Five Tips for X-Country Runners

TIP #1: Do some fancy footwork EVERYDAY

Having strong and healthy feet relate to your ENTIRE body health. I am sure you don’t want to get injured this year?! Get those shoes off and work your feet for 5 minutes a day, it’ll save you a lot of heart ache later on!

 

TIP #2: Do whole body mobility/movement

Running only requires ~20% of your musculature. What’s happening to the rest of your body? There’s some SERIOUS underuse.

The cardiovascular system relies on ALL your muscles to pump the blood (nutrient rich => oxygen) to all the cells in your body. If you JUST run you’re in for a lot of hurt later on in life.

AND just because you’re an Olympic calibre runner does not prevent you from CVD. It’s all about making movement matter in your ENTIRE body not just the parts you need to run.

Ask yourself everyday: have I MOVED today? If you haven’t I would move first (yes, as a priority!) before you decide to run.

Move runner move!

 

TIP #3: Walk for recovery

With all new gadgets and experts talking about everything you can do… it really can be as simple as walking more for better recovery and better health. We were meant to move a LOT throughout the day. Not just once a day (aka during your workout). It’s all about making movement matter

 

 

TIP #4: Wear less

Our goose bump muscles (arrector pili) are just as important as any other muscle in the body. USE them!

Your body is set up for self thermoregulation. If you are constantly trying to be “comfortable” with your body temperature you are achieving the exact opposite with extra clothes and/or heat.

And that’s also why, especially during colder months, it’s important to constantly move throughout the day! We are suppose to anyway.

Whether you are training or not be a little bit uncomfortable to regain optimal health.

 

 

Tip #5: Plumb line your way up those hills while keeping your ribs down to engage your glutes and hamstrings instead of exasperating your hip flexor/ quad dominant lifestyle.

Your everyday butt and hamstring strengthener

How many times have you heard or been told that you need to work on your butt and hamstrings?

As runners we need those muscle groups in order to run well and run fast, right? 😉

There are a plethora of exercises catered to the glute-hamstring complex that it’s honestly hard to keep up! Perhaps you have done one or several of these: the fire hydrant, donkey kick, clamshells, bridge lifts, lunges, deadlifts,  hip hike, frankenstein walk, lunges, squats, leg curls, single leg lifts, TRX hamstring pull-ins, good mornings, kettle bell swings, etc.

Instead of constantly worrying about doing exercises 1 to 5 of your butt/hamstring strengthening program, how about starting with the basics? Like, can you actually use your butt and hamstrings for normal day to day functioning. Most people have lost their ability to do the simplest of movements with their bodies. Seriously! Just try sitting down and standing up from a chair. Can you do it… now, do it properly!

 

 

This is what 99% of you do: instantly bring their knees forward sitting down and standing up. If you don’t think you do ask someone to watch you! This way of sitting and standing messes with your knees, increases hip tension, focuses on quad dominance (which we have too much anyway), and uses very little butt and hamstrings. {Can you hear my KNEES?! I have had that degeneration since I was 15 years old because I was moving incorrectly. I am moving better, 4 years in, today than ever… slowly getting my body back to optimal health}.

 

Get someone to actually look at you do this. Keep your lower leg perpendicular to the ground [NO forward knee movement]. It’s harder than you think. I am still working on it! This simple day to day movement, done properly activates your glute and hamstring muscles while making them stronger! YEAH, you are getting a butt/hammy workout without taking away from your normal day to day routine.

Imagine if you did this every single day, all day long: getting in and out of the car, in and out of bed, up and down from chairs (breakfast, lunch, dinner, school, work, meetings, sport bench, home, couch), etc. You would have a great butt and hammies!

Sure we can make it more complicated than that…. AND we can make it easy. It boils down to: Can you actually do this? Doing it without momentum? Without any aids? You can modify it with extra cushions to make it easier or drop it down to stool height for more of a squat… either way it’s still helping your cause.

 

Are you murdering your pistols?

