Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sporty Sunday: RLRF Cross and Strength Training

The Run Less, Run Faster program is not just about running. Cross training and strength training are essential components of the regimen. Cross training allows the runner to work the heart and lungs, while giving the running muscles a break. Strength training builds both the muscles directly used in running and those used to support the rest of the body during activity. Incorporating these elements into my routine kept me injury- and boredom-free.

The RLRF runs are hard. They are so taxing, that the body requires a day or two off from running between the sessions. But aerobic fitness suffers from that time off. To develop fitness, yet give the legs the rest required, RLRF recommends two cross-training sessions a week in an activity that raises the heart rate, but is not weight-bearing. The program recommends, cycling, swimming, rowing, and deep water rowing.

I chose to swim with my Master’s swim team. I swam three times a week (the RLRF program does include an optional 3rd day of cross-training). My practices were 60-90 minutes long: warm up, drills, speed work, tempo swims, and cool down. I feel tired, but relaxed and loose after a swim session. I’ve always thought of swimming as a massage from the inside out. The action of the body pulling itself through the water seems to work out kinks and soreness. A hot tub soak before hitting the shower doesn’t hurt, either! Swimming is my favorite low-impact, high-aerobic exercise.

After last year’s marathon, I realized I needed to add strength training to my regimen. My inner and outer thighs and back took a beating in the race…and I didn’t even think of those muscles as “running” muscles! Although I didn’t injure my hamstring last year, I have pulled it in the past. I have strong hamstrings, but relatively weaker quadriceps, and the imbalance leads to injuries. Finally, strengthening training increases joint stability, reducing the chance of injury – particularly in the hips and knees. (I’ve had knee injuries in the past.)

I began a Nautilus circuit at my gym last June and continued it through this year’s marathon training. Twice a week, I warmed up for 30 minutes on the stationary bike or rower (or a combination of the two) and then completed the circuit once, lifting to failure on each machine in a single set. On Wednesdays, I warmed up with a yoga video and then completed the body-weight strength exercises found in RLRF. I didn’t get “big” nor did I move the pin very far down the weight stack. (Since June, I haven’t managed to budge the weight on the damn quadriceps machine beyond 65 lbs.) However, I’ve stayed injury- and pain-free.

RLRF doesn’t prescribe a tapering schedule for cross and strength training, so I trolled the internet until I found some sensible advice.
3 weeks prior to race: Reduce cross training by 20 – 30%. (I reduced the time I spent in the pool by 20%) Continue strength training.
2 weeks prior to race: Reduce cross training by another 20% . No strength training.
3 weeks prior to race: No cross training. No strength training.

The marathon will be the final evaluation of the efficacy of the cross and strength training. I’m already a believer, though. A week before the race, I’ve found the following to be true:
- I’m not bored
- My upper body and core is stronger
- My piriformis syndrome has not recurred. (Last year, by the end April, I could hardly tolerate sitting because my tight piriformis muscle (deep in the gluteals) was irritating my sciatic nerve.)
- I’m having fun!

Sporty Sunday is a recurring feature in which I share my fitness routine and offer and solicit advice. While this content might seem a little out of place in an outfit diary, a healthy, strong body is the foundation of my wardrobe. I hope to inspire my readers to be fit as well as stylish!

1 comment:

littlenashua said...

I have piriformis syndrome - it's what keeps me from running the way I used to. When I did my marathon it got really, really bad and has never really gone away completely. I've basically had sciatica for the last 4.5 years, with only minor breaks when it goes away. I started a Bootcamp Fitness class this year (2x/week) for my cross training. I also try to do yoga at least once a week but I found that if I was doing bootcamp and yoga that left little time for running or cycling (my primary sport is now cycling). I tried swimming but I am just not that into it - I like swimming outside in the summer but hate the pool at the Y. Plus, I am an abysmal swimmer. When I trained for my marathon I did ride quite a bit as cross training and did do some swimming. I am still trying to make the piriformis stuff go away completely. I am happy for you that you found something that works for you.