Month: March 2015

Importance of Flexibility for Running

Flexibility

Flexibility is considered the range of motion within a joint or group of joints, or to take it one step further, the effectiveness of a joint to move through a particular range of motion.

It is actually considered one of the four core components of fitness:

1. Cardiovascular endurance

2. Muscular strength

3. Muscular endurance

4. Flexibility

Given that this has been recognized by many of the world leaders in fitness research, it is safe to say it is important for everyone’s general well-being. However, when it comes to sports, and especially running, it becomes even more important. ┬áHere is how to stretch before running.

Injury Prevention and Performance

Although there is the odd contradictory study, the majority of research regarding flexibility for injury prevention shows that it does indeed decrease the rate of injuries, particularly those that result from over-use or imbalances.

The reasons for this are still being sorted out, but there are a few explanations. One is that if your muscles are capable of stretching further allowing your joint to move a little further through its range of motion, that may offer a little bit more “buffer room” when being forced to exert force near the end of your range of motion. In other words, if your muscle are being “stretched” to their limits less often, there’s a lower chance of strain injuries.

Stretching can also help alleviate muscle imbalances. For example, it is very common for hockey players and speed skaters to have extremely tight hip flexors. This can eventually result in annoying back problems, which is one of the last things you want to deal with when preparing for competition.

In terms of running, especially for long distances such as marathons or ultra-marathons, there is a dual benefit to stretching:

First, by increasing your hamstring flexibility by, let’s say 1cm, that will make a huge difference in number of steps required to complete the race. This may result in less required effort, ultimately allowing you to push harder sooner, maybe even resulting in a new PB.

Secondly, by taking a lower amount of steps over a given distance, there is statistically less opportunities for you to injure yourself with a rolled ankle or something silly like that. Additionally, less step may mean less use, and therefore a reduced risk of overuse injury.

The main disadvantage of stretching, at least in the static sense (e.g. sit-and-reach) is that it has been shown to decrease muscular power output. For endurance events, this isn’t really a problem, but for those also participating in a sport that requires a little more explosiveness, this can be a problem especially if you’re looking to reduce risk of injury.

Therefore, it is often recommended that dynamic stretching be performed prior to the event (e.g. leg swings), which has been shown to prevent this loss in muscular power output. Then, during cool-down, it is recommended to perform the standard static stretching that most of us are used to.

Overall

Stretching is extremely important for health and fitness and elite competition alike. The type of stretching you perform is up to you and depends on what sort of training you are doing. Lots of runners perform static stretching before AND after a run, and they find it really helps, so don’t feel limited to only what you read in this article. We simply want to get the wheels turning for you and help you reach your own personal running goals. If you find it boring, we don’t blame you, but finding some peers to stretch with or having some music handy can really help solve that problem!

Sprint Training for Endurance Athletes

When you want a little extra

Running at a recreational level, and especially a competitive level, is definitely a commitment. Not only is it a challenge to achieve your fitness goals, but it can be even more difficult to maintain those achievements for the long term.

Many runners who have participated in our group runs have asked what we do for cross-training. At first, we would simply respond by saying that running is enough training along. We still stand by this comment, but it has become clear to us that ONLY running isn’t necessarily suitable for all individuals, particularly those who run purely for recreation.

Therefore, in this article, we discuss some ways that you may be able to supplement your running workout with a completely different type of activity, allowing you to further personalize your training regime to something potentially more enjoyable for you.

What should you keep in mind?

First of all, given we are a running group, we do not want to discuss forms of training that will hurt any fitness benefits you have seen from running, or anything else that will be bad for your running workouts.

In order to address this, we feel that a focus should be placed on activities that do not cause an undue amount of physical stress to the lower body, those that have a high-risk of acute or chronic injuries, but still provide a different-enough workout that you will find it both enjoyable and beneficial.

Boxing

Are we serious? Yes. Really? Yes.

Although we acknowledge boxing isn’t for everyone, take away any preconceived notions you have and you will see just how awesome it can be. Boxing really incorporates all types of workouts, but these guys and girls can definitely be considered endurance athletes. In fact, we actually started thinking about boxing after a couple boxers joined our running group as a supplement to THEIR workouts!

Many people think boxing is synonymous with fighting, but that is not the case. Most boxing gyms are more than happy to welcome recreational boxers who are simply looking to get or stay in shape, and you can even perform your own workouts at home.

Boxing is similar to circuit training at a fitness gym, where all parts of the body are worked in a highly intense manner, but definitely focusing on endurance and cardiovascular fitness. You will rarely touch a weight, as most exercises are performed under your own body weight. Furthermore, boxing-specific exercises add an extra level of fun, and can also serve as self-defense training.

Boxing is also pretty cheap. All you need is a pair of boxing gloves, hand wraps, a mouth guard (depending on how far your training goes), and your normal gym clothes. Eventually if you want to progress to your own home workouts, you can set up your own punching bag at home with relative ease and have other little things around like jump ropes.

