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7 Ways to a Faster YOU!

This is the article I wrote for Healthworks.my ! If you have already read it on their website, just scroll through to view the pictures.

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You’ve been running steadily for several months, you’ve taken part in numerous running events and now, you want to take it to the next level. We’re talking about performance and speed because we all want to be the next Usain Bolt, right?

  1. Speed Work

The obvious thing to do if you want to run faster would be to throw in speed work into your training sessions.

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How?

They improve your VO2 max – the maximum volume of oxygen that your blood can deliver to your muscles when running at high speed.

Higher VO2 max > More oxygen delivered to working muscles > Increase in the production of ATP > Greater muscle contraction > Run Faster

Running puts a certain amount of stress on the body. Thankfully, humans are highly adaptable and we are able to learn and change to better handle that stress in the future. Remember how hard it was when you first started running – your breathing was all over the place, your heart felt like it was going to explode and your limbs had a mind of its own – but you continued anyway? And then a few weeks later you realised that running is the easiest thing in the world. That is because your body adapted to the “stress”.

It applies to speed work as well! Runners improve most when they occasionally overload their system and train at a particular speed. Your neuromuscular system, heart and lungs adapt to allow you to run efficiently at higher speeds.

Take Note: Start by Adding One Session A Week

Adding too much too soon is always a recipe for disaster. Instead of adaptation, your body enters the exhaustion stage and you will burnout, develop injuries and fail to recover. Start by adding one speed session a week to your normal training. For the regular runner, 3 speed sessions per week is enough to get you that much faster!

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Example:

  • Try 5 x 400m/5 x 800m/5 x 1KM at interval pace.
  • Rest for about 1-2 minutes in between each bout (Rest time depends on individual fitness).
  • Interval pace is hard running and talking is almost impossible.
  • It is about 90-100% effort.
  1. Plyometric Training

When you think of running, the last thing that comes to mind is probably strength training and plyometrics. However, these two have been known to enhance running performance. Plyometrics include high intensity, high impact drills like jumping and hopping.

How?

Plyometric training improves what is known as the Stretch-shortening Cycle (SSC). The SSC is the transition between the eccentric and concentric muscle contraction and how elastic energy is harnessed to help with force production.

Running is a series of eccentric and concentric contraction. What you want is the concentric contraction to follow closely after the eccentric contraction. If there is a long pause between the two contractions, the captured energy is loss.

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Hill sprints and jump combo? Hahaha! Kidding, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

What You Need To Know

Plyometric training > Quick SSC > Less energy and oxygen is needed to produce the same level of force > Run Faster

Take Note: Do Once A Week 

Plyometric training comes with a relatively high risk of injury. Novice runners are not advised to attempt these drills. Unless you are very experienced, plyometrics should only be done once a week. Never do them on days of high volume training.

Example:

1-2 sets of:

  • 15-20 box jumps
  • 15-20 jump squats
  • 15-20 jump lunges
  • 15-20 single leg hops
  • 5 sets of 50m hill sprints
  • Proper form is KEY to avoiding injury.
  • Consult a fitness/running professional before attempting any of these drills.
  1. Get Rid of That FAT

No doubt runners come in all shapes and sizes. Take a look at the elite pack and you will see a variety in physical proportions. However, they all have one thing in common – nearly all of them have a low body fat percentage. In other words – lean.

A study done in 2006 demonstrated that body fat is a good predictor of athletic performance [1].  The best runners have the leanest legs!

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Close enough.

Not all fat is bad fat, but storage fat is “dead weight”

Our bodies have storage fat and essential fat. Essential fat is the kind that is needed to sustain life. These are stored in the vital organs, the bone marrow as well as muscles and tissues of the central nervous system. Storage fat is stored in adipose tissue, found around the abdominal area, buttocks, hips and under the skin. The more we eat, the more fat we store and it becomes our energy reserve. However, storage fat is not essential for health and too much of it increases the risk of certain diseases.

When we talk about running, storage fat is considered “dead weight” which would only add to the energy cost of running.

Finding The Right Amount of Fat

Determining your optimal body composition is a tough one. Having too much or too little of fat can be detrimental to health. Thanks to our modern lifestyle – increased accessibility of food coupled with our sedentary lifestyle – it is unlikely that we have too little fat for optimal performance. You can gauge your optimal fat percentage by tracking performance. Your body composition at your peak performance is likely to be your optimal body fat composition.

What You Can Do

Move more and eat sensibly > Lower Body Fat Percentage > Run Faster

  1. Be Feather Light

If you are having trouble with lowering your body fat, your best bet would be to lower the weight of everything else that you have on you when you run!

Go light on the run. This includes your top, shorts and shoes. A study performed in 2010 found that it was more economical to run barefoot as compared to shod running [2].

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This basically means that the weight of the shoe could add to the energy cost of running. This does not mean that you have to become a barefoot runner overnight in order to improve running performance. Just opt for light weight shoes.

As for running apparel, go for technical wear that wicks sweat away from your body. Normal cotton tops absorb sweat and can add to the weight when you run.

