Beat The Runner’s Plateau

In every running career, there will be many plateaus. Sometimes they sneak up on us and we don’t realize they’re happening until we see stagnant race times. Sometimes it’s our running buddies who ask “are you alright?” when we’re lagging behind on every. single. run. Sometimes we find ourselves dreading the everyday run because it just doesn’t feel good anymore. Runner’s plateau sucks.

It happens. Now let’s talk about how to fix it.

First things first. You have to be honest with yourself and ask a few hard questions:

-Am I varying the speed and distance of my workouts? This is the most common reason I find for newbie/semi-seasoned runners. If you want results, you gotta mix it up.

-Am I cross-training enough (or at all)? Another mistake people make is to think simply running will make you faster. Not true. Aerobic + Anaerobic workouts make you faster.

-Am I putting forth 100% effort in my workouts? Only you can answer this question.

-Is my schedule the same every day/week? Yikes. Isn’t that boring? I’m plateauing just thinking about it.

-Am I getting enough rest? Sleep is where our muscles heal and grow. If you’re not sleeping, neither of these very necessary things are happening.

-Do I have a goal? Running for the sake of running is intolerably boring. Even if it’s a 3K/5K Turkey Trot, set a goal. Work for it. It takes the monotony out of the running.

These are the important questions to ask because they will provide you with the answers to get out of your running rut, over the plateau and into a new gear in your running. And we all have multiple gears, like cars, that we can train into and find as we get in better shape. It’s kind of a cool thing when you find yourself pushing and easing into a newer, faster pace.

But that doesn’t just happen. Here are some suggestions to get out of your running rut:

-Substitute one run for another form of cardio. Try swimming or indoor cycling. You never know, you might find you looooove triathlons. Get off your legs and into something new.

-Grab a faster running friend once a week for a short, hard run. Scary, I know. But it helps.

-Join a gym and try some strength training classes. A change of scenery and pace might make you appreciate the solitude and quiet many of us experience on a run.

-Mix it up. Don’t do the same workout for two weeks. Nothing the same, every workout is new and different. No run route is the same. No distance is the same. No class is the same. Try it.

-Kick it up a notch. Indoor cycling (aka “spinning”) is a great way to challenge your cardiovascular system while not beating the hell out of your legs. Push as hard as you can during one class a week and see if you notice a difference in your runs after a month.

-Take a break from running. I know, I know. Runners hate this suggestion. But, seriously, taking a one week/one month break from running to find new ways to move might be just what you need to get back into it with a fresh perspective.

-Set a goal. Sign up for a race. No better way to push yourself than to set a bar to reach and work as hard as you can.

Plateaus are bound to happen to everybody, even (and maybe, especially) the pros. How you handle them is up to you. You can wallow in it and complain about it or you can switch it up, work a little harder, try something new and discover something else about yourself: you have another gear. Who knew?

Now go out and run!

What do you do to get beyond the plateau???

Exercises To Do This Week: Strong Shoulders

The shoulders are the unloved workhorse of our upper body. We want them to look awesome, rounded, strong and straight and yet, we abuse them daily by heaping huge bags on top of them and constantly rounding them forward into a terrible slumped over position that yanks on our rotator cuff muscles. Not nice. These are also the muscles that we call upon in the longer, harder miles to initiate more movement. “Pump your arms” I shout to my runners. Well, we gotta pump them in the weight room so we can pump them when we run.

Here are three exercises that work all three heads of the shoulder (anterior, medial and posterior) and helps to shape them for all of our vanity and arm-pumping needs.

#1. Upright Row

Standing with feet hip-width and knees slightly bent, grasp the bar in an overhanded position just inside of the width of your shoulders. Draw the bar up toward (but not reaching) your chin while pulling up on your elbows so that the wrists stay straight. Give a little tug to the rear at the top of the motion and release back down til your arms are straight. Start with a 20-30 bar, 15-20 reps.

                                     

#2 Overhead Press

Grabbing the bar beyond the width of your shoulders, make sure your elbows are underneath your wrists (not your wrists and the bar in front of your elbows), press the bar up and over the top of your head. Repeat 15-20 times over 3 sets.

     

#3 Bent Over Row

Support yourself with one leg in front and one leg behind so that you can table-top yourself as far forward as possible while maintaing a flat back. Grip the bar overhand and a little wider than your shoulders. Draw the bar toward your belly button, allowing your elbows to fly to the side but keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears. Repeat 3 sets, 12-15 reps.

         

With all of these exercises, if it is your goal to make your shoulders bigger, you should gradually do a heavier weight and fewer repetitions. Conversely, if your goal is to shape the look of your existing shoulders, a lighter weight (but not lighter than 15 pounds) and fewer repetitions (no more than 20, 3 sets) is appropriate for your goals.

Regardless, by doing all three of these exercises, you isolate each individual head of your shoulder as the primary muscle of the movement, thereby giving your body a well-rounded workout. If you do the same shoulder exercise over and over, you will likely 1. fatigue that primary muscle and make yourself more susceptible to injury or 2. build up just that one area of your shoulder, giving yourself kind of a funky shape to your most noticed upper body area. We don’t want that, now do we? No, sir.

Rock these out at the gym this weekend! Doesn’t Sass look amazing doing these exercises? Thanks for modeling, lady.

Now go out and run!

Science Backs Me Up

A few links for your Friday reading enjoyment. Some old, some new. All worth taking a look:

-Weight training improves performance.

