With years of experience as a physical therapist working with injured runners, it is clear to me that we are not all getting the same information regarding training principles. Specifically, I am considering the running component of your training. Some of us might not be seeking out any information at all but rather just training hoping they reach their goals because they’ve put in the time and broke a good sweat… NOT OPTIMAL. If there aren’t specific reasons for what you’re doing, not only can you risk underachieving your goals or getting injured, but you may just be wasting your time and effort.
Programming a gradual and purposeful training plan is necessary to both reduce injury risk and to optimize outcomes for those that have a target goal in mind. Our body is always there just ready to adapt, but is the stimulus you’re providing optimal for your specific goals?
Get out what you put in!
The initial motivation to write this quick blog was centered around the frequency at which I was hearing patients performing 2-3 workouts/week, ramping up mileage too quickly or completing regular efforts that are so short/fast that they will not contribute to the race goal distance in question… these are all injured runners telling me these things. Make your workouts meaningful for the sake of both your achievement and your time!
With activity, in this case running, your body can fortunately respond to stimuli that are imposed and have a specific bodily change to follow! This is most likely to happen if the stimulus is just above the threshold of current ability (capacity). We call this concept adaptation. How cool is it that we can adapt like this! Training specificity helps to direct these adaptations. The same concept applies to resistance training and for that matter everything! You wouldn’t spend the night before a test cramming in knowledge about History if the test was a Calculus final!
A more specific example may look like this: if you intend to do intervals at race pace to get more acquainted with that pace, great! However, your rest intervals between efforts should likely allow for recovery between bouts to optimize this potential without risking injury. Additionally, if you plan to PR in the marathon, your workouts cannot all be on the track! Another variable, elevation change, must be respected and reflected in your training if it applies to your goals. All of these concepts are simple but important. The common theme is applying the right stimulus at the right rate. It is an excellent option to seek out help with this planning.
First, do no harm.
Even though it would be nice, we don’t all have personal running coaches. As a result, we must reflect on our goals and train for them accordingly. Now, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”. Caveat… I hate that saying as it’s just weird, but it is probably very true! Ewww. Either way, the body will take time to adapt so this must be taken into consideration regardless of methodology.
The takeaway from this thought is that you can be successful with several different paths but going backward is not one of them. Going backward can look like over-training, choosing the wrong pace/effort for your runs, running on terrain that does not reflect your goal course, etc. I have been seeing more references of the “80/20 rule” lately which is great! This rule implies that 20% of your running is more effortful and 80% is “easy”. The message is getting out that your body cannot tolerate and DOES NOT need all your running to have your heart rate highly elevated nor do you need to be exhausted after each run. The latter can lead to injury and burnout.
In conclusion, train for your goals with this in mind:
-Gradually increase running mileage/time with your training. This may look different for different experience levels but should never be too dramatic!
-Workouts are fun! Design them reflective of your goals for that workout and for your long-term goal in mind.
-There are several different ways to improve the multiple variables of aerobic capacity, lactate threshold, running economy, strength with hill running, etc. Focus on what YOU need to reach your goals.
-Lastly, reach out to a coach, rehab professional or well-versed runner for help if needed!
Written by Joey Przybyla, PT, DPT at Up and Running Physical Therapy
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