Do you wear lifting shoes (or anything other than flats) to do pistols? Do you cheat by using your forefoot and toes instead of your heels? Are you having trouble even performing pistols? BE honest. I’m not hear to judge. Trust me, I just figured out how to do them yesterday.
Many articles have been written and videos taped regarding the “how to’s”; but, every single one of them completely negate one simple fact. People have forgotten how to use their butts and hamstrings (a.k.a. the posterior chain) all day everyday so they have a ridiculously hard time trying to use them while exercising/ training (like in crossfit or anything else for that matter).
Are you one of those people?
Here is a straightforward test to tell. Stand up with barefeet, ensure both feet are underneath your hips and your toes are pointed forward, your pelvis is neutral and your legs are STRAIGHT (meaning you are 100% NOT bending at the knees). Make sure you’re actually doing this properly otherwise the entire purpose of the assessment is lost. The pelvis can be tricky to put in neutral [i.e. what the heck does that mean?]. Touch your crouch bone (pubic symphysis- look at first image) and the front of your pelvis on either side (ASIS- anterior superior iliac spine- look at first image) seeing to it that both (ASIS and pubic symphysis) are on the same line, vertically staked (see the profile picture of the pelvis). Once your pelvis is set while standing tall [relax your ribs all you rib thrusters!] and legs straight => raise and lower your kneecaps. Translation please: Contract your quads to raise your kneecaps, then completely relax your quads to allow them to fall. There ought to be zero tension in the quads whilst the kneecap is relaxed.
Can you raise and lower your kneecaps (without cheating)? Most people deceive themselves, thinking- I can do it, I can do it!- so have someone else look at you while doing it. Any form of altered body movement is a telltale sign that you are a quad dominant person all day everyday while standing, walking, stepping, moving. PERIOD. We have patterned our neuromuscular network to basically mess up our bodies. Unreal!!!
On a positive note you can change it. YES! Just relax your kneecaps. Hahahaha. I’m funny! Easier said than done right? Firstly MOST people have super stupid ‘tight’ hamstrings. Having the antagonistic muscles tight (hamstrings) to the agonist muscles (quadriceps) will make it crazy hard to to relax the quads. Several times a day stretch, roll, mobilize, voodoo floss, go through ranges of motion for your hamstrings (as much as possible NOT including the time you are in the gym/box doing your workout. That doesn’t even count!). After the hammie stretches you can do this routine: start by sitting on the ground with the legs out in front of you to see if you can raise and lower your kneecaps. Then start standing up while hinging at the hips so you have less ‘strain’ on the quads to raise and lower your kneecaps. As it gets easier slowly start standing up to a ‘normal’ standing position. Finally when you can do that then try and walk! Or stand up from a seated position! Or step up stairs all the while relaxing your kneecaps and not dominating with your quads. Your quads are on your body for good reason but NOT to muck it up!
You might say “Whatever! I can do pistols but I can’t raise and lower my kneecaps. Screw this!” As you wish. I’m just letting you know your risk of injuries to your body significantly increases to areas such as the knees, hamstrings, pelvic floor and the pelvis (just to name a few) …. in addition to more pressure placed on the toes and forefeet equating to other forms of impairment. Maybe not today or tomorrow but down the road.
Just imagine if you properly engaged your hamstrings and glute muscles all day everyday how much easier working out would be? How much more you could lift? How much easier pistols would be? How much less aches and pains you would have in your body before, during and after a workout? Yup, that’s right.
The next time you do a pistol take your shoes off and emphasize using the heel part of your foot so you can activate your posterior chain (let go of using your forefeet and toes). If you can’t do a pistol like this, then continue on with barefeet or flat shoes – always focusing on the heels- and go back to progressions using a box or strap or whatever it is you like using. Far better for your body to learn to move better in the long run than to wreck havoc with your tissues, causing injury and weakening your chances of those extra few kilos of a PB while lifting!

 

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The Long and the Calf of it

The calf stretch is arguably the most important stretch for the lower limb.

Why? Short version

1. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight

2. When the calves are tight injuries or nagging issues will ensue

E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight

3. A tight calf is a weak calf

E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight

4. Supple calves equal enhanced daily lifelong performance

Did I mention E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight?

 

Why? A bit longer version

 1. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.’S calves are tight because: 

i. Sitting: Every single time you sit down you are shortening your backline (meaning your calves as well as other muscles/tissues on the posterior side of your body). Sitting for breakfast, lunch, dinner, work, TV, reading, driving, resting, playing games, participating in sport (i.e. boat, horse, wheelchair), commute, even at the gym.

