Monday, February 21, 2011

Strength Training for Stronger Running

In addition to a balanced training program, proper running shoes, and a good stretching routine, strength training is integral to a well-balanced and healthy running program. Weak muscles, namely those in the core, glutes and hips, are often to blame for nearly all overuse injuries. Even injuries that may seem to have nothing to do with these muscles- knee problems, foot injuries, etc. often originate from a strength imbalance in the core and hips. Unfortunately, strength training is often the first thing runners let slip when trying to fit in workouts throughout the week. But strength training does not require a gym or a lot of time- in fact, the most effective strength training is functional strength training, or training the body for the activities performed in daily life (sitting, standing, etc.) Here are four functional strength training moves you can do at home with no equipment:

Planks: A plank is an excellent strength exercise for the core stabilizers (internal abdominal muscles). Get in a push-up position, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders. Keep your abdominal and glute muscles stable and keep your spine and neck aligned in a neutral position- do not let your head or hips drop. If you are unable to support yourself on your hands, you can modify the exercise and support your weight on your elbows, or even drop your knees to the ground. Hold for 30-60 seconds, lower and repeat 3-5 times.

Squats: Squats are a great multi-joint exercise, targeting the hips, glutes, hamstrings and quads. When doing a squat, your weight should be in your heels and knees should be directly over the toes and pointed in the same direction (if your knees track outside or fall inwards, you are putting yourself at risk for a knee injury). Maintain a neutral (straight) back position and keep your head and chest up. Squat down as far as comfortable, but no further than hips in line with knees (or thighs parallel to the ground). Imagine you are sitting on a chair- you can even place one behind you for guidance. Come back up, and repeat ten times, working up to thirty reps over time.

Lunges: Like squats, lunges are another exercise that targets just about every muscle in the lower body. To do a static lunge, place one foot forward and one back, approximately 2-3 feet apart. Keep your chest and head held high and raise up onto your back toe. Bend knees and lower your body until the back knee is a few inches from the floor, and both knees are bent at about 90 degrees. At the bottom of the movement, the front thigh should be parallel to the floor and the back knee should point toward the floor. Do not let your front knee track in front of your toe, and keep your weight evenly distributed between both legs while you push back up, pushing into the heel of the front foot. Repeat for 10 reps (working up to a max of 30) before switching legs and repeating on the other side.
Push-Ups: Push-ups work your upper body, primarily the chest, deltoids (shoulders) and triceps in addition to the core. You can perform a push-up on your toes or knees, or even standing up against a wall or high box. Keep your wrists in line under your shoulders, engage your core, and bend your elbows to lower yourself to the ground (or into the wall) before pushing back out again. Do NOT cross your ankles. Remember to keep your neck and spine in a neutral (straight-line) position- don’t strain your neck to look up or let your hips sag to the ground. Repeat ten times, working up to a maximum of three reps of 10.
Perform these strength training moves 2-3 times per week, and you will see improvement in your strength and running!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fuel Your Running

It's Valentine's Day, and the chocolate is overflowing in our homes, stores and offices today! If only that chocolate could efficiently fuel our running as well as some of those so-called superfoods and be calorie free...we can dream. For new and even veteran runners, what foods to eat and when to eat them is confusing, particularly because there is no single magic formula and the science continues to evolve. Nonethless, we do know that an appropriate combination of the right carbs and protein, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables, will efficiently fuel your running, regardless of your training goals, and satisfy your appetite.


Ideally, a runner's diet should consist of 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat.

Carbs: Carbohydrates are essential for runners, and not all carbs are created equal...i.e., Wonder Bread is not a wonder food! Embrace the whole grain and look for foods that are 100% whole grain. Any of the following whole grains provide excellent running fuel--100% whole grain bread, sweet potatoes, 100% whole grain cerals, such as Kashi brand, steel cut oatmeal, beans, quinoa (rich in protein too), and whole wheat pasta, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Protein: Another component of a runner's fuel is protein. Protein helps the body rebuild muscle fibers stressed during a run, which helps to minimize running-related injuries. Some superstar protein sources include eggs, nuts (particularly almonds), lean meats, fish (particularly salmon), beans, and low-fat dairy (particularly Greek yogurt).

Fats: Good fats are good for the heart and the appetite--eating good fats protects the heart and provides a sense of fullness. Avocados, nuts, peanut butter, olive oil are all excellent sources of good fat.


Whether you choose to eat six small meals, or three meals and some snacks, just try to have a small carbohydrate meal or snack one hour prior to your run. More importantly, within a half hour of completing your run, make sure to refuel your glycogen stores and rebuild those muscle fibers with a protein/carbohydrate meal, such as yogurt topped with fruit and granola, or one of our favorite treats, low-fat chocolate milk--yes chocolate is a runner-friendly food! Most importantly, enjoy your food and don't stress about it. Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Eating!