Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Importance of Running Specific Musculoskeletal Strength

  I was doing a bit of running 'research' this morning, ok I was wasting time reading about running on the internet because the wind chill is once again in the @#$%ing miserable level and I'm supposed to be starting a workout.  Anyway I came across a quote from Rob De Castella in an interview back in 1983 talking about how to that point in his running career he had only missed 10 total days of running due to injury.

Deek said, "You've got two levels- skeletal strength and physiological fitness.  If the latter surpasses the former it means you can push the body further than it is really able to sustain.  I think that's when you get injured." * This is something I have thought about through my long injury history and never been able to sum up nearly so concisely but it really drives home a simple point that I believe is largely missing from our current conversation about training.

  It is no secret I have had a long and extensive injury history.  I think that some of this can be simply attributed to my habit of always wanting to push harder and not listening to my body.  Still I think there is more to it than that.

  Separately I have long felt that my limiting factors in performance had become muscular more than aerobic.  This is part of why I felt I didn't have success in my short stint at altitude.  In fact I had the opposite. I think most americans, most first world runners, are undertrained aerobically and go to altitude where the stress on the aerobic system is inherently increased greatly and  they see a jump in performance as a result of this redistribution of effort.  Where as I went up there and put even more stress on the aerobic system and even less on the muscular system and saw a loss of fitness.  Now this isn't to say I or someone else like me couldn't find great success training at altitude just that it would take a well thought out plan to address this balance but that is for another blog.

   I think that most of your good training schedules have a good balance between muscular and aerobic development but I don't think that most coaches put enough specific thought and focus into creating this balance.  Most often I think the balance that is being thought about is aerobic and anaerobic work.  Further more I think too often we think of muscular and anaerobic work as the same thing.  I know when I started out I did.

  The problem with hard intervals lead to severe fatigue and under fatigue our form falls apart so instead of taxing our muscular system in a nice balanced way and teaching good strong muscular pathway our form falls apart and we build bad habits and imbalances.   Anaerobic workouts can be great muscular sessions but only for a very developed athlete who has spent years building great muscular strength so their form doesn't break down under stress.  For the rest of us the solution is to do work that is specifically targeting fast dynamic motion while maintaining relaxed control so that we are teaching good form and balanced muscular development.

  From the beginning of our running we should be doing daily work to build our muscular skeletal system to excel at the specific demands of running and running fast.  How?  Mostly with fast relaxed running.  This can be in the form of strides or short hills.  It can be fast relaxed tempo running.  This can be repeats at all sorts of distances AS LONG AS THE EFFORT IS CONTROLLED!  This is what is always missed.  Also you can do running specific drills, skipping, lunge walking and other dynamic running and core exercises to build a muscular skeletal system that can stay healthy and deliver on all the aerobic power you can build.

  I honestly believe that my biggest failure as an athlete was a failure to develop a strong dynamic muscular skeletal system from the beginning.  I believe if I had done more aerobic work sooner I could have been more successful at a younger age but that it would not have improved my overall development.  However if I had started out doing strides daily, controlling my effort in 99% of my workouts to maintain form and doing dynamic general strength work, like the type of stuff you see from  John Cook or Jay Johnson, I honestly believe I would never have had the injury problems I had in college nor do I think I would have developed my coordination problem.  I honestly believe my failure to do this work from the beginning of my running cost me a career as a at least high level national class marathoner.