Challenge- One day for fun [because I know you have ALL don’t have anything else to do :)] time how long you sit for that day. You will be shocked! Sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your health.

ii. Shoes: Almost everyone, women, men and children, wear high heels! Any shoe that has a rise (a lift) from the toe to the heel is tightening your calves. Yes, ladies and gentlemen we have been conned. Those dress shoes you are wearing are bad for you. Do yourself a favour and lower the heel lift in your shoes (you need to do this progressively guaranteed it will make a huge difference). This goes for sport shoes as well! So many sport shoes are heeled. Be careful! Know why you are wearing them and if they are helping or hindering your performance.

iii. Sleeping: Do you sleep with your feet pointed (plantar flexed)? If you do, your resting calf muscles are TIGHT for 8 hours (or whatever your sleep time). This keeps your muscles in a state of tension for a long time, providing continuous adaptation to already shortened muscle fibres. You’re gonna lose those sarcomeres. Be aware!

iv. Exercise: When you perform at a moderate to high level of intensity you literally tear the muscle fibres in your body. Increased strenuous activity corresponds to more micro tears in the muscles which parallels the post exercise muscle soreness factor. Hard work= OUCH the next day and even days to come. These micro tears create tension in your muscles and surrounding connective tissue. Therefore, it is important to mobilize/stretch after a workout for recovery.

2. When calves are tight, injuries or nagging issues will ensue. (whether it happens today or a couple of years from now, it will happen)

The calves are made up of many muscles, ligaments, tendons, connective tissue, nerves, arteries, veins, etc. I won’t go into detail about all of them, suffice to say there is so much going on in the calf I could write 10 pages and it still would not be enough! I’ll make it simple by giving examples instead. [This list is minimal and reasons can be more than calf tension but you have to know the calf is one culprit.]

Your calves are tight:

a. When you squat and you notice your feet are turned out

b. When you row (on the erg or in the boat) and you notice your feet are turned out

c. When you drive and you notice your feet are turned out

d. When you are standing/running/walking and you notice your feet turned out

e. When you wear heeled shoes (whether at work or for sport) you are shortening the muscle fibers

f. When you sit all day (or even a little)

g. When you did not properly recover from a workout so you still have micro tears in your muscles

h. Standing with a forward lean (i.e. your knees are in front of your ankle bones when you are standing still)

What can happen to YOU because of your calf tension, maybe not today but…… [this list provides only a few examples]

Knee pain/immobility/tear Bunions                       Metatarsalgia

Hip pain/immobility/tear                                           Plantar fasciitus

Calf tear/strain                                                              Back pain/strain

Compartment syndrome                                              Toe pain/strain/break

Ankle pain/immobility/tear                                       Foot pain/strain/break

Arch pain                                                                         Osteoarthritis

Achilles tendon strain/tear Shin splints

3. A tight calf is a weak calf.

Yes, a tight muscle is a weak muscle. As the calf is made up of more than one muscle, it is crucial to have LENGTH in your calves. Without length there is limited strength. A tight calf is a wussy calf. A ropy calf, a guitar string calf, a rock calf (whatever you want to call it) is a feeble calf. There is a length to strength ratio in all of your muscles. The length is always more than you think. All I can say is do your calf stretch everyday several times a day. You will get MUCH more out of a supple calf!

4. Supple calves equals enhanced daily lifelong performance .

Lengthened calves will provide appropriate mobility for every activity you do that requires the feet/legs. You will be able to squat better (lifting weights, gardening, rowing, relaxing in a squat, going to the toilet squatting instead of sitting, pistols, etc), you will have better balance, overall your body will feel better! In addition, all your bodily systems will be able to flow in and out of this area efficiently. Your calves will be healthy! Groceries IN and garbage OUT. It IS as simple as that.

What calf stretches should I do?

Katy Bowman, biomechanist, has the BEST calf stretches you can do that work the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Please look at this blog she wrote. Pictures and descriptions are provided for both calf stretches. http://www.katysays.com/raise-your-foot/