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Training Tips for Runners

At the College of Charleston’s Department of Health and Human Performance, our research is focused on improving athletic performance as well as the prevention and rehabilitation of sports-related injuries. Our professors study the intricacies of human movement in competitive sports. Based on the collective research of four professors, here are some important training tips that will help you have a more successful running career.


No. 1: Under-train rather than over-train.

A rest day is as important as any training day. So, make rest and cross-training a part of your routine, and your performance will show it!

  • Higher training volumes are associated with higher injury rates.
  • A short period of increased training can negatively affect your mood.
  • High-intensity cross training improves running performance as well as high-intensity run training for recreational runners.

Physiological systems can only adapt if sufficient recovery is allowed. Unfortunately, many runners get caught up in the training and forget about the recovery. All runners should make rest an important part of their training program.

Overtraining syndrome is common in elite athletes, and over 90 percent report having experienced debilitating symptoms and underperformance due to this. Overtraining syndrome is pervasive and it can influence many of the body’s systems. In addition, it can take many weeks or months of rest to recover from overtraining.

Overtraining syndrome is less common in recreational athletes, but some of the signs and symptoms of overtraining syndrome may emerge when training volume/intensity are high. For example, we elicited significant mood disturbances (depression, anxiety, confusion) in well trained swimmers or runners when we substantially increased training volume for 10 days. There is also evidence that training volume is linked to increased incidence of upper-respiratory infections (colds, etc).  

A significant proportion of Cooper River Bridge Run registrants are either not running because they are hurt or running at a slower pace because of injury or injury-influenced training. What many runners fail to recognize is that sustained, quality training leads to running success. Runners on the sideline with an injury, infection, or lack of motivation to train are not training in a way that leads to quality performance.  

References

Flynn, M.G.,  Carroll, K.K.,  Hall, H.A.. Bushman, B. Brolinson, P.G., Weideman, C. Cross training: indices of training stress and performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1998, 30(2), 294-300.

Morgan WP1, Costill DL, Flynn MG, Raglin JS, O'Connor PJ. Mood disturbance following increased training in swimmers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 1988, 20(4) 408-14.

Purvis D, Gonsalves S, Deuster PA.Physiological and psychological fatigue in extreme conditions: overtraining and elite athletes. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2010 May;2(5):442-50.

Varlet-Marie E, Gaudard A, Mercier J, Bressolle F, Brun JF. Is the feeling of heavy legs in overtrained athletes related to impaired hemorheology? Clin Hemorheol Microcirc. 2003;28(3):151-9.

Michael G. Flynn is a professor at the College of Charleston with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. He has conducted sport performance and sport nutrition research across a 30-year career in exercise physiology. He also teaches a sport physiology and marathon training class that has introduced over 125 students to the sport. He can be reached via email at: flynnmg@cofc.edu.


No. 2: Be flexible.

Different types of stretching, and when you stretch, can impact the effectiveness of this exercise.

  • Static stretching after exercise is the best choice for increasing flexibility. Each stretch should be repeated two to four times and held for a 15- to 30-second count.
  • Dynamic stretching incorporated into warming up is the best choice before a training session in order to avoid negative effects on running performance.

Static stretching is defined as holding a position that places the muscle on a stretch. When incorporated into a warm-up, this common method of stretching has shown to decrease muscle strength and running performance. Static stretching to increase range of motion is most beneficial immediately following exercise when the muscles are properly warmed up.

Research indicates that static stretching prior to exercise may result in a decrease in muscle strength and an increase in energy expenditure. Both of these outcomes could negatively affect performance in short and long-distance running. When performed after activity, each static stretch should be repeated two to four times and held for 15 to 30 seconds. Research shows no additional benefit when holding a stretch for longer than 30 seconds or performing more than four repetitions per stretch.

Dynamic stretching involves repetitive movement of a limb through its full available range of motion. This type of stretching uses contraction of a muscle (or muscle group) to move the body segment through a range of motion. Studies examining stretching as part of a dynamic warm-up show improvements in hamstring flexibility and quadriceps strength, making dynamic stretching the recommended warm-up exercise activity.

References

Page P. Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation. Int. J of Sports Physical Therapy, 2012;7(1):109-119.

Wilson J, Hornbuckle LM, Kim JS, et al. Effects of Static Stretching on Energy Cost and Running Endurance Performance. J Strength Cond Res, 2010;24(9):2274-79.

Aguilar AJ, DiStefano LJ, Brown CN, et al. A Dynamic Warm-Up Model Increases Quadriceps Strength and Hamstring Flexibility. J Strength Cond Res, 2012;26(4):1130-41.

Kate R. Pfile earned her doctorate in sports medicine from the University of Virginia and has been a Certified Athletic Trainer for 10 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston where she serves as the Director of Athletic Training Education and teaches both athletic injury evaluation and therapeutic exercise courses for athletic training and exercise science majors. Dr. Pfile can be contacted by email at: pfilekr@cofc.edu.


No. 3: Don’t change your stride length dramatically.  

Dramatically increasing your running/walking form can negatively alter your performance efficiency and increase joint loading.   

  • Decreasing the length of your running stride results in biomechanical changes that can reduce joint loading and soft-tissue stress.
  • Overuse injuries are commonly the result of increased loading.
  • Barefoot running/walking, minimalist shoes and rocker-bottom shoes (toning shoes) indirectly affect running/walking stride by decreasing stride length and altering your transition from braking to propulsion.