  I do much more now to try and develop the muscular strength.  I do the yoga for general strength and when I'm not banged up I do strides daily or close to it.  I have also developed a lot of strength over the last couple decades so my workouts are now a means of building strength as well.  Still if there is one area that I need to do more for it is specific muscular strength and endurance.  So often in my training I am strong.  I can run miles on top of miles and feel fine I can run quickly, say 5:20 per mile or even faster and have it feel like walking but as soon as I need to get just a little bit more muscular sub 5:00 at time, sub 4:40 per mile most of the time, I struggle, sometimes to hold these paces for even a few hundred meters.  It may sound crazy but it is not uncommon for me to find myself in a place where I can run for an hour or more feeling relaxed at 5:20 per mile but I struggle to run even a kilometer at 4:40 mile pace.  In the stretches where I have been able to do all the muscular work I start to see huge improvements in my middle distance racing.  So often I find myself very fit but racing fairly slowly.  Where as if I was maintaining my muscular training better I could be running much much faster, if not quite national class certainly much closer.  Specifically I should often be running in the 23's for 8k instead of 24's and 29's for 10k instead of 30's. sub 14:40 for road 5k instead of sub 15:10.  Now you can sharpen up and run faster with anaerobic work but that isn't what I'm talking about in this instance.  I have run sub 30 for 10, sub 24 for 8k and sub 14:40 for a road 5k without doing much if any real anaerobic work.  I can run those times off good balanced aerobic and muscular training.  Too often I fail to do the muscular work to make running relaxed enough at those paces to hold them without good anaerobic fitness.  This slowed my overall development and means I have a lot of decent races in my history but few very good ones.

   I cannot encourage you enough to plan for muscular development as specifically as you do aerobic development.  These two things are the foundations of all running success.  You can always do race specific and anaerobic work later but if you don't build a great foundation of muscular strength and aerobic endurance all the race work in the world won't be worth a bucket of piss.

* P.S. a bit of an aside but the article the quote comes from is in the August of 1983 Runners World.  It is mind blowing to me that they would run an article like this complete with discussion of his racing career, a sample training week and intelligent conversation about his thoughts on his current training and where he would like to take it in the future.  I just can't imagine coming across the same type of article with one of the Geoff Mutia's in this August's Runners World. link to article


Mitja said...

Excellent blog post! Your writing is provoking my thoughts.
After reading some books on Lydiard, I just finished a base phase the lydiard way. Problem is... I injured myself in week 11. Guess my lifestyle hasn't development the muscular strength, Lydiard's runners in New Zealand had back in the day.
No wonder their focus was more on aerobic development, they were very strong...
Due to having to take two weeks off for my stupid ankles, I started pondering over the meaning of life (i.e. running and training).
No point in having that aerobic base when my musculoskeletal strength is failing me.
I really can relate to a lot you're writing about in this blog.
This is something I'm going to consciously implement in my daily training.
Next up is figuring out how much strenght is enough...
I'm a guy who likes to kamikaze in the deep end of things. On more then a few occasions I sank with that approach.
But... enough thoughts.

Thanks for inspiring!

Nate Jenkins said...

Mitja- Lydiard did a lot of muscular work. For some reason it doesn't show up as much in the schedules in the book however a detailed reading shows that he encouraged a weekly session of 10 to 20 100meter strides during the base as well as two to four sets of 15mins of hill sessions (bounding springing etc..) Then you do the muscular hill phase.
That said if you jump into lydiard from a traditional USA background it is easy to get hurt during the base before you build up the muscular side in the hill phase. This is part of why I like a program that incorporates more muscular stuff right from the start.
Anyway don't get down on yourself. Dust yourself off and start again.

Ewen said...

Great post Nate. If approaching 4:40/mile pace is where you begin to struggle, do you see any value muscularly in doing a large volume session of 400 repeats at 69 or 70s per 400? Walk or slow jog 100m recoveries - rather than the 8 x 400 Aussie quarters float recoveries. Say building up to 20 or 30 x 400?

I have a similar problem in that I'm fit aerobically and want to run 21:30 - 22:00 for 5k at age 58 (similar age-graded to what I ran in my 30s) but anything faster than 4:30/km pace (even though I'm doing regular strides) is where I start to struggle.

Nate Jenkins said...

Ewen- absolutly. Doing a high volume of reps at a quick pace is a great way to build muscular endurance and improve efficiency at that pace. The only caveat is that you need to stay RELAXED for it. This for me means I almost need to be on a track or similar very flat well measured surface- both currently not available in my area thanks to an epic winter that just won't die. But yes in the past I have used, very effectively, and will again use large volume of short reps at 5k or 10k pace up to double the total volume of the race with pretty close to full recovery. IE as much at 50x400m at 10k pace or 50x200m at 5k pace with relaxed 200m jog recoveries. Also these sessions are not so great for specific marathon prep. They are just very muscularly exhausting and you aren't going to be able to get another very good effort in that week and this isn't a marathon workout so that is a heavy cost to pay.