We’re still only a few weeks into the new year and my Running Injury clinics have been busy! People are increasing mileage in preparation for spring races and are getting injured. This got me thinking that now would be a great time to re-post a recent blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago over at Mudcrew events.
How to be bulletproof
The New Year is all about goal setting and preparing for the running season ahead. Now is the perfect time to make sure you’re as bulletproof as possible this year. Stats show that around 80% of runners get injured each year, plenty more suffer from burnout or fatigue. Here are my top three bulletproofing strategies to reduce injury risk and optimise performance.
1) Get Strong
Run less: Get strong: Run faster
Runners shouldn’t run away from the weight room. Top runners and coaches now realise that muscular strength and conditioning are important both for runners’ performance and their overall health. Running alone won’t get you strong, but by running less and getting strong you, you’ll probably find you run better.
Many runners begin to lose lean muscle tissue with high mileage training. Careful planning of strength and conditioning programmes can improve performance and recovery time, as well as reducing injury risk, promoting preservation of lean tissue and creating a more sustainable performance curve.
Strength and conditioning programmes should be tailored to the individual runner. A good training plan should include some heavy compound- exercise weight training targeting both the upper and lower body. Squats, lunges and bent-over rows are great examples. A strong upper-body is essential to maintaining a good arm movement pattern while running- especially once fatigue sets in. More specific exercises should be included to address strength asymmetries or imbalances that an individual runner may have. This might include some running-specific glute muscle strength or balance exercises.
Too often endurance athletes focus all of their attention on slow distance training when we should probably develop strength, power and skill first before adding repetition.
It’s worth noting here that strength gains you make will remain for longer than running-specific adaptations. This means that you can remain strong even if you stop strength training for a few weeks while tapering for a race. In this way weight training can easily be incorporated into any runner’s training plan without negatively affecting race-day performance.
2) Be skilful
Good technique maximises performance and minimises stress on the body
Here’s a couple of technique essentials to get you started:
- Cadence – achieve a light and responsive ground contact by maintaining a cadence of 170-190, even into fatigue.
- Posture – Stand tall and do not bend forward at the hips. Good posture is key to a good foot-strike, as it allows you to contact the ground underneath your body (under your centre of mass).
- Engage your hamstrings and lift your foot from the ground rather than pushing off. A lot of runners I see rely on their quads/ hip flexors for their swing through, rather than effectively using their hamstrings. Cramp or fatigue in your quads, hip flexors or lower back can be a sign that you are doing this. Meanwhile pushing off excessively can cause recurrent calf strains or calf cramps.
If you’re serious about improving your technique it’s worthwhile getting video analysis and coaching. It’s actually really difficult to know how you are running from feel alone. A recent study found that large numbers of runners actually had no idea of their footstrike (a considerable number of heel strikers thought they were forefoot striking) and this included some runners who had switched to minimalist footwear, probably in an attempt to change their footstrike.
Footstrike is the result of cadence, posture, rhythm and strength and therefore changing this means altering several global aspects of your technique. Traditional shoe-fitting gait analysis does not show ground-contact relative to centre of mass or look at the bigger picture of why you have the foot-strike you do. For example, heavily over-pronating or under-pronating (supinating) is often associated with over-striding and can easily be corrected by adjusting technique.
3) Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
A solid nutritional foundation will accelerate your running ability, helping you to recover optimally between training sessions
Refined sugar, processed foods and heavily processed oils (e.g. Sunflower oil, vegetable oil) can be pro-inflammatory and therefore sub-optimal to recovery from training or injury. By following a simple mantra you won’t be going far wrong in terms of eating a healthy diet: “Just eat real food”. Ditch the processed or artificial foods and eat nutrient-rich foods that we humans have evolved to eat: lots of vegetables, a little fruit, eggs, meat, fish, nuts and seeds
A good anti-inflammatory diet includes healthy fats (coconut, butter, eggs, grass fed beef), whilst limiting or eliminating refined carbohydrates, (sugars, flours, and processed foods). You should also aim to eat lots of organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs which are loaded with free-radical fighting antioxidants.
3 ‘superfoods’ to include in your diet:
Grassfed butter: Butter from grassfed cows is high in CLA, Betacarotine, Omega 3’s, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin D and antioxidants. Butter contains butyrate, a short-chain saturated fatty acid that has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and (in mice and rats) it improves body composition, protects against mental illness and reduces the negative effects of type I diabetes.
Cod liver oil: The standard western diet unfortunately over emphasises sources of short chain N-6 (Omega-6) fats, which are pro-inflammatory. Balance between pro-inflammatory Omega 6, and anti-inflammatory Omega-3 is the key. Cod liver oil (and other fish oils) are a fantastic source of Omega 3 and their supplementation provides fantastic anti-inflammatory benefits.
Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. They contain a compound that neutralises toxins in the liver, helping to cleanse the body. Cruciferous vegetables have been shown to stop the growth of some cancer cells. They also reduce oxidative stress and are loaded with fibre that can reduce cholesterol.