what Sheila was talking about) and your lower back muscles are shortened, giving you a significantly rounder appearance. You got a shelf back there. Not too difficult to understand how this extra stress can also cause you some wicked lower back at the end of a long day of work. Or why you can't seem to develop the lower part of your abs. 

IMG_2407.JPG

And these babies can get tight and unhappy for a number of reasons, starting with common culprit: sitting at a desk all day. Of course, wearing heels all of the time can also mess you up, while doing a lot of distance running can cause repetitive stress. Or maybe all three if you are living in NYC. Tight hip flexors are a common complaint of my hard-working Class Pass chickees.

And the reason why they are tight in the first place matters. Of course you want to know what you can do differently in the future. But you cannot change the past. Much like life, better to focus on the present situation. What’s going to make you happy right now?

Tight Hip Flexors Are Weak Hip Flexors

Well, what we do know is that these muscles are probably not just tight, but also weak. And that’s something you actually can change right now, in fact. And I’m going to show you how.

But first, how do we know they’re weak? Well, my lovelies, we need to talk a little science here. Don’t worry, I hate using big words. I like to keep even the most complicated of concepts simple and sophisticated, you know?

If your peripheral nervous system had a manifesto, it’s mission statement would read something like “on a life-long quest to constantly and accurately determine the level of threat to the body.” Consider it your personal risk management consultant. 

And your brain, the central nervous system CFO, is super intelligent. It wants to protect you from risky moves that could lead to injury. So if the peripheral investigation reports weakness in a certain movement, the brain will limit your freedom of motion there, in order to avoid those dangerous ranges.

Now if only it was so good at assessing emotional risk of certain ex-boyfriends... I digress.

Why Stretching Alone Doesn't Work

Back to my point. You need to give your brain reason to believe that loosening the grip on your hip flexors is OK; that it’s safe. You need to teach them to be strong. But you won’t be able to do so successfully without first getting your pelvis to a neutral position. 

So, yes, you still need to stretch your hip flexors to achieve that. But then you need to consider that this temporary release is nothing more than a magic moment, an opportunity that must be followed up directly with some good targeted strengthening exercises. 

Cause if you don’t, you’ll probably be stretching your hips every day until the end of time. This is the reason you keep stretching them and it never seems to stick. 

Now, mind you, this is not an automatic fix. But if you make a commitment to follow this protocol every day 2x a day for two weeks, or you add it into your warm-up for the next month, you should find that your posture improves, your back pain diminishes, and your squat numbers mysteriously jump 20 lbs. And as Sheila mentioned, you’ll look like you dropped at least a few pounds, easily. 

Stretch Your Hip Flexors First

First, you’re going to stretch your hip flexors. The RKC hip flexor stretch is my fave. You just need a dowel, or a foam roller like I use (see below).

Start in a half-kneeling position with hips squared and the rear toes tucked. Inhale and push the roller into the ground while creating total-body tension. Exhale, releasing all tension except in the glutes, and push hips forward. Repeat for three breaths.

But, if you’ve got some knee issues, you could always use this basic bow stretch, following the same breathing pattern (see below).

Now, don’t stop here! Your hip flexors and back may already be feeling happier, but you must lock in the goodness and strengthen. In a rush? This routine requires but three more minutes to complete!

Then Strengthen Your Hip Flexors Effectively

Use this band hurdle hold exercise to challenge the hip flexors and low abs. Place the band (like this one from Perform Better) around your feet and lie on your back with your hands interlace behind your head. Pull one knee in and exhale as you reach the other foot away to provide resistance. Hold for three seconds. Repeat for eight reps per side.

 

Troubleshooting: Keep your spine flush to the ground. Place a lift like an aired pad or folded up mat underneath your head if your lower back cannot make contact. Keep in mind, the extended leg does not need to be locked out to create an adequate challenge. Just reach as far as you can comfortably.

Next, practice this slider exercise to challenge the psaos(one of the flexors). Start in a push-up position with the slider (like this Valslide) under the foot and out on 30 degrees. Exhale as you grind the slider into the floor and pull towards the midline on that diagonal. Reset on the inhale. Repeat for eight reps per side.

Troubleshooting: Push the slider into the floor as hard as you can! Keep you your shoulders and hips square. 

Real Magic

As perviously stated, you can practice this five minute routine twice per day for two weeks to realize noticeable change. Or you can add the sequence to your daily routine for a few more weeks for equal success. Either way, you will be well on your way to #hipflexorhappiness without constant stretching. #sophistocatedstrength