4. Incorporate Core Exercises
Core exercises are often overlooked, especially at the high school level. I understand, it’s tough enough to get yourself or your athletes stretching after runs, but if you can get into the routine of spending an extra 15 minutes stretching and performing core exercises, it will go a long way to reduce injury risk, improve running mechanics and also build confidence.
My approach to core is that a little goes a long way. 8 minutes of core exercises post run will do quite a bit to improve running mechanics and strength.
Runners already have decent core strength, the ability to maintain an upright posture for an extended period of time during activity certainly works the abs and lower back.
However, most runners have strength deficiencies in certain areas, taller runners usually have a weaker lower back, runners who run on their heels often slouch forward resulting in a weak lower back as well.
I think that every runner can benefit from a core routine performed 4-5 days a week after runs.
The routine that I recommend is usually 8 consecutive minutes.
- 1 minute of front plank
- 1 minute of side plank
- 1 minute of other side plank
- 1 minute of back plank
- 1 minute of crunches
- 1 minute of side crunches
- 1 minute of other side crunches
- 1 minute of hip raises
This is a very simple routine, but it hits the important spots multiple times. If you want to incorporate in some pushups and mule kicks etc. That’s even better, but as a foundation, I believe planks and the above exercises are key to improving running form.
With any supplemental activities, be aware that once you incorporate them into your routine, they become a confidence crutch. I know from personal experience, when I was running my best, I was doing quite a bit of core and strength training, and to this day, I feel if I ever want to achieve that level of performance again, I need to incorporate every single exercise.
That’s why I believe it’s better to start small, get in the habit of performing these routines and then if you feel that you’re ready to increase the amount or intensity, do it gradually.
5. Eat a Balanced Diet
We all hear quite a bit about diet, and we all know how we can usually improve:
Eat more greens, eat more whole foods, hearty grains, organic meat etc etc.
These are true, the more whole foods we eat, the more nutrients we extract from our meals, the better off our body’s will be.
However, this is a tough and expensive regimen to follow. In an attempt to break it down to the basics for cross country runners, I think the best dietary habits to adopt are those that maximize recovery time from training, and maximize athletic output on race day.
This would mean that post run and pre run, these are the most important times. What happens in between, is important as well, since it’s all part of recovery, but if you can improve your or your athlete’s dietary habits around these times, you will undoubtedly see some positive returns.
So what should you or your athletes eat?
Within 15 minutes completion of every run, I highly recommend getting a good balance of carbs to protein into your system. This will speed recovery because your muscles are starved for energy at this point and are very receptive to calories of any kind.
Make sure to feed them well. I think an apple and some peanut butter is perfect, or a handful of nuts and a banana. If you get into protein shakes, many protein powders have a similar carb to protein ratio, look for the 3:1 ratio (e.g. 30 grams of carbs to 10 grams of protein).
Eating within 15-30 minutes will improve recovery time, it also ensures that you or your athletes receive some solid nutrition immediately after runs. Often, high school runners will wait and then return home starving and snack on less than nutritious options, which is not ideal.
Pre run or race, I recommend testing various easily digestible food items to see what sits well. It’s important to get simple, easily broken down carbs for fast burning. Something like a banana is perfect, it has quite a bit of fructose, but it also provides electrolytes in the form of potassium.
If you’re an hour out from your run, you can consume a little fat and protein, but not too much. Again, peanut butter or a small handful of nuts will give you more electrolytes in the form of potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium.
Beware though that nuts are more difficult to digest, so you definitely need a good hour to break down the fiber in nuts, or else you’ll retain water and feel bloated on your run.
You can also look for energy bars, some have a decent balance of the elements mentioned above. Whenever possible I try to insist on whole foods, since bars have a lot of add preservatives and flavors that are unnecessary and can upset the stomach.
6. Rope stretching (active isolated stretching)
When I first learned about active isolated stretching, I was admittedly a little skeptical. It seemed odd to be rolling around on the ground with a noose pulling this way and that.
It is a little hard to pick up the technique for proper rope stretching, I plan to release a series of videos soon showing you the best method.
But in short, rope stretching is by far the most effective method of stretching, and increasing flexibility I’ve seen. It doesn’t promote “over stretching” or straining, it is a very gentle method that allows your body to stretch to the point of resistance but not beyond.
For long distance runners, stretching is often an after thought, something to breeze through and say you did. However, there are significant advantages for those who take the time to seriously stretch.
Just to name a few of the benefits:
- increased range of motion
- improved posture and ultimately running mechanics
- relaxed muscles means faster recovery time
- decreased risk of injury from improved flexibility
With 5-10 minutes of time you can get all the above, it seems like a no brainer.
There are plenty of online resources to learn about rope stretching, all you need is a leg length of rope with a loop at the end to get started. Come back soon for my video series on rope stretching.
These are just a handful of the tips to help you maximize output during cross country training. Do you employ any others not mentioned above? Please leave them in the comments!