Last note about boxing, you don’t have to spar if you don’t want. A lot of people think if they join a boxing gym that they are automatically volunteering to put themselves in the ring with an opponent. This is not the case, and most gyms are aware that this can even be a liability issue for them, so they shouldn’t ever be putting you in the ring without you coming forward and volunteering on your own. Even then, they will want to make sure that you are ready and comfortable with making that step.

Football and floor hockey

Football is a pretty obvious sport that could cross over to running, and all you need is a pitch and some mates to play around with. However, perhaps a more interesting, or at least unfamiliar, sport is floor hockey. Many community centres are stocked with floor hockey sticks. If you can find or create a couple goals/nets, a ball, and get some mates together, you can have some unconventional fun that likely puts everyone on the same level. It’s also a crazy workout!

Circuit Training

In general we do not want to promote weight lifting if you are serious about endurance running. However, resistance training does not need to be geared towards sprint-type athletes that are looking to bulk up.

If you have a membership at a local fitness centre, consider circuit training. This usually has its own area in the fitness centre and is composed of various exercise machines. If they aren’t grouped together in their own area, you will simply just have to move around the gym a bit more.

In circuit training, you usually perform an exercise on one machine that targets a particular muscle group, then immediately move on to the next machine that targets a different muscle group, and continues, eventually working all muscle groups. People tend to perform the exercises with low weight and high reps, which facilitates enhancements to muscular endurance.

Summary

In general, what sort of training regime you develop is up to you. This will depend on what types of goals you want to achieve and how committed you are to running. Although we suggest the above activities, that does not mean there aren’t any more of similar or better benefit. As long as you aren’t feeling over-worked, are using low weights and high reps, and it is enjoyable, then you should be well on your way to great training regime, and an even better lifestyle!

Does the “runner’s high” really exist?

Runner’s High – My Personal Experience

My name is Mike, I was a member of the Tickhill Running Club for almost 10 years until I was forced to relocate for my job. I feel I can provide a unique perspective on this topic, as I went from being completely out of shape (was technically considered obese), to a recreational runner, and now I love to compete in many different types of endurance races.

Given that I’ve been fortunate enough to have the resources to maintain this lifestyle change, lots of people are curious to know about different aspects of this change. One question I often get, but have trouble answering quickly, is if I have ever experienced the runner’s high that new or prospective runners often hear about.

Runner’s High Definition

Merriam-Webster defines runner’s high as the following:

a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by some individuals engaged in strenuous running and that is held to be associated with the release of endorphins by the brain.

Although the feeling of euphoria may be a more extreme experience of the runner’s high, people often report more specific feelings, such as losing sense of time (in a good way), extreme stress relief, decreased levels of physical and mental pain, etc.

While the endorphin explanation is logical, it has yet to be proven. In fact, the science behind the runner’s high is likely way more complex, with various other chemicals/molecules likely being involved, as well as external factors that affect each individual in a unique matter.

So what do we know?

While the jury is still out on what the runner’s high actually is from a scientific perspective, many runner’s report common effects. These include, but are not limited to

  • Physical and mental stress relief
  • Feeling of invincibility
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Sense of euphoria

I’ve experienced all of these, and it’s part of what keeps me motivated for running. However, to be honest, I’ve given up on trying to understand and focus on this, and now just think about the longterm benefits of running.

We know that running is good for you. There are an array of physical benefits, such as lower triglyceride levels, a higher HDL:LDL cholesterol ratio (which is good), decreased fat mass, lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, higher fitness levels, etc. Given these facts, it’s hard to think that some of this isn’t involved in the runner’s high, and perhaps we’re over complicating things. Perhaps these inherent benefits ARE the runner’s high.

In terms of mental benefits, I’ve noticed a huge change in my mood, ability to focus on work, general clarity (i.e. reduced “brain fog”), and more energy overall. When I run, it’s like all of these things are enhanced, and some of my most effective thinking gets done on the trail, ultimately benefiting every aspect of my life.

Now, it wasn’t that long ago that I was considered obese. I remember how I felt then, and sometimes I wonder if the sheer difference in how I feel between now and then is tricking me into thinking I’m experiencing the runner’s high, when really it’s just natural science-proven benefits of running that I should have been expecting all along.

So what does this all mean?

In my opinion, don’t even think about the runner’s high. Simply do your best to stay motivated to your health and fitness goals, and eventually you will experience it in one way or another. Setting a series of small attainable goals can help with this, as well as constantly tracking your improvement through distance ran, time to cover a particular distance, weight loss, whatever helps you keep track.

I really so think the runner’s high is simply a state-of-mind that anyone can achieve if they buy in to their health and fitness goals. Although I can’t say I’ve ever experienced a state of euphoria while running (I think a lot of others would laugh at that too), I’ve definitely experienced some mental and physical sensations, and more importantly, I’ve experienced the long term benefits of running as well.

At the end of the day, all I can say is try it for yourself. It will take a while. If you’re new to running, you may become frustrated or discouraged at first, or feel you don’t have the motivation, but once you get into it and start seeing your own personal progress, it will become easier and easier to be the person you want to be.

Lastly, if you are still reading this, thank you very much. The simple decision to go running one day truly changed my life for the better, and I hope you and anyone else can find this type of success as well. Happy running!