In my last article, I covered the basic biomechanics of gait and how getting stuck on one side can wreak havoc on one area. As a general rule, it is pretty safe to say that we can consider it a postural issue (how we hold ourselves and how we move) if one area aches or hurts versus other areas.
The solution for this problem is going to be specific prep strategies and exercises that place the body in a better position and re-train the way we distribute our weight.
But lets say your knees just hurt all the time and you are fed up. No posture hack we can conceive is going to clear this up because it is likely a capacity issue (namely how much overall volume our body can tolerate).
With each training session, our body accumulates what is known as acute fatigue which is a short term disruption of our ability to perform our targeted action. For example, If I run a six minute mile at the beginning of my a six mile run and finish my last mile at a seven minute pace.
Cumulative fatigue is the overall accumulation of fatigue over multiple sessions that leads a prolonged disruption in performance. This type of fatigue can also be influenced by non-training factors such as nutrition, sleep, psychological stress, exposure to toxins, etc.
The other term I want you to become familiar with is Maximal Recoverable Volume which basically represents the total amount of volume our bodies can recover from.
When aches and pains seem to build or fail to disperse in one or multiple areas of the body, it is a relatively good sign that the MVC threshold has been exceeded. Eventually, these aches and pains are given names like tendonosis, tendonitis, strain, sprain and even tear.
This MVC concept is also why cross training and strength training is so important for runners. The act of OVER running places repetitive stress on the tissues which eventually become the subject to overuse injuries and pain.
Cross training (in particular circuit training and activities which allow us to move laterally) disperses some of this stress amongst other tissue and gives these structures a chance to recover.
Although we are always looking to improve performance, strength training and plyometrics are most valuable because they improve the body’s ability to handle the forces of running with less strain. This will potentially increase the amount of volume we can tolerate as well as allow us to recover faster.
My goal with the second installment of this series then is to give you some simple ways to calculate and safely increase weekly volume while staying below the MVC. I will also touch upon some novel strength and cross training strategies to prepare the body to handle whatever life throws our way.
Fatigue Distribution 101:
When gauging overall fatigue, we generally use both internal (how we feel) and external (how much we physically do) measures to give us an overall picture.
Volume is by far the most important factor in the build up of fatigue and it can be tracked relatively simply in activities such as running or soccer through apps like run keeper or strava. As a general rule, increasing incremental volume of weekly work by 10-15% per week allows for safe progress with minimal associated injury risk and soreness.
The other thing to consider here is that once intensity goes above around 75% of maximum efforts, fatigue will accumulate exponentially faster and affect recovery and soreness. A recommendation I have followed for many years is to separate out “hard” (75%+ effort) and “easy” (less than 75% effort) days by at least 48 hours so intensity is spread throughout the week.
The X-factor that this number doesn’t touch upon is how we react to work internally. The most useful measure to pay attention to for this is Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) both during individual exercises as well as the cumulative effect of the session itself.
I like to use a 1-5 scale to measure how I feel BEFORE a session to give me an idea of how hard I will push on the day(4-5 being ready to hit a new PR, 3-4 being ready to maintain my current level and 1-2 being recovery/easy day)
Our goal is to sync up our 4-5 efforts with our “hard” days. But lets say you have just broken up with your significant other or had the misfortune of catching a Kathy Griffin comedy special.
Your psychological stress would be through the roof and would ultimately affect the ability to perform at higher intensities. We could simply shift the hard day we had planned to later in the week to allow us to better match the RPE.
Preparing the A-Team:
The A-team in this case are the muscles and structures which are most readily involved in running. Here we have the toes, foot, Achilles tendon and knees. But instead of being jacked like Mr. T, these often underdeveloped and weak areas are the ones that are most likely to fail when injury occurs.
This means we need a lot of remedial strengthening exercises for each area performed at a SLOW and controlled pace for relatively high reps. This pace will ensure we build the type of muscle we need (slow twitch) to better withstand the ground as we run. Here are a few of my favorites (Perform each exercise for 12-20 reps or steps at a SLOW pace):
Posterior tibialis calf raises
The other factor to consider is tolerance of compressive force (aka feet hitting the ground) as we move. I was recently introduced to a dynamic warm up series that is a fantastic way to build up specific endurance/strength for our running muscles as well as improve form specific to running.
I recommend performing each of the following exercises for 10 seconds followed by 20 seconds off back to back. Begin by repeating the circuit for six minutes and add 1-2 rounds per week to build up to 20-30 minutes.
I once heard a saying that we don’t get fit with running, we get fit to run. And its something I completely agree with. My goal with this article series is to give you the “whys” as well as the “hows” and in our last installment, we will review what an overall cross training, warm up and strength program is implemented and applied to a successful runner.
Until then… be good to one another and the world,