-Running does not destroy your knees. So there.

-Running in races helps to make you a faster runner.

-Even Paula Radcliffe has bad days and wants to quit. Phew! I thought it was just me.

-If you are not inspired by Team Hoyt, you are dead in your soul.

*Bonus for you New Yorkers out there*

Join me and Aleah Stander of Flywheel Sports for an awesome BRICK workout (bike and run), compliments of lululemon athletica. Click here for details. Work out with me. Come on, you can do it!

Happy Friday, everyone.

Now go out and run!

Better Than The Alternative Tuesdays: Failure

I didn’t used to try things if I knew there was a chance I might fail. The few times I did were usually auditioning for a musical role and not getting it, but that happened to everyone in college so it wasn’t nearly as devastating. No, I played it safe and did what I knew I could do. Bor-ing! And pathetic.

These days, I do my best to try things where I may very well fail and fail spectacularly. And it’s kind of awesome, actually. And worth doing, which is why it’s our BTTA theme today. Failure is totally an option and should always be an option.

If you’re not failing, you’re not really trying.

This is true in my academic/professional life and my fitness life. I’ve done yoga since college, but I have tried more classes, poses, teachers in the past two years than all thirteen years of practicing added up. I have fallen out of poses, spent a good portion of class in child’s pose and invited friends (who became juuuuust a little closer friends after being seen with me in public during and after a class) to witness my often ungraceful yoga practice in public. Oh, God bless your souls, dear friends.

I have also undertaken the challenge of my career: going back to school for my DPT. My, oh my, this is something I could very well fail over and over at. But I will keep on trying because, as my husband says, “It’s not that you can’t learn it, you maybe just need to learn it in a different way than the professor is teaching. You’re smart!” I, by the way, do not really consider myself smart, rather, I am a hard worker and willing to learn. Maybe that’s better? I have absolutely no ego about school at all. Anyway, I gotta tell you, that B that I earned in Chemistry was sweeter than any other accomplishment in my entire life. As my aunt, the boss of all of us, about my reaction: tears, shock and then jumping up and down on the cell phone with JB and the Obi-wans. Seriously, it was HUGE. And hard-fought and I almost failed. Really, I did.

Same with Calculus. I was saved by my work ethic and my willingness to ask for help from a very kind professor. The opportunity to fail is everywhere for me.

Even here on my blog. It’s been almost three months and I wasn’t sure anyone (besides the Obi-wans and all 50 of my close family members) would bother to read this. I would publicly fail and it would live forever on the Internet. Having all you fine people read is an honor and I do a little dance every time I read a comment or someone clicks on my page.

Putting yourself out there to fail is terrifying. But when you try your absolute hardest and the chance that you might fail is so real, when you succeed, it’s incredibly rewarding. I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s like a runner’s high. And it’s definitely a reason why it’s better to be here than there.

Try. Try hard and be willing to fail. Explore your edges and be vulnerable to failure. Run harder. Tackle some crazy obstacle. Do something that scares you.

As a final thought, I’d like to leave you with one of my all-time favorite athletes in one of my all-time favorite ads:

Preach.

Now go out and run!!

I’m A Newbie: 3 Ways To Finish Strong

The end of a race is the hardest. You’ve started out conservatively, you maintained a steady pace, you remained calm on the crazy uphill portions and now you’re down to the last few miles, meters, feet and it’s HARD. How could you have ever prepared yourself for this? Well, I’ll tell you but a first, a little story.

My junior high school cross country coach was a dad from our community. He wasn’t a teacher, but a volunteer who took time out of his day to coach this rag-tag group of 11-14 year-olds while we ran around our local park. He was a nice man. He was also fond of the bullhorn during races. Whenever we got within about 600 yards of the finish line, we could hear his voice blaring out over the crowd and he was always saying the same thing, “Finish strong, into the chute. Keep going, you’re looking good.”

*Sidebar: Chute? This is before timing chips and you had to cross the finish line in between two ropes-a chute-as they shouted off times and stay in line as they took your bib number. High tech, right?

To this day, it’s the thing the Obi-wans and my siblings say to one another whenever we’re finishing something: a race, a class, a project, a long day…“Finish strong, into the chute.” It reminds us that we’re near the end and we have to give it all we got. If you can hear Coach, you’re almost there. Run harder!

And this is how I learned to run harder at the end than at the beginning.

In order to finish strong, you can do three key things during training:

#1. Negative split runs. You increase your pace every mile/half mile, depending on what distance you’re training for. Excellent training tool, especially for those of you who go off the line as though you’re at the Kentucky Derby.

#2. 5K finish workout. You run your long run at whatever pace you normally run long runs and take the last 5K to try to run at your 5K/10K pace. You’ll learn how the end of a race feels and how to remain calm while pushing your body. Great for marathoners.

#3. Middle of the run sprints. During a midweek run, take your middle 2 miles and break it down into 4 x 400 yard sprints with jogging recoveries in between each repeat. Then continue on and finish your run. It’s a great way to make sure your first half is the same speed as your second half, even with those speedy sprints in between.

Each of these workouts will train your body and your mind to stay focused in the middle of your race and to work harder at the end. If you do the same pace for every run and never vary your strategy, it’s difficult to anticipate what the end of a race will feel like. And trust me, you want to prepare yourself for those last 3 miles of a marathon because they will make or break you. Give these tricks of the trade a shot and you’ll be ready to go on race day!

Now go out and run. And “finish strong, into the chute!”