The small things



We are always told to focus on the bigger picture. It could be your overarching goal, your project, even the whole training plan for the season. Whilst this is a great way to focus towards your goals, or whatever is relevant for you, it is very easy to just go through the motions and not pay any attention to the minor details. Aside from the running plan that the coach has created, most athletes that I have coached or talked to do not make time for other parts of training that will help us improve performance. We usually find it hard to do anything that's additional to your program, or having similar routines where we can not only stay on top of our sport but increasing and managing our productivity.


These are what I call “the small things” that can really make a BIG difference to your sporting success. In this blog, I’ll go through a few “little things” that you can apply towards training and improving your performance. They are small routines that will only take up around 10-15 minutes of your time (at most).


Little thing no. 1 - work on and maintain your mobility

If you were to ask any runner how often they would spend some time foam rolling and dynamic stretches (aside from being part of a warm up for a quality session), chances are they probably don’t. No one likes to stretch, especially if you know that you can’t touch your toes. Most of us have a rough idea of the benefits, but do not get the full picture.


As a runner gets faster, the stronger and more mobile their muscles/joints need to be. Think of your muscles/joints as like an elastic band, the more items that are held by the elastic band, the greater it stretches. The items are a metaphor for your performance improving and training load increasing. And so by adding these as part of your periodised program, you’ll be able to make your elastic band more stretchy and manage your load more effectively.


Adding dynamic drills/stretches before an ‘easy’ run, or training session, will help you get through the session whilst minimising your chance of pulling up sore during the session. This is because you’re increasing blood flow to the muscles that are going to be worked without getting micro tears in your muscles (that usually occur with static stretching). This might be a good way to identify anything that is sore/tight before a run.


There is a reason why sprinters can take up to an hour warming up for their training sessions. Whilst their injuries are quite sudden (particularly hamstring tears), in middle/long distance running the effects might not be seen straight away, more so overtime. I find that we do this when we undertake quality training sessions (running and cross-training alike), but when we go for our Sunday Church runs or 40’ easy efforts, this seems to be forgotten.


Even after your run, try not to just hop back in the car straight away or hop straight in the shower. Whilst some of us might get super sweaty and want to have a shower ASAP, or need to leave to get to work on time, the best time to improve mobility is after a training session, because your muscles are warm and are more mobile. Some drills, such as foam rolling, are even able to help in your recovery process and reduce the level of DOMS experienced (Lee, 2020).


Bradley has also talked about these in his recent blog about warming up and cooling down (link here). However, based on personal experience, I don’t think that a lot of runners take the time to do this before/after runs. I can admit that for a while I was the same. It has not been until recently that I have started aiming to improve/maintain my mobility. However, as I have learned the benefits of doing these after runs and such, I have tried my best to do this when I can.


Take a look at the example mobility program below for a few drills you can do before and after a training session. These are more for your easy runs, as I feel that most runners neglect completing a dynamic circuit/warm up before going out or mobility drills post the run. However, you can still apply these drills to your quality running sessions, you can maybe add these into your established program:

Little thing no. 2 - Work on your “core”

Before you assume that I am just talking about your abs, let me clarify what I mean by “the core”. Anatomically speaking, your “core” consists of not just the muscles of the abdomen, but the muscles of the pelvis (including hip flexors) and spine, which are forgotten by most people. This changes the number of muscles that create the core from 4 to almost 30. Most (if not all) of these muscles play some part in moving your body whilst running, which is why you will need to maintain/improve their strength. If some of these muscles are weak we tend to compensate by overworking other muscles (Raabe & Chaudhari, 2018), resulting in increased stress on these muscles. This might lead to increased pain in certain parts of your body when running.


One example of this is an athlete I know (who will remain anonymous) who compensates for little-to-no glute activation (which, remember, is apart of your core) with increased hip adductors activation, causing pain in their legs whenever they run. As a result, this person is in the process of undertaking a glute/core specific program to help them increase glute activation whilst decreasing hip adductor muscle activation whilst running.


There is evidence to suggest that core strength training might be able to improve running performance. A study by Sato and Mokhs (2009) was able to show that a 6 week core-specific program (4 sessions per week) was able to improve 5000m times for beginner/novice runners. This is just one study that shows this, there are others out there that can also show similar results and conclusions.


The great thing about core exercises is that they might already be incorporated into your resistance training program (if you have one). However, I’ll provide a simple circuit that you can complete after your running, or cross training, session. Whilst squats, deadlifts, etc. are also able to target the muscles comprising the core, this program can complement your training program.


Completed as a circuit (i.e. one exercise to the next). Start with 20" between each set (30" if beginner), then slowly work your way down to 10" of rest.

Little thing no. 3 - Keep track of how you are going

Hopefully by now you know how much I love diaries and logging what we have done. I have written about this a couple of times. However, I want to stress that you should start recording your recovery, diet, sleep, etc. anything that is going towards your running performance and training schedule.


One of the best ways to do this is through the use of a daily questionnaire that you can complete at the beginning of the day or before you go to bed. Bradley has been using these for years, with myself just starting up this process for some athletes I am looking after. They only take 5 minutes, but can give you and your coach a lot of information that might help explain why you might be really fatigued during a session or why something might be sore.


Overtime, you can look back on this and see what has worked and what hasn’t, why some days felt more tiresome than others, and how you can modify aspects of work/training/life to smash that PB you’ve set for yourself. You only learn from your mistakes and previous learning experience. And questionnaires are a good way to test yourself and find out what can work for you.


I’ll leave below some sample questions you can answer about yourself each day. If you have something that is specific to you that you want to add in, then add it by all means.


Q1 - How many hours did you sleep last night?


Q2 - What was your quality of sleep like? (scale it from 1-10, 1 being the best sleep you have ever had to 10 being the worst sleep you have had in a very long time)


Q3 - How many training sessions did you complete within the last 24-36hrs? What intensity were these sessions completed at? (See appendix for RPE chart)


Q4 - Have you felt sick/ill over the last 24 hours?


Q5 - How much water have you consumed these last 24hrs? (approx)


Q6 - Upon waking, has any joints/muscles felt sore/tender? If so, provide a brief description:


Q7 - How busy does your day look?


Q8 - Do you plan on training today? How many sessions do you plan on undertaking?


Q9 - How much sleep do you aim to get tonight?




Hopefully these "small things" have proven to you that they can make a big difference to your running performance. If any of the above exercises do not sound familiar to you at all, Youtube, Google, etc. can show you how to complete these exercises and anything that you need to look out for.


Remember, these programs/routines do not have to be started all at once. Like your mileage, add these things into your program SLOWLY overtime. Doing too much too soon can lead to some serious trouble.



Keep up the running,

Paul

Intermediate Coach


References:

Lee, E. J., Van Iterson, E. H., Baker, S. E., Kasak, A. J., Taylor, N. E., Kang, C., ... & Snyder, E. M. (2020). Foam rolling is an effective recovery tool in trained distance runners. Sport Sciences for Health, 16(1), 105-115.


Sato, K., & Mokha, M. (2009). Does core strength training influence running kinetics, lower-extremity stability, and 5000-M performance in runners?. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(1), 133-140.


Raabe, M. E., & Chaudhari, A. M. (2018). Biomechanical consequences of running with deep core muscle weakness. Journal of biomechanics, 67, 98-105.


Appendix:

RPE chart (10 scale)



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