Monday, 27 October 2014

Training In The Off Season For a Runner

After months of training for marathons, half marathons, 10 K and 5 K runs, we can suddenly find that races are few and far between coming into the winter months. My next half marathon race isn't for five months which, whilst I can't wait to start clocking up miles again, will give me a moth or two to change my training and concentrate on areas that have been overlooked and neglected.

What Do I Need To Improve With My Running?

Every runner wants to improve their running in some way, whether it is speed, distance, recovery time or getting up hills. One of the great things about the off season is that you get a chance to do other activities that perhaps your previous training schedule didn't give you a chance to do.

Strength Training

One of the benefits of running, is that you don't have to go to a gym to do it. Maybe that is why strength training can be overlooked so easily by runners. But strength training isn't all about bodybuilding.

Getting stronger muscles will help you get faster, whatever distance you run. I want to run 13.1 miles as fast as I can and after running that distance my legs are normally very sore. If I can make my legs stronger, then it will take less effort for me to carry myself over that distance.

The stronger my leg muscles are, the less work it will take to keep pushing myself forward. The less work it takes to move, the less oxygen is needed and the heart doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood into them.

Strength therefore not only helps improve speed, but also endurance. And getting up hills will suddenly get a lot easier.

Squats can be done without weights, which target the quads used for pushing off when running. Think of these like the engine of a car. The bigger the cc, the more power waiting to be used.

Hamstring push ups help build the hamstrings, and can help improve the speed at which you can run. Your hamstring is used every time your feet stretch out to hit the ground.

Working on calf muscles can be done with heel raises. These also help strengthen the Achilles tendon, something I know all about after my injury this year...

Core And Balance Training

The core muscles are what keeps us upright when running, they keep our form and posture as we start to get tired. The stronger your core, the more efficient your running will become. You will also help lower the chances of getting injured.

When we slouch forward when we run, it puts more pressure on our back, slows us down and will waste a lot of energy. Watch any elite distance runner and you will see how upright they keep the upper half of their body.

Some examples of exercises to improve your balance and core are:

Push Up Jacks
Ski Abs

I am currently doing the Beachbody Insanity 60 day challenge, which pays a lot of attention to strengthening your core and improving your balance. I am on day 9 as I write this, but I can already feel myself getting tighter around my midsection, and my posture has improved in general everyday life. I don't slouch as much, and after just a week I am not falling over while performing quad stretches (standing on 1 leg and pulling the other one up behind you).

I would also recommend yoga, which will improve core strength and massively help your balance. Even simple beginner's poses can benefit runners. There are yoga poses covered in the Insanity workout, but if you want some free yoga lessons I suggest you try Yoga With Adriene on YouTube.

Like I say, it's free, and there are plenty of different levels to work at.

Swimming is brilliant at helping the core, and is zero impact too. If there is a pool near you I would suggest going at least once a week. If you haven't done it in a while,don't worry. I couldn't swim to save myself and after a few weeks of splashing up and down the pool, I got to a stage where I could swim a mile.


This has been a big weakness of mine since I started running. I am the only one to blame, as I always seemed to skip doing stretches. However, I am doing plenty of them at the minute.

Flexibility allows you to have more range of motion (longer strides have to be a good thing..), make you less prone to injury, can help with muscle gain, makes you run more efficiently and also allows you to recover more quickly.

Again, yoga and swimming will help, as will regular stretches you would normally do before or after a run. Pilates is another option, although I can't claim to be an expert at this.

It is a good idea before doing any stretches to warm up the muscles first (even running on the spot will do this) and remember not to bounce or move suddenly. Oh, and remember to keep breathing the whole way through them.

High Intensity Training

This is what I am doing at the minute, and it is something I have really missed since wrecking the punchbag in my house.

High intensity training helps exercise the heart, lungs and muscles. It will help you on your speed runs, hills and also your longer runs.

The faster you can go at full speed, the faster you can go at 70%, 80% or whatever. Your body will have adapted to the high intensity workouts and be better coped for any type of running.

Your heart gets stronger and able to pump more blood around your body, and your muscles improve their efficiency to use the freshly oxygenated blood.

I found my short fast runs to be very tough, but I'm looking forward to getting back to them in December to see how much they will have improved, even with no running.

I'm doing the Insanity DVD's, but you could do boxing or interval training. During the season I was doing sprints until I injured my calf muscle.

Weight Loss

This is another "big" one for me. I run a lot, but I also eat a lot. When I stop running, I don't stop eating. Then I weigh myself and find that I weigh 188 lbs..

Digital scales
I keep them in the kitchen, so are they kitchen scales?

The holiday season isn't too far away and it's very easy to put weight on, both before then, and during it. With long dark nights it's hard to leave the house sometimes, so we find ourselves eating pots of comfort winter food beside the fire instead of all the healthy post run pasta we were using as fuel.

A fitness programme like the one I am doing will help me lose weight (it has started to do so already) and means when I get back to running I won't have to carry as much.

High intensity training is proven to shift fat more quickly than long runs, even though you may burn similar calories. Your body will also be finding these exercises different to what they are used to, and burn more calories and fat as they try and adjust.

I am paying attention to what I eat (although I still give myself the occasional treat), and drinking at least one diet protein shake every day.

I get mine at Amazon at
MaxiMuscle Promax Lean 1200 g Strawberry Weight Loss and Definition Shake Powder (packaging may vary)

 Give Your Body A Rest

The off season is also a great opportunity to give your body a rest. All that pounding your feet do as they impact on the roads put a lot of stress on your joints and bones, so getting away from running for a short time will do your body the world of good.

If you train properly paying attention to these areas during the off season, you should come back an improved and stronger runner.

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