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WORDS Neil Russell, BA(Hons) HMS, AEP, MAAESS

When creating the perfect running program it’s not as simple as just throwing on your running shoes and hitting the pavement. Once you have established your fitness level, established your strengths/weaknesses and pre-screened/treated any conditions or injuries, it’s time to set your performance goals and develop your specific training program. When creating a running program it is crucial to focus on the following areas to maximise race day and training performance:
- Technique
- Stability and core
- Muscular and cardiovascular endurance
- Race pace and speed development
- Strength/power
- Flexibility
- Rest and recovery

Perform at the start of every running session.
Technique drills are the cornerstone of any good running program. They should be performed as part of the warm-up to reinforce good technique in the ensuing training session or race. Running drills maximise efficiency during running, increase speed or pace and reduce the risk of many common running injuries. They should focus on posture/alignment, foot striking, stride recovery and muscle activation.

Muscular and Cardiovascular Endurance
Perform 2-3 of these sessions per week.
The best way to develop your running-specific muscular and cardiovascular endurance is through Long Slow Distance (LSD) training and tempo training. This is what most people do when training for a running event. For beginners, distance should be slowly built up with good technique at the foundation of the program and tempo runs, where technique is likely to be compromised during fatigue, kept short. LSD training is exactly what it sounds like, it’s all about building your kilometres with good technique to prepare you for distance events, and the focus is on technique rather than pace. Tempo training involves running at a pace slightly faster than the pace required to achieve your goal time and is