Monday, January 28, 2013

Cross Training In Action


The first thing to do is figure out the best course of action based on where you are in training. If you have come to this blog post in the middle of a training plan, then I would introduce the cross training slowly. If you are injured, then I would start searching like mad for exercises you can do to improve the imbalances you are facing. Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry is the place to start that search. Finally, if you are either in the early stages of a training plan or in the off season, then I would start cross training now. I would intentionally plan specific workouts for each week, just like you do a training plan for running.

Earlier I discussed the need to Cross Train (and core train) and mentioned that it would be best to do these things in categories/target workouts.  Here are some key/critical running specific workouts that can be done in each of the previously mentioned categories:

Strength Training

  • Squat (make sure to use good form and go low to engage glutes)
  • Deadlift
  • Leg Press
  • Pull-Ups
  • Push-Ups
  • Seated Row
  • Bench Press

Pick two to four of the above exercises for a complete workout and, once you are comfortable with form, don't be afraid to do big weight with low reps. These are strength training exercises, so sets of three to five reps is good, particularly earlier in training. Once you reach maintenance, later in training, you may consider sets of eight to ten reps. Try to do the harder stuff early in your workout (like Squat). And you can do two of the above for a single body area/part, I would't go beyond two exercises of hard, heavy weights for one area.

Core/Coordination Training

I would select somewhere between four and six of the above to make a workout. But make sure to the harder stuff first, like single leg squat, or your fatigue will make proper form difficult. Do relatively high reps of each of these, twelve to twenty. As you get stronger, make sure to do more sets, maybe start with one and work up to three. If you have access to the P90x workouts, the "Legs and Back" and "Plyometric" workouts are great workouts to fit into this category.


Generally I try to keep these workouts in the 15 min to 30 minute range. I can easily spend ten minutes just foam rolling.  Most of the individual items here are the same as the Core/Coordination work, try to get in twelve to twenty reps and then add additional sets. There are two complete workouts if you follow the 'Variety' link. Lots of good stuff appears on the Kinetic Revolution WOD here as well.


Similar to the Stretch/PT workouts, I usually aim for workouts of 15 to 30 minutes. Ab Ripper X (from P90x series) is a great one-stop workout. I also like Core Yoga from Rodnee Yee.

Cross Training and Core Training

This might be a misunderstood topic for recreational/non-elite runners. I commonly here runners say to one another that we should "listen to our bodies". But what does that really mean? I generally find that means to know when to run or to rest for most runners. But there is a third option -- the need to include core and strength training into our training plans. Most runners I know don't want to include that stuff into a plan until they are hurt and have too. Cross training requires hard work and discipline and is not associated with the same level of euphoria as running. Failure to do these things should bring pause to the effectiveness of our training the same way that inability to hit a key run does. Many times rest is not the answer to injury, at least not after a period of dealing with the symptoms of injury (pain).

Why We Need It

There are lots of reasons that we need to cross train and strength train. Some of them are very obvious. Other are not quite as obvious. The biggest reason to do these things is to fix/moderate and prevent imbalances. Running moderate to high volume miles will definitely show you where your imbalances lie. Sometimes imbalances are a result of, or compounded by, poor form, but that is a whole other conversation. No matter where they originate, training the body can keep them at bay. The most common imbalance in runners is weak hips and glutes (core). That has a catastrophic impact in our postures, stride, and form, usually manifesting as knee, IT Band, or ankle injuries. Another common imbalance is muscle that are too stiff (particularly in the plantar fascia, hips, and hamstrings). With proper maintenance, these things can be corrected.

The second best reason to do cross and core training is to increase strength. I commonly hear the response (excuse) that runners don't need "big muscles", but that is a pretty naive response to the true benefit of strength training. Athletically, lean muscle mass is always superior to fat, even if it means adding a few pounds. Unless you purposefully do so, you are unlikely to gain more than a few pounds from some targeted strength training. Strength training and body building are two different disciplines. Strength training becomes increasingly important as we age -- our muscle atrophy and shrink -- and with high amounts of training. The need to strength train early in cycles or in the "off season" is probably under appreciated. Hard training cycles can cannibalize and tear down our muscles. Another thing to remember is that strength training your whole body -- not just your legs -- benefits you. For example, your upper back and chest play an important role in good posture. Of course, as I mentioned above, your hips and glutes are the most important muscles to train.

How We Can Implement It

I am sure most runners agree that more cross training is needed. If you are like me, you find the whole topic a little bit intimidating because it feels like there is so much to do in so little time. Much of that is the need for publications and other media sources that need to drive hits to their site or subscribers to their magazines, so they are always looking for the new "it" thing to do. The truth is that most runners could benefit substantially from about two hours a week of cross training built into a few short workouts chosen from two dozen exercises. Two dozen sounds like a lot, but that includes core, strength, stretching, physical therapy, etc...

