Speeding Up by Slowing Down
Yes, you read that right. Welcome to your recovery and/or base training cycle.
We are going to use this time to SLOW DOWN and develop your aerobic system, and improve your Maximum Aerobic Function. Training your aerobic system allows your body to improve efficiency (teaching it to move at faster speeds with less effort over time), burn fats for fuel, recruit more muscle fibers, improve form, reduce stress, and even improve immunity.
As runners, we have the mentality that the workout has to hurt to work; and certainly there is a time and a place for hard, anaerobic work; but not now. We MUST develop your aerobic base FIRST. This will improve your running economy, making you a BETTER runner, which is why we're all here, right?
So bear with me. This phase is not as exciting as 400m repeats and progressive race pace tempos. You might be bored. But there is so much value in the low and slow. (I will do a more detailed Q&A on the science here, but THIS post is designed to be a quick "How-To" guide to get us started.)
If you're here, you saw a purple box in your training log marked "MAF Test", and are wondering what the heck that is. This is a monthly test you will be seeing in your calendar for the foreseeable future. It is how we will track your aerobic development and other biofeedback markers as your training progresses.
1. Choose the flattest course available to you for the prescribed distance (a track works best if possible). Be sure this is a course you can return to for your test every month, it's important to keep variables as consistent as possible.
2. Get a heart rate monitor. If you have a Garmin, you should have a wrist-based monitor, or you can purchase a chest strap to sync with your watch. If purchasing a monitor isn't feasible for you, we're going to be using nose-breathing to monitor effort. (Scroll past #3 if you don't have a monitor.)
3. Use the guidelines below to determine your heart rate zone. *If you completed your season goal-race within the past 4 weeks, use guideline B. *If your goal race was more than 4 weeks ago, use guideline C. *Do NOT use guideline D unless I have specifically instructed you to do so.
4. Go run. Complete your prescribed distance, on your designated course. Keep your eyes religiously on your heart rate, and stay at your prescribed rate. Your test does not count, and will need to be repeated if you are above that heart rate. You are not running by your own perceived effort, you are running by the RULES of your heart rate or nose-breathing effort.
*If you do not have a heart rate monitor, you will be closing your lips, and running at an effort that allows you to breathe through your nose ONLY. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
5. Do NOT care about your pace. Do NOT be discouraged. This is a test. If you have not trained this way before, it is likely that your PACE at this effort will be several MINUTES slower than what you think your easy pace is. That's part of the point. Breaking down the "no pain, no gain" philosophy and determining where your true effort lies. The good news: if you are diligent, and patient, it will get better. A lot better.
6. Log as much data as possible for me in your log. Your heart rate, your perceived effort, details about your course, the weather, and anything else you can tell me. Don't leave your notes blank PLEASE.
**Side Note: THIS is the method by which we train your body to fuel with fats. Whether or not you are on board with my nutrition guidelines, your body has plenty of excess fat stores it wants to burn. You hold FAR more (like thousands of times more) potential energy as fat, than as carbs. It is only at lower heart rates that your body metabolizes fat for fuel. Anything above your prescribed MAF heart rate is transitioning your body to ANaerobic function, which is glycogen-fueled. You are not in a fat-adaption phase if your heart is higher than your MAF.
I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how (and what, and when, and why) to stretch. And the answer is: yes.
Seriously though, stretching increases your strength over a broader range of motion, as well as helping to increase blood flow, which in turn relieves soreness and helps you recover more quickly. You should always stretch when your muscles are warm, to avoid unnecessary tears or strain, and thus immediately after your run is the best time to get it done!
Here are a few of my favorites to give you a total body release, focusing on the muscle groups most important to runners:
Let’s start with the backside of your body. Because who doesn’t love to hang in this position for a bit after a long run? Start with your knees straight, and reach toward the floor, stretching all the way down your spine, and all the way down the back of your legs. Hold for 15-20 seconds, and then bend your knees slightly, feeling the stretch deepen into your glutes and hips.
Next, cross one foot over the other, so that your back leg is straight. This is called the IT band stretch, because it relieves that stubborn little band that can cause hip and knee issues for runners when it’s tight. Hold for 15-20 seconds on each side.
Next up are calves. You have two major muscles that propel you off the ground, and we want to make sure they both get released. Start with your back heel flat on the floor, your back knee straight, and lean forward over your front leg until you feel the stretch at the top of your calf region. Hold 15-20 seconds, and then bend that knee slightly, feeling the stretch move lower and toward your achilles and heel.
While you’re there, lets release your hip flexors. Those are the muscles at the front top of your thigh/hip that lift your leg forward. Extend your stance to a long stride and, sinking down through your hips, push your pelvis forward and chest tall. Hold 15-20 seconds on each side.
We’ll follow that up with adductors, or inner thighs, some of the muscles responsible for hip stability and length of your stride. I like this standing stretch because it releases the full range of the muscle group, from groin to knee. Keep one leg straight, and sit down toward your opposite side to feel this stretch. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
One more before you get to sit down. Can’t forget your quads, the largest muscle group in your body. Bending at the knee, pull one foot behind you toward your hip and grasp. Allow your knee to relax toward the floor, and push your foot into your hand to deepen this stretch. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
To the floor! Cobra stretch helps to relieve hip flexors and abdominals, both of which work hard on the run. Lay on your belly with legs extended. Push your pelvis toward the floor, and use your arms to push chest upward. Hold 15-20 seconds and breathe.
Abductors (outer thighs) and hips are up next. Cross one foot over your leg, and hug your knee in tight until you feel the stretch on your outer hip. These muscles are also responsible for hip stability and length of stride. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
One more for your hamstrings, because they ARE your power house muscle group as a runner. You’ll want a towel, band, or yoga strap on this one to help you out. Keeping your hips and back flat on the floor, extend your knee and gently pull your whole leg toward your chest, feeling that stretch all the way from the back of your knee, through your hips and glutes. Hold 15-20 seconds each side.
I like to finish with two quick stretches to the postural muscles of your upper body, because they work hard too on the run! First, grasp hands together behind your back, and push your hands back and away, feeling the stretch across your chest, front of your shoulders, and front of your arms. Breathe and hold for 15-20 seconds. Then reverse: grasp hands together in the front, and push forward, stretching across your upper back, shoulders, and back side of your arms. Breathe and hold for 15-20 seconds.
You’ve got this. A little goes a long way, so set aside a few extra minutes at the end of your run and get it done. Your body will thank you!
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