“I don’t run to my car if it’s raining…”
Over the years, that’s been my canned response regarding running. Hated it. Did enough of it in pre-season wrestling workouts to never do it again. However, last winter, I was struggling with my climbing season. Things weren’t as fun, my mental game was off, and climbing days were starting to become more of a stressor than anything else. Over my climbing career, this has happened from time to time. It’s part of the game if you do something for a long time. Occasionally, some time away renews the joy, so I took a break and found other ways to get outside.
On a hike late February 2022, I got the urge to jog a little..huh. This trail running thing is kind of nice!
This led to a spring and summer of quite a bit of running, which ended up in completing a classic Chattanooga trail 50k, the Stump Jump. Overall, it was a fantastic change of pace. I even got to explore trails that didn’t lead to a cliff or boulders…there’s a few in Chattanooga..who knew? In addition to the mental and physical benefits of a new form of spending time in the woods, I also learned a few lessons that have influenced how I train myself and others.
The Lasting Benefits of Steady-State Conditioning
For quite a while, most of my energy system work has consisted of kettlebell circuits, various strength movements done on the minute (classic EMOM work), and work on a climbing wall. While all of these strategies have been effective, it was surprising to see how different trying to maintain a lower, yet steady, output for a longer period of time (30-90 minutes) felt. Frankly, I was pretty damn untrained in that aspect. And that makes sense! The SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) is a core concept for creating change in the body, and this longer term, lower output demand was very new to me. Once I started to adapt, it was surprising to see the changes. My ability to recover, both between single efforts and between days of training, skyrocketed. My sleep improved. It became clear to me that this had been an element of fitness that may have been lacking in what I have been doing for a while. The more I think about it, the more I feel that some time spent on low intensity, longer duration, cyclic (repeating without stopping) aerobic work can be beneficial for quite a few people. It doesn’t have to be running. There are tons of options out there. Find one that you enjoy and spend at least 30 minutes a week doing it. You might be surprised how things change.
When looking at how to implement this in training, there’s quite a bit of information out there, and it be confusing at first…and might always be a little confusing. The approach I had that seemed to work best for me was the “Talk Test”. If I could hold a conversation while moving, it was safe to assume I was staying fairly aerobic. At first, I was shocked that I couldn’t really run at all for a long time without moving into a higher intensity, but the adaptation occurred quickly and I was able to move faster and faster, while still staying aerobic.
The Importance of Strength Training for Endurance Athletes
As a fledgling endurance athlete this past summer, my strength training frequency dropped as I had to figure out ways to fit it all in. Training for a longer race required more time actually running, especially since I was a newbie. I actually stopped lifting for a month or so as I ramped up some volume….and things got worse. My connective tissue started to give me issues, my knees started hating me, etc. I played with running intensity and volume, and never really got things to calm down until I got back into the gym. I kept things super basic in terms of my strength work. After just a few sessions, I felt amazingly better while running. Small sample size, perhaps, but I feel like low-volume and heavy strength training paired with some targeted movement quality activities worked wonders. I squatted. I deadlifted. They helped.
Front Squat: The weight in front helps us sit back into the squat, and keep a more vertical torso. Squatting helps us build strength in the legs and make the joints more resilient to handle many impacts and absorb the forces of running downhill.
Single Leg Deadlifts: Builds strength in a single leg stance, where we spend a lot of our time while running. In addition, developing strength in the hamstrings and glutes build stride power and improve uphill running.
In addition to this “running specific” strength work I did above, I also continued to train upper body strength to maintain. I feel the lower body work had a bit more relevance to this article, hence only including the videos above.
The Importance of Pelvis Control
For running, especially longer duration running, control of our pelvis in the frontal and transverse plane is extremely important, for distributing the load of sometimes tens of thousands of steps throughout our whole system. Frontal plane pelvis control means reducing wild shifts up or down in the right and left hips as we take steps, whether that’s walking or running. Transverse plane control means having the ability to internally and externally rotate in our hips as necessary. We put force into the ground via internal rotation, and every step requires that to push us forward. If we can’t internally rotate adequately, we have to go above or below the pelvis to find that internal rotation, and that could cause some issues and/or inefficiency over time. Grumpy low back? Knees? Spending some time on the pelvis could be helpful.
Of course, there’s an argument that the only plane of motion that truly exists is the transverse plane…there’s weeds here, and they’re thick. Bill Hartman can explain this better than I can, so I refer you to him. For the ease of explanation, we’re sticking to the traditional planes in this article.
While single leg work can address all three traditional planes pretty well, some extra attention can work wonders here. Simple abduction, adduction, and rotation work seem to be overlooked or even scoffed at these days as “underloading”, and I think that’s incorrect. Building strength in these directions can keep the hips and pelvis resilient and powerful.
Banded Hip Abductions: build strength and control on the outside of the hips.
Copenhagen Side Planks: Build strength and control on the inside of the legs/hips.
Hook Lying Cross Connect: Builds the ability to flex the hip on one side, while using reference points (inside edge of the down foot in contact with the ground) to keep us honest and make sure we’re keeping the pelvis moving appropriately. To put simply, it’s a hip flexion activity with some guardrails to make sure we’re doing things correctly.
90/90 Heel Taps: Creating and maintaining rotation in the hips. I like these as a great complement or replacement to traditional stretches because there’s active movement, not just holding a stretch.
Since the 50k, I’ve continued to trail run (I’m still slow). Not only have I found a way to continue to get some longer duration fitness work in my routine, I’ve found other ways to get outside and enjoy the woods and mountains. If you’re looking to fill in some gaps that your strength work may not be addressing, or you’re dipping your toe into some endurance work, these lessons above may help you get the most out of your work.