What else can you do to improve and support your running?
Obviously the best way to improve your running is to run. There’s no debate there.
But there are a good number of other things you can be doing to support your training. This article explains some of those and tries to answer the question of how you can improve your running beyond just running.
Don’t think of this article of a comprehensive list, nor a set of prescriptions that can or should take the place of the running you’re already doing. These supplementary exercises and ideas are all about supporting your running, and getting your body in the best position possible to benefit from the running training you do whilst remaining injury free.
Strength and conditioning
Strength and conditioning has two main aims.
1) It helps to prepare the body for running.
This includes strengthening and stabilising joints, tendons and connective tissue, and generally keeping the body supple and capable. In doing so we can ensure we get the most benefit from the actual running training we do and stay injury free in the process.
2) It supercharges our running ability.
Think explosive power, strength and everything muscle-based in running. By working specifically on high-resistance exercises like calisthenics, weights and plyometrics, we can teach our nervous system to better recruit our muscle fibers allowing us to utilise them faster and with more strength when we run.
A good way to address all of these at once is to do some sort of circuit-based training workout once or twice a week. You want running-specific exercises that integrate lots of muscle groups at once so as to teach the body how to work as an integrated whole—well coordinated and responsive to the unexpected.
Flexibility and balance
It’s worth adding in some sort of yoga or stretching exercises into your circuits or strength workout. Like strength and conditioning it helps to prevent injury, but also improves body control and balance—two factors that are extremely important in running, especially on uneven trails.
It should be noted that strength and flexibility are critically related, and you want to develop them alongside one another. There’s no point being extremely strong if you don’t have the flexibility to use that strength. Likewise, being very flexible is asking for injury if you don’t have the strength to control that range of motion. Aim for mobility—strength and control of movement across a wide range of motion rather than just loose bendiness.
High intensity training
Anaerobic and explosive fitness will always help your running, and whilst simply doing sprints can develop these qualities, by tying in variations and other forms of high-intensity work too, we can provide different and wide-ranging training stimuli to develop these qualities in a range of contexts.
Like with strength and conditioning, high intensity training can supercharge your running, whilst keeping workouts a little more interesting than simply running fast over and over again.
High intensity workouts can be used to substitute or prepare you for interval running workouts and similar runs, and help to add some variety to your training plan. Remember though that they can be extremely taxing on the body and you need to ensure you take adequate rest and food in order to get any benefit from them.
The Big Three
Often overlooked and compromised, you can forget all your other efforts if you aren’t making time for these. Make these three your biggest priority. After all, you can’t perform if you’re not healthy.
Get enough sleep, particularly after big runs and workouts. Make friends with the foam roller if you’re muscles are feeling it, and don’t overtrain! It’s easy to do too much without even realising it—if you don’t feel at least a bit invigorated after workouts and runs you probably need to get more rest and/or dial it back a bit. Remember: just not exercising is not the same as resting!
You can’t expect to recover well or perform if you’re not fuelling right. Don’t focus on what you should eat, just be conscious on what you shouldn’t be overdoing: sugar especially. Keep things in moderation, don’t overly stress about it, and make sure you get enough calories in! Healthy food is pointless if you don’t eat enough of it (which for a runner is usually a lot!).
Healthy mind, healthy body. Fit mind, fit body. Where the mind goes, the body follows. They’re one and the same, so get this right first. Take the time you need for yourself, keep your training interesting and enjoyable, and contemplate your why. Above all, always be honest with yourself.
Remember, the concepts above are not designed to take the place of your running. Rather they help achieve the following:
- Prepare your body for the stresses of running and keep you injury free.
- Enable you to get the most from your running training.
- Develop levels of strength, power and resilience that are difficult to get from running alone—they supercharge your running.
Remember, you don’t need to do all of them (with the exception of the big three—obviously you need to do those!), or put in lots of time, but a little bit of effort spent on conditioning and extra-curricular running preparation will pay dividends in how your body manages and responds to your regular running training.