"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts from the Tar Pit

I've taken pride in being a running dinosaur. I've seen fads come and go and come back again (e.g., Nike made "minimalist" footwear in the mid-1980's) and I've avoided the bandwagons. I kept going back to the idea that, whatever one was trying to accomplish by non-running exercise, one could find a running version of the same thing, which would be more sport specific. Unfortunately, dinosaurs weren't very smart, so maybe it takes one 60000000 years to learn something.

Running has not been kind to my abdominal muscles, and so, reluctantly, I started doing some core strengthening, not finding any running equivalent. Most of what people work on when doing these is "getting a six-pack," but the rectus abdominus is not really what I need to strengthen. Runners generally need to work on their oblique muscles, so exercises that stress twisting motions of the torso are the ones to focus on; these are the ones that make dancers look "blocky" (and those who do a lot of weight lifting, to regain their waists, then build up the lats to try to get a tapered look - but that just creates another problem, etc.)

Six months into this and there are no noticeable results. One thing I found is that it's not really strength but endurance that I need in the abs. Sitting for several hours each day is the real culprit; if I can teach myself to tilt hips and pelvis forward while seated, I'll probably get some real benefit. Another thing I've discovered is that a muscle I need to work on is the transversus abdominus, which almost no standard exercise addresses. The one that works seems to be the "hairball" - you get on hands and knees, arch the back and pull the stomach toward the spine (make the motion of laughing or coughing and you get in the right position), just like a cat yakking up a hairball. The indignities I'll endure!

I hate doing strength work, but I've been incorporating a few things lately and reading the scientific literature has been interesting - it's as voluminous and contradictory as the literature on running. Some of the concepts are starting to leak into my thoughts on running training, like muscular recruitment during fatigue. I've never been a fan of interval workouts that involved sets and I'm finding what I instinctively feel to be right is being confirmed by the strength training literature, where sets and reps are everything. It may lead to some interesting posts later.

After a very tough hill workout on Wednesday, yesterday I started doing some running drills and plyometrics, which I haven't incorporated in my training for 25 years. Awkward! The important thing to me is that I know why I'm doing them now, rather than doing them because it's something someone somewhere once said was the thing to do.

Among the embarassments was learning I've lost 20 inches on my vertical leap. This white guy can't jump.

So I'm a dinosaur, but not all dinosaurs went extinct. Some learned to fly.


shannon said...

I must admit that I am no fan of strength training either. I understand the benefits of strength training, and even low impact cross training such as cycling, but given a choice I would much rather simply run.

Although I have never done plyometric exercises I think they would be of great benefit for improving strength and speed.

shannon said...

Odd, I just read my comment and realized that I agree that both cross training and plyometric exercises would be of great benefit to running, and yet, have absolutely no intention of incorporating either into my routine.

Thanks for the post, Steve. I may have to do a bit of a rethink on my training ... :)

Colin said...

Recently you hinted at new running plans to be unveiled at some point. With this focus on your vertical leap, perhaps you're going to give the steeplechase a try? :)

SteveQ said...

@Colin: I did steeplechase once! I was so tired I barrel-rolled over the barrier on the last lap.

@Shannon: It took me 30 years to make the same realization it took you 5 minutes!