Planning for these cross training workouts can be hard because there is so much to do and we often don't understand the specific need we are targeting. When we plan training runs, there is a specific purpose to each run. Cross training should be the same way. I am finding that is best to put each exercise into a different category: Core, Strength, Stretch/PT, and Core/Coordination. These categories are somewhat arbitrary, but it helps to break things down. Note that the word "core" encompasses a huge array of muscles from below your chest to your upper things, be careful with that term. The Core category I have defined is mostly abs with maybe a little bit of hips and upper thighs (Ab Ripper X for example). Strength refers to true weight lifting, particularly Olympic movements like squat, bench, and dead lift. Stretch/PT is a category that encompasses a broad spectrum of things like foam rolling, light strength training like clams, etc... And Core/Coordination are strength training exercises, but they are generally more body-weight oriented like Yoga, P90x, etc... These exercises are often done on one leg and require core stability and balance. That makes them extremely useful in running. In a separate post, I will put the exercises that I classify in each category.

There is no category that is superior to another. They each have designed place in training. Some need to take precedence if we are injured or depending on where we are in the training cycle. As a general rule, I try to aim for one workout (30 - 60 minutes) each week focused on Strength training and one focused on Core/Coordination. Early in a cycle or in the off season it would probably be best to push the Strength category a bit harder, possibly doing that twice a week. And later in a training cycle it might be advisable to back off of Strength in favor of more Core/Coordination work. This is a term often used in training called Periodization. Don't ever quit doing one category over another, just be sure to change the emphasis where it makes sense in your plans.

The workouts in the Core and Stretch/PT categories can be thought of as more "maintenance". I aim to do these workouts frequently, but in shorter workouts (15 - 30 mins). For example, I like to do these maintenance workouts about three times a week, but I put a heavy emphasis on foam rolling and stretching after a hard workout. To "find time" for these, I generally just grab a Yoga mat and a foam roller while I am watching TV. If we can find time to post on Facebook 12 times a day, then we can find time for a 15 minute foam rolling and stretching session.

The last bit of advice that I will leave you with is somewhat specific and I find difficult to implement. Technically, it would be best to keep with a hard/easy pattern in all of your training. We are very familiar with this when it comes to running. But the only way I can see to incorporate this into cross training would be to do double workouts on hard days. For example, do a tempo workout in the morning and a Strength session in the afternoon. What I tend to do instead is do Strength and Core/Coordination on my "off days" from running. I think this violates the hard/easy rule to a degree, but it is one compromise that I have made to squeeze it all in.

Here is what I do now:
DayRunCross Train
MondayOffFive or Six Strength Exercises, Core or Stretch/PT in the afternoon
TuesdayLight Quality (Progression)Off
WednesdayRecoveryCore or Stretch/PT
FridayOffFive or Six Core/Coordination Exercises, Core or Stretch/PT in the afternoon
SundayLong or EasyCore or Stretch/PT

This is probably more ideal:
DayRunCross Train
MondayOffCore or Stretch/PT
TuesdayLight Quality (Progression)Five or Six Strength Exercises
WednesdayRecoveryCore or Stretch/PT
ThursdaySpeedworkFive or Six Core/Coordination Exercises
FridayOffCore or Stretch/PT
SundayLong or EasyCore or Stretch/PT

And now you can move on and read Cross Training in Action, part two of this blog post.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekly Training Wrap - 1/21 - 1/27

Training is winding down and Saturday I completed the pinnacle training run on my plan -- 30 miles on a course that is very similar to the Old Pueblo 50 race course. The day was sort of a mixed big and I came away a little unsure of whether I can sustain the effort I'd like (10:34 pace) for 50 miles. We faced several challenges, including lots of stoppage time to find the trail and refuel at our mini aid station. I intentionally overdressed for the run to try to acclimate a bit for the Arizona heat and that may have caused some of my discomfort. The good news is that I didn't feel at all wrecked on Sunday. Quite the opposite, I think I could have run if I wanted to. Clearly there is room to push it a bit more in a true race effort.

Nonetheless, I walked away a bit disappointed with my endurance. It shouldn't be surprising that I feel unprepared considering I am doing a somewhat light mileage plan. I just have to remind myself that it was by design as I get healthy. I have one last hard weekend of training (in two weeks). If the weather and life schedule line up, I may try and push the B2B to something like 22 and 20 as one last effort to increase my endurance.

And, going forward, I may tinker with training a bit. I have been following the same plan(s) for nearly 2 years now. One example would be to experiment with a plan where I try to log big mileage Friday - Sunday (50+ miles) and keep my workouts light during the week.  Perhaps I can do some weights and light work on the bike. We'll see how this all lines up after Old Pueblo.

