In my new role as a personal trainer, I’ve met and trained people who want to get fit, but on their own terms. This is going to sound controversial, but many of us have our own version of what getting fit should feel like. We want to decide how we train, even if it means only training the muscle groups we enjoy training. Got strong legs? Chances are, you’ll enjoy training them, because it feels good when you do it. When it comes to weak body parts – the ones that need more work – we tend to be a bit lazy, because it’s hard work. ‘I find training my back really hard, so I don’t do it, one client told me.
Many runners I meet are no different, including myself. We just want to run. One client recently told me he ran three to four times a week. ‘I only use the treadmill and I run 10K each time’, he said. He was in good shape and seemed healthy. So you might wonder whether he needs to worry about adding variety into his training. For maintaining his fitness, the frequency and duration of his sessions are fine. But he wanted to run a half marathon and get a personal best. ‘I’ve never been able to break the two-hour barrier,’ he told me.
I tried to be diplomatic when I pointed out that doing the same run three times a week on the treadmill would not get him fitter. He didn’t want to change anything much, but he was willing to do some strength training and core work. Slowly, but surely, he began to improve.
Running is a high impact activity, which means that when you run, two and a half to three times your body weight can go through the knee joints. This means injury can strike if you over-train or aren’t flexible or strong enough. If you want to become a better runner, you have to challenge your body in order to improve your fitness and also support it with strength work and flexibility training. Threshold and interval runs will help you get fitter. To support your body and prevent injuries, it’s essential to do some strength work focusing on legs, glutes, hips, core and back and improve your flexibility.
I’m just starting to increase my mileage for a spring marathon next April. As the mileage goes up gradually, the amount of time I devote to stretching and strength work has to increase. I’ve learned from past experience that you can’t just go out and run and not expect your body to break down at some point. Increasing running volume can mean you get stiffer, so you have to build in more stretching time – and you can do it anywhere – in the gym or in front of the TV at home. The main thing is to do it regularly.
I completed the Kingston Breakfast Run a few weeks ago. It’s a fast, flat course, and running the 8.2-mile distance wasn’t too much of a challenge aerobically. But my body felt stiff, so I realised it was time to get back to the strength work. I’ve been working on my weak spots. Rather than just focusing on my quadriceps and upper body, which I enjoy training because they are strong, I’m focusing on glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings. Strong glutes will help to protect your knees when you run and many people have weak glutes, usually due to jobs that involve hours of sitting.
I admit I’m not a fan of yoga. But I’m an advocate for it, because I think it’s essential for all runners. I don’t enjoy it (though I can see why many other people do). Despite this, I’m forcing myself to do it twice a week. It’s only when you start doing yoga you realise how tight and stiff you really are. The bottom line is, if I could get away with it, I would probably just run. And run. But I like to feel good when I run and if every runner could stretch for five to ten minutes every day and do yoga twice a week, there would be fewer injuries. And I know one thing with great certainty – if I’m going to stand any chance of completing the my marathon next year, pain-free, what we runners often consider to be the slow boring stuff is actually crucial.