Total Pageviews



Monday, July 22, 2013

Plyometrics for the Distance Runner: Fitness Tips from Personal Trainer Lisa Tonra

PLYOMETRICS for the Distance Runner - JUMP for Faster Race Times and More Energizing Runs!

5K, 10K and half-marathon runners! Looking for faster race times, a greater sense of 'ease' with your run and greater running efficiency? It's time to step (or hop) it up with plyometric training!

Plyometric training helps runners recruit muscle fibers in the most efficient way. Plyometrics are based on the principle that a muscle's Stretch-Shortening Cycle (defined as an active stretch, or eccentric contraction of a muscle, followed by an immediate shortening, or concentric contraction of that same muscle) can create much more power than a normal muscle contraction. This is because the muscles are able to store the tension from a stretch for a short period of time - causing the muscle to react like a rubber band. The better your muscles are at producing force against the ground quickly, the less time you spend on the ground. Plyometrics help the hip and lower extremity muscles transition from their eccentric to concentric contraction more quickly, thus producing more force against the ground. Now we're moving fast!
As a rule, distance runners tend to recruit and use more Type I (aerobic, slow twitch) fibers. But when speed work is incorporated into your routines, more of the anaerobic, Type II fast-twitch fibers are recruited. Part of improving your ability to run is maximizing muscle recruitment. The more muscles recruited, the more ability you have to produce force against the ground and the faster you’ll go! However, the goal is ALSO to recruit as few muscle fibers for the task as possible. It sounds contradictory, but the more muscles you recruit, the more oxygen they require, and this can lead to decreased running economy. So we have to be picky with our fiber selection! Running economy is all about using oxygen efficiently. Our goal is thus greater recruitment of those explosive fast-twitch fibers, which use less oxygen. More bang for the buck from a muscle perspective!

NOTE! In addition to good overall strength in the major muscles of the hips (gluteals and hamstrings) and thighs (quadriceps), it is CRITICAL that you have adequate strength in your calf muscles and flexibility in your ankles for the plyometric drills. The biggest calf muscle (gastrocnemius) usually contains a larger proportion of Type II fast-twitch muscle fibers, and responds well to traditional strength training. 

Beginners should start with calf training basics: 

1. Heel raises: holding onto a counter top, squat rack or other sturdy surface, raise and slowly lower your heels until you reach fatigue. Use a weight amount such that you are completely fatigued by 10-15 repetitions. This weight can be simply your body weight, or you may hold small dumbbells of equal weight in each hand. You may also try lifting one heel at a time, with or without added weight. More advanced exercisers may use the same exercise but increase the weight amount used, such that fatigue is reached by 6-10 repetitions. Everyone should complete 2-3 sets with a 1-minute rest interval between sets.

This basic exercise is well worth the time invested: more Type II fiber recruitment  in your calves equals better ground force reaction time, less overall body fatigue and a better race time!

Once you've achieved good basic strength in the calves, it'll be time to move on to some basic Plyometric drills.

Beginning runners can start with stair climbing (two stairs at a time if you're able), two-footed hopping in place, or short bursts of running uphill. Each activity should be performed for 45-60 seconds per bout.

More advanced runners can try the following:

2. Ankle hopsWith feet hip-width apart and heels elevated, balance on the balls of your feet. Bend your knees, place hands on hips, and repeatedly hop forward, pushing off and landing only on the balls of both feet. Stay on the ground as little time as possible between hops and never let your heels touch the ground. For variety, you can try hopping backward. Reps: Start by hopping 10 yards, building up to 20 yards. When you're ready add a second and third bout of 20-yard hops with 1-minute rests between them. This drill will strengthen EVERYTHING below the knee, but especially the Achilles Tendon, shin muscles, calves (see above), and the flexor muscles that support the ankles.

2. Squat Jumps: Stand with both feet hip-width apart and place your hands on your hips. Tilt your hips back and bend your knees, leaping straight up as high as possible. Land softly with both feet  in the same spot. Bend your knees to absorb the impact. Reps: Begin with one set of 10 jumps in rapid succession. As you get stronger, build up to three sets, each set separated by a 1-minute rest. This drill will strengthen all of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments from the waist down. Efficient!
In a nutshell: plyometrics work primarily because they strengthen everything related to your feet and ankles. They make all of the muscles, tendons and ligaments acting on your ankles stronger and more powerful, helping you to become "stiffer" (a good thing!)
How tired should you feel with this type of workout? In general you should finish any plyometric workout just as fresh as when you started. If you feel unduly fatigued you likely did too much. Keep the repetitions low enough so that each rep is a quality rep. With regard to rest intervals, rest at LEAST one minute or long enough to be at 100% for your next attempt. 
As with ANY athletic program, make sure you check with Dr. Blake about proper footwear and the need for corrective orthotics. Bring any new (or existing) foot and ankle injuries, or muscle/joint pain to his immediate attention.
Best of luck! And here's to your next personal BEST race time!

About Lisa: 

Lisa Tonra, a twenty-year veteran of the fitness/wellness business, holds credentials from ACSM, NASM, and BASI Pilates and is currently a Physical Therapy graduate student. She specializes in injury 'pre-habilitation,' prevention and recovery for all sports-related and overuse conditions. Lisa can also design, implement, coach and monitor fitness routines for all recreational athletes, fitness enthusiasts and beginning exercisers. Her philosophy is a simple one: "There is a (sometimes hidden) fitness enthusiast in all of us! It’s good to set a short-term fitness, health or lifestyle goal to get yourself up and moving, but challenge yourself to take the longer view of 'training for life.' What are Your Body Goals? I can help you achieve and maintain them, and do it injury-free!" 

Visit Lisa's personal website here:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you very much for leaving a comment. Due to my time restraints, some comments may not be answered.I will answer questions that I feel will help the community as a whole.. I can only answer medical questions in a general form. No specific answers can be given. Please consult a podiatrist, therapist, orthopedist, or sports medicine physician in your area for specific questions.