One last note, I experimented with some new nutrition stuff on Saturday. I really like the concept of a "multi hour" bottle of Perpetuem and I have tried that twice now. But I just don't think I can drink enough of that when the temperature rises. I think I will stick with GU Roctane as my primary beverage. I have also been experimenting with mixing Generation Ucan with both GU Roctane and Perpetuem. That idea seems to have some promise and is one I will explore further. Unfortunately, all this means that I am likely to carry a Hydration Pack on race day. I would prefer not, but that is the price of having the nutrition you want.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest Yoga for the Core
Tuesday 7 Easy
Wednesday5 Easy
Thursday3Hotel TM
FridayRest Various Core and Strength exercises
Saturday 30Race-specific test
Sunday Off Active Recovery (Bike, weights)
Total 45 About 4500 vertical feet

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekly Training Wrap - 1/14 - 1/20

Awesome week. The week was capped with a great "tempo" long run on Sunday. After we started,  Jon and I decided to make it a progressive run and just run faster each mile until our final cool down lap. I sensed it would be a good run pretty early because we were having to slow down to keep our progressive splits from being too fast. When we capped with a 6:48 mile -- about 10 secs below my current half marathon PR -- it was obvious we both nailed it and left plenty of gas in the tank. I honestly think these long progressive runs are one of the best workouts an endurance athlete can do.

With three weeks of training to go, my outlook for my race is starting to be pretty positive. I have been experimenting with Generation Ucan lately. I love it as a pre-run meal. But I think the real value might be as a during the run beverage. I am going to experiment with it by mixing the plain with both Roctane and Perpetuem.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest Yoga Melt
Tuesday 7 Easy
Wednesday5 Recovery
Thursday8Hill work, P90x - Chest, Back, Ab Ripper
FridayRest 20 min of Stretch, Yoga for the Core
Saturday 14Ultra-specific Workout
Sunday 18 Tempo Long
Total 52 About 3400 vertical feet

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Weekly Training Wrap - 1/7 - 1/13

My plans got somewhat mixed up this week as we decided to do a last minute weekend trip to Fort Morgan, CO for my son's wrestling team. I decided just to swap weeks and call this a cutback week. Things  continue to move along pretty well and my body continues to respond to training, particularly to easy workouts. I did a relatively had effort on Thursday and was a little bit disappointed with the results. My HR seemed pretty darn high considering that 6:55 used to be my half marathon pace. That said, it was on a treadmill and I've never been a great treadmill speed runner. I find it both mentally and physically exhausting. The exact same workout outside almost always seems easier to me.

While I continue to stay on top of the strength and core training, I think I am going to reign it in a bit with only 4 weeks before taper starts. I will continue to do lots of maintenance, but I will look to keep my workouts to under 30 minutes instead of an hour or more (in some cases). At this point I want to keep the focus on finishing out strong and really resting on my rest days.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest P90x - Legs, Chest, and Ab Ripper
Tuesday 8 Easy
Wednesday5 Recovery, Yoga for the Core and PT
Friday7 4 Tempo miles in Zone 4
Saturday RestRest
Sunday 18 Easy Long Run
Total 45 About 3300 vertical feet

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Weekly Training Wrap - 12/31 - 1/6

Training is going so good right now. I really think I am just about as fit as I can be. I sort of wish I could just taper and then race! This week had a little of everything -- a big vertical trail run, mile repeats, and a long hilly road run. No one can accuse me of not having variety in workouts right now.

After a 10 week layoff this fall, my body has made HUGE gains in the past 3 months of training. For example, my recovery workout (5 miles) used to be at an average pace of 9:15 with a HR of 155. This week it was 137 HR at an 8:45 pace. My Saturday long run was a 147 average HR (75% of my max) with roughly 90 feet of elevation per mile. This was a very sustainable effort level for me. My goal for OP50 is about 10:35/mile. If I stay on top of nutrition and hydration, I should have a shot.

On the cross training front, I find myself doing mostly yoga right now. I am spending plenty of time running to elevate my heart rate and I really like the balance yoga provides. Yes yoga is hard work, but I don't get my heart rate elevated like I do with some of the other P90x stuff. I continue to do something almost everyday and a more strenuous workout about 3x a week. I also discovered a series of workouts from Kinetic Revolution. Everyday they publish a workout of the day (WOD). I recommend all runners do a few WODs a week -- they only take about 15 mins. Overtime, you can combine several of them to make a more complete and longer workout too!

On final note for the week, my summer plans are basically done. In the non-stop battle to find balance in my life, I had to cut pretty deep. It was a real bummer to back out of the Grand Canyon adventure. On the plus side, I have two friends committed to running their first 50 mile race (Leadville Silver Rush) and I am going to join them. Plans are well underway and we are going to do it right -- staying 3 days in a house with our kids. It should be a blast! We are also doing the Cheyenne Mtn 50K as sort of a long, hard training run. It is close to home and fits nicely into the schedule. And how could I not go back to Leadville in August? If you have ever been up there on LT100 race day, it gets into your blood. It is like inspired chaos watching people push themselves to the limit and beyond. This year I am going back as a pacer and I am excited to be aboard Wyatt's team.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest Yoga and PT
Tuesday 11 Mt Falcon Trail Run
Wednesday5 Recovery, Yoga for the Core
Thursday8Mile Repeats (6:30,6:28,6:27)
FridayRest Yoga and PT
Saturday 24Steady Paced Long, hilly road run
Sunday 4 Recovery
Total 52 About 5400 vertical feet