Reducing stride length has been associated with reduced loading on the joints, the biological tissues around the joints and has been shown to improve symptoms associated with chronic exertional compartment syndrome.

The magnitude of loading bones, tendons and ligaments during the stance phase of the gait cycle is attenuated by eccentric muscle action and is passively reduced through the shoe midsole, heel pad and the soft tissues around the joint.

Tibial and lower extremity stress fractures are among the most common running related injuries and have been associated with increased lower extremity loading. Gait retraining to reduce lower extremity loading by decreasing tibial acceleration and vertical force has been shown to potentially reduce stress fracture risk.

The repetitive nature of impact forces from running and walking contributes to increased risk of overuse injuries including stress fractures.

Increased cadence does not necessarily negatively affect running efficiency, however, increased cadence does decrease stride length, hip adduction angle and hip abductor moments.

Alterations in running biomechanics including running with exaggerated vertical oscillation produces significant increases in oxygen costs, based on VO2 submaximal testing among female distance runners.

Rocker bottom shoes (RBS or toning shoes) have been an interest area among runners and walkers in recent years. Walking in RBS increases vertical ground reaction forces (GRF) and anterior-posterior GRF (braking) when compared with barefoot walking. Earlier transition from deceleration to acceleration, shorter times between ankle plantar flexion moments and the peak vertical GRF and acceleration force in the anterior posterior direction has been shown among RBS wearers. These findings suggest that subjects walking barefoot and walking in RBS exhibit different strategies in preparation for the swing phase of gait.

References

Hafer JF, Brown AM, deMille P, Hillstrom HJ, Garber CE. The effect of a cadence retraining protocol on running biomechanics and efficiency:a pilot study. J Sports Sci, 33(7): 724-731, 2015.

Thompson MA, Hoffman KM. Impliocations of reduced stride length in running. Lower Extremity Review Magazine, 2015.

Wayland T, Caputo JL, Morgan DW. Influence of gait manipulation on running economy in female distance runners. J Sports Sci & Med, 7(1): 91-95, 2008.

Crowell HP, Davis IS. Gait retraining to reduce lower extremity loading in runners. Clin Biomech, 26: 78-83, 2011.

Klous M, Engel, J, Altman G, Barfield, WR. Differences in kinetics and coordination between walking barefoot and walking in rocker bottom shoes. J Sports Res, 2015.

Barfield WR, Otteni JF, McBryde AM, Carter JS, Nietert PJ. Longitudinal Study of Factors Affecting Stress Fracture Risk in Two Distinct College Female Populations.  J Exer Sport Sci, 1(1): 29-41, 2005.

William R. Barfield is a professor in health and human performance at College of Charleston with a Ph.D. in biomechanics. Over the past 25 years, Barfield has conducted research on sports performance and orthopaedic injuries that result from activity and inactivity. He is also a faculty member in orthopaedics at the Medical University of South Carolina and teaches kinesiology, biomechanics and research methods at the College of Charleston. He can be reached via email at: barfieldw@cofc.edu.


No. 4: Use a foam roller after working out.

It can help with recovery.

  • Foam-rolling exercises following physical activity may help reduce muscle soreness.
  • Performing foam-rolling exercises regularly after physical activity is another method to help improve range of motion and flexibility.
  • Foam-roller exercises may be helpful in maintaining or even improving physical performance.

A foam roller is a cylindrical shaped tool made up of dense foam commonly used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. The foam roller is used by placing your own body-weight over the foam roller to generate pressure and rolling back and forth over the roller, similar to performing a massage technique to the underlying muscle and connective tissue.

Foam rollers are easy to find at sporting goods stores and are relatively inexpensive. Their shape, light weight, and portability make foam rollers a great tool to enhance recovery after exercise. Because you use your own body weight over the foam roller, you can easily direct the device over the desired muscles/tissue. Use the roller over muscles in the legs: quadriceps and hamstrings, the IT band, gluteals, and calf muscles. Muscles in the back, trunk, and arm may also be targeted.

To perform foam-rolling exercises, simply determine which muscle group or connective tissue you wish to target (e.g. IT band), place the foam roller underneath the body part and roll over the foam roller back and forth for 60 seconds. Take a short break and repeat one more time.

By regularly incorporating foam rolling exercises at the end of your workouts, you may start to see benefits such as decreased muscle soreness, increased flexibility and joint range of motion, and better performance related to a quicker recovery!

References

Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014; 46(1): 131-42.

Pearcey GEP, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto JE, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG, Button DC. Effects of foam rolling on delayed onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. J Athl Train. In press.

MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(3):812–21. 26.

Curran PF, Fiore RD, Crisco JJ. A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. J Sport Rehabil. 2008; 17(4):432-42.

Michelle M. McLeod is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the College of Charelston and is the Clinical Education Coordinator for the Athletic Training Program at the College of Charleston. She has been a Certified Athletic Trainer for 10 years and holds a PhD in exercise science. At the College, she teaches courses in athletic injury evaluation and therapeutic modalities, and is engaged in research focused on neuromuscular responses to injury and the development of osteoarthritis. She can be reached via email at: mcleodmm@cofc.edu

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