In short, go light >run faster

  1. Get A Caffeine Fix

This is probably what all coffee addicts want to hear – YES, coffee is a legal performance enhancer! Many elite athletes rely on their morning cuppa, so there is good reason why you should too!

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetAlmond latte! SO GOOD!

Coffee has been known to give you that mental boost, improves mental alertness and reduces a runner’s perception of effort. When you’re able to focus coupled with the fact that running faster would feel easier, you can be sure to finish with a new Personal Best!

Physiologically, caffeine enhances neuromuscular coordination – the speed at which nerve signals are sent to the muscles from the brain – and reaction time. With more signals firing at your muscles, you will be more efficient, running faster with more force and less effort.

The benefits of caffeine have been proven out on the field. One study found that runners who took caffeine before a 5KM run performed better than running without caffeine [3].

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Source: media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

How Much: 400mg or 4 Cups

Before you start chugging down on a giant cup of coffee, there is such a thing as caffeine overdose. Although coffee can be part of your healthy diet (as they are rich in antioxidants), moderation is always key.

According to the FDA, a safe and healthy amount of caffeine a day is about 400mg or 4 cups.

People react differently to caffeine (tremors, palpitations, stomach upset, irritability etc), so experiment with it during your training before you attempt to take caffeine on race day! Caffeine is absorbed quickly and it can last pretty long. You can take it 30-45 minutes prior to toeing the start line.

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Affogato anyone?

Whether coffee is used to get you out the door, out of bed or make you run that much faster – it works!

Drink a cuppa > Run faster

  1. Strengthen The Core

The core is the center of the body which holds everything in place and it includes all the muscles which help you to maintain posture. These muscles are found on the abdomen, back and around your hips.

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The Problem: Postural and Muscle Imbalances

The thing about runners is that we tend to neglect strength training. Most of our time is spent logging in the miles. Over time, we develop postural and muscle imbalances. These occur between the muscles that we use all the time (lower body) and the muscles that remain idle (upper body).

Weaker muscles/muscle imbalances may force other muscles to compensate for their lack of function, leading to injury (lower back, knees) and pain.

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Why It Matters: Helps Hold Proper Running Form

A strong core would mean that you are more likely to hold proper running form for a longer period of time. This is especially useful when it comes to distance running. Also, by strengthening these muscles, weight stress from the upper body on the legs can be evenly distributed and reduced. This will then reduce the risk of injury, allowing you to run longer and harder.

A strong core keeps you in place, preventing unnecessary swinging/swaying which goes to improve your running economy = faster times.

What You Need to Do: Strengthen Your Core

With this in mind, what you need to do next is to strengthen your CORE. Stretching and strengthening the muscles overall can restore muscle balance.

The Basic: Plank

If you have absolutely no time and are extremely lazy, the plank would be your best bet. It works nearly every muscle in your body from your arms to your core right down to your legs.

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  • Keep your back straight
  • Keep your elbows below your shoulders
  • Suck your belly in, keep it tight
  • Do not let your hips sink
  • Plank every day for 1 minute and then move on to 2, 3, 4… and see how long you can hold it without compromising on form and technique!

Strengthen core > Run faster

  1. Believe That You Can Do It

And if all else fails, just believe that you can do it! The brain is the ultimate conductor, regulating running performance in response to the signals that it receives from the body. The brain always acts in your favour – to protect your body. It does so by slowing you down before you hurt yourself due to loss of homeostasis or from becoming prematurely fatigued.

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However, you can change the decision made by the brain in response to these inputs. This is where motivation, expectation and the simple belief that you can do it come into play. For example, you will most likely tolerate a greater degree of discomfort if there is an incentive (money, fame, PB, medal etc).

At the end of the day, physiology still wins. You have to be capable physiologically before you can psychologically believe yourself into better running performance. You are able to psychologically push yourself to the max, accessing all available reserves till the point that is just before death. If you haven’t pushed yourself or ran till you felt like dying, it is likely that you have not unleased your ultimate running potential.

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In short, Motivation and Belief >Usain Bolt

dfa

Source: Instagram

Before your next big running event, try these “faster running” tips and see how it goes!

 

Post-Marathon Recovery

You’ve just crossed the finish line, you earned that Finishers Medal around your neck, you’ve hit a new personal best, and you’re in a state of euphoria……and then what?

Many marathon runners make the common mistake of not recovering optimally after the race. Your post-marathon recovery plan begins immediately after you cross the finish line. I was no master when it came to post marathon recovery, having made many bad decisions and went against everything in the rule book. But we all learn from our mistakes (and now you can learn from mine).

Here are a few things that you can do to help your body bounce back into shape.

After Crossing the Finishing Line:

1. Cool down with a slow jog

A short cool down (slow jog) of about 10-15 minutes is essential. Depending on the race day set up, it may not always be convenient to do so. Just make sure you don’t stop abruptly after crossing the finishing line. I felt light headed and sick in the stomach because I came to a complete stop after having been running for a few hours which caused my blood pressure to drop.

2. Drink up (but not too quickly)

Remember to replenish lost fluids. Pick the ones rich in glucose and electrolytes (100plus, Revive, Gatorade, PowerBar Recovery drink). I drank too much too soon (1.5L in 30 mins) and ended up puking. This is dangerous as it would further deplete your body’s fluids leading to dehydration. Take in about 500ml every 30mins-1 hour. This will also help in flushing out waste products from the body. Drink up!

