Distance runners are an interesting group. I know no other group of athletes who are more willing to train for hours on end for improvements as small as a fraction of a second. Many are so dedicated to the sport of running, their entire training volume consists of running long miles with a few weekly sessions of higher intensity running over distances of 400 meters to several miles. While this does wonders for the energy systems required to run fast and turn left, it only serves to perpetuate movement dysfunction. If we are to succeed in the long term, we need to recognize that there is a demand for increased physical preparedness beyond the traditional runner’s program outlined in the above sentences. To achieve complete development, we must be sure to touch on many aspects of fitness.
One area where a traditional runner can stand to improve a great deal is simply the introduction of faster running in his program. Now, I’m not referring to faster running in the form of 400m reps or even strides, but referring to faster running in the form of 40-60m reps with maximal recovery.
This is for a number of reasons including biomechanical, muscle activation, and also potentiation of longer distance runs.
During an easy run, the amount of hip flexion is significantly lower than during faster running. This creates a disproportionate pattern of activity among the hip flexors. Those that are most active in hip flexion from neutral to the first 75 degrees of hip flexion receive far too much work while the hip flexors that work above this range of motion (which is somewhat arbitrary), particularly the psoas and iliacus, do not do their fair share. Over time, the psoas becomes weakened while the low range hip flexors become excessively trained. When this athlete approaches the season and begins to run faster, we may see these overworked muscles “give out” and lead to missed training time with “pulls” or potentially problematic iliotibial bands (TFL hypertonicity).
By introducing a progressive speed program, we are able to facilitate the iliacus and psoas to a greater extent and achieve greater balance between all hip flexors. Given that the iliacus also has an attachment to the acetabular labrum, it may also play a role in helping reduce capsular impingement between the labrum and femoral neck.
In addition to the hip flexors receiving better development, running at higher velocities helps ensure greater activation of the gluteus maximus which may be of use in preventing lumbo-pelvic-hip dysfunction and subsequent LE injury. This increased activation may be helpful in reducing femoral anterior glide due to the facilitating the gluteus maximus’s ability to pull the femoral head posteriorly in the capsule. Also, increased activity of the gluteus maximus, a chief hip extensor, can potentiate faster running speeds.
It should be noted that no athlete should immediately jump into 40-60m runs with a flying start as their musculoskeletal system needs time to adjust to the stress. A progressive increase in speed of runs should be undertaken with the end in mind of running at 95-100% maximal velocity. Also, distance runners have the tendency to believe that rest is bad. In the case of maximal velocity training, rest can and should be extensive to ensure adequate CNS and substrate recovery.
Stay tuned for more.
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