You’ve completed your couch to 5km sessions and you are wondering what to do next, the obvious challenges are faster or further. Most couch to 5km programmes build up your running stamina to the exclusion of everything else but a committed runner needs to look at the bigger picture. As you increase your speed or your distance it puts additional strain on your body and ideally you should be prepared for this. Key areas to include in your training are the smaller muscle groups involved in keeping your ankles, knees and hips in line, your core muscles which promote good posture and allow you to run more efficiently and some form of stretching to help prevent injury.
Let us look at the ancillary muscles first. You may have seen clips of distance runners in the final metres of a race running in the strangest of fashions, Johnny Brownlee being one of the most famous in recent years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liCRrheKIOI
Often this is caused by muscle fatigue, essentially a muscle group gives up and the job it was doing has to be taken up by other muscles, this leads them to fatigue faster leading to further postural collapse. Running is a sport played in one direction, namely forwards so to develop your supporting muscles you can simply play a sport which involves sideways movement, football, netball, tennis and table tennis for example. Pilates is amongst the best options available to you as it focuses on developing your strength evenly and across your whole body.
Three Leg strengthening Pilates exercises for runners:
The following exercises are good for strengthening the key supporting leg muscles. As you run faster or further you will need to constantly work on your strength to prevent common injuries such as ITB syndrome, Trendelenburg gait and runners knee. These aren’t a one hit wonder, ideally you would aim to do these once a week or fortnight
Side scooter: squat down keeping your knees parallel, take your weight into your left leg and stretch the right leg out sideways keeping you left knee still, draw it back into your start position and repeat keeping the weight on your left leg. Repeat on the other side.
Side lunge: Start standing hip distance apart step your right leg out to the side and bend that knee sinking down into a lunge, keep that knee in alignment then repeat on the other side.
Single leg calf raise: standing with your feet hip distance apart come onto one leg and go up on your toes, you can add arm movements to challenge your balance.
Three core exercises for runners:
Your core muscles and vital in maintaining your posture but they also contribute to lifting your legs up when running, so a strong core will mean you can run for longer. You don’t need to do a couple of hundred sit ups a day, a varied 15 minute workout once a week should suffice, whilst this won’t leave you looking like a love island wannabee, the underlying strength you will gain will make a huge difference to your running. Try a few of the following:
Bridge: lying down on your back with your knees bent up and your feet flat on the ground, lift your hips up in line with your shoulders and knees making a diagonal line and lower again.
Prone leg pull with leg variations: starting in 4 point kneel with your arms a little bit further forward that your shoulders, tuck your toes under and hover your knees. Push forward into your plank, you can add leg lifts, knee bends or holds. Hover your knees again and lower them back to the floor.
Side bend: lying down on your side, propped up on your elbow, knees bent up but in line with your shoulders and hips. Lift your hips up off the ground, hover, then lower back down.
Two types of stretching:
Hopefully you are already in the habit of a post run stretch. If not then please figure out how to make it part of your routine. The key point is to lightly stretch your muscles for about ten seconds to help align any damaged muscle fibres. It should never hurt, so if it does then ease back a bit. A good stretch should only take five minutes and it need not be directly after your run, it could wait until after your shower for example.
Stretching post run can be viewed as good maintenance for your body but as you increase your speed and distance stretching can help to increase your flexibility too. Think about building a 30 minute to 1 hour stretch routine into your week. Ideally this will be on a day when you are not exercising. Yoga classes are fantastic for this and Pilates also does the trick.
Increasing your distance
If you want to increase your distance aim to do so gradually, much in the same vein as you did with couch to 5km. Add 500m to your run every week and then every 6th week take a break by dropping back down to 5km. So 5.5, 6, 6.5, 7, 7.5, 5 then 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, 10. It doesn’t have to be that specific but do try to avoid adding more than 10% to your long run distance as this will give your body the best chance of adapting to the new demands. As you add more runs to your week be mindful of your total distance, again apply the 10% rule.
For the speed demons amongst you looking to pick off a park run PB, the trick is perhaps unsurprisingly to run faster. Some make the mistake of trying to run faster over 5km over and over again. You don’t need to do that, in fact it’s a slower way to a faster time. The trick is to run faster over shorter distances. So if you usually run a 7 minute km for 5km you should aim to run in training at 6.45 a km and then have a break. A session could look like 1km warm up jog, 3x1km at 6.45 pace with a minutes breather in between each km followed by a km at a slower pace. When that feels comfortable you make it 4km at 6.45 and cut the breaks to 30 seconds, within a matter of weeks you’ll take a minute off your PB. You then repeat at 6.30 and so on. Mix the distances up, there’s not a huge point in doing less than 200m but any distance from 400m upwards at a slightly faster pace will not only be manageable but will make your training a bit more interesting. Try 10 x 400m next time you head out, just remember to have a 1km warm up jog first.
Written by Steve Mcann, Massage therapist and run coach at APPI Wimbledon. This is to mark the final session of our APPI Wimbledon run club.
For further run club sessions keep an eye out on @APPIclinics social media for further dates.