3. Eat something within 1 hour of finishing

Snack on something within the next 1 hour even if you don’t have the appetite for it. You have to get some food in your system as muscle glycogen is rapidly replaced within the first 1-2 hours. Most marathons provide runners with some bananas or apples at the finish line. Eat up to maintain blood sugar levels! You can eat a big meal after to replace everything else that you’ve lost during the run.

4. Don’t stretch too much

Try not to stretch your tired muscles too much as this may lead to injury. 1379973_10152903418911388_1817569158902519087_nIf something hurts, ice the area immediately for about 10-15 minutes to reduce the inflammation. Massage areas or the medical tent should offer everything you need to attend to your injury.

The Following Week:

5. Take time off running

The biggest mistake you can make is running too soon after a marathon. Scheduling in time for recovery is just as crucial as planning your next workout. After months of training and completing the marathon itself, the body needs time to return back to “normal”. It has gone through an intense session of physical stress and the last thing you want to do is to put it under more stress. Even during your recovery period, your body is not at rest. It is busy breaking down, repairing, refueling and recovering.

6. Go for low-impact workouts

You need to find the ultimate balance between activity and inactivity. Engage in an activity that would decrease muscle stiffness/soreness and encourage blood circulation. After a marathon, there will be an accumulation of lactic acid and fluid in the muscles. Increased circulation to the area will help to remove the excess fluid and built up waste whilst enriching the area with nutrients and oxygen. Jog post marathonFocus on low impact workouts that require minimal effort. For example, a light jog on a soft surface (grass, track).

Stretch post marathon

Post-Marathon Activities / Workouts

The key is to start slow! You will initially feel the pinch on your energy levels. Stop your workout if you have to. 10257110_10152903419141388_4054225727019881833_nDo a bit of light stretching for about 10-15 minutes every day. This will help to increase blood circulation and to loosen up any tight areas. My hamstrings were screaming in pain for at least 2 weeks post marathon. Try not to engage in any hard workouts by signing up for races in the weeks following a marathon. You can start to slowly build up mileage and intensity over the next few weeks if you feel good.

As you rest and eat well post marathon, you may begin to feel ready and strong to take on the next race. I had back to back races the week after my marathon. Wrong call! For the first race, I felt strong and fresh. 5KM into the race and my hamstrings were already crying for help. It was a trail run and the hills were STEEP! It was the first time that I had to walk in a race. It was tough and I was completely drained after that. WARNING: Do not attempt. 10465499_10152648264306388_7470217386104035149_o

Cross train by engaging in different activities. You can do anything from swimming to cycling, as long as it doesn’t put too much stress on your legs. I did 20-30 minutes of swimming every other day to get my muscles warmed up.

Post-Marathon Nutrition/Fuel

Enjoy your favourite meals throughout the week. Make sure you eat well balanced meals with 3-4 parts of carbohydrates and 1 part protein to replenish your muscle’s glycogen stores and to rebuild damaged tissues and cells respectively. Choose good quality carbohydrates (complex) and proteins.10801528_10152903401346388_3665916727056616987_n

If you crave for particular foods, satisfy those cravings. Your body knows what it needs. And you deserve it. I was craving for foods that were high in fat (burger and fries) for 2 weeks! Eat whatever is pleasing to your eyes. Continue to hydrate well. 10368238_10152903419026388_1692792890374342481_n

Eat and drink to strengthen your immune system which has been severely compromised post marathon.

Post-Marathon Sleep/Rest

Sleep like a baby! Your body recovers and repairs itself when it is in full rest. You may feel as though your body has been hit by a truck! This fatigue may last over a week. 1240148_10152903401286388_5117757271586368252_nI cannot stress enough how important sleep is. I fell sick 2 weeks after the marathon because I suffered from insomnia. I had about 4-5 hours of sleep every day over the 2nd week and my body eventually gave up. 10366140_10152903419176388_1032711180761417043_nGo to bed early to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.

Post-Marathon Pleasure

My ideal post marathon treat would be a full body massage. Source: Adele WongI went for a deep Thai aromatherapy massage a week after the marathon and it was the best thing ever. You may also want to indulge in a facial session as your skin has been exposed to the harmful UV rays over a few hours on the road. Just kick your feet up. Spend time with your family and friends. Go for that long awaited holiday. Do whatever, just TREAT YOURSELF!1966056_10152903419226388_5663874179444917341_o

Recovery and rest are the last things in any runner’s book. It takes a great deal to convince a runner to take off days. Many runners have this extreme fear that taking days off the road would severely affect their hard earned fitness (especially after training for a marathon).

After all the months of training, resting seems like a curve ball to their normal routine. However, if you’re going to be in it for the long run, it would be a good idea to take time off from running (to prevent injuries) post marathon, even if you’re faced with the reality of a decrease in fitness. Take it from me, REST!10393661_10152903419361388_8779876335544672797_n                                                               So TRUE!

Thanks to http://www.healthworks.my for featuring this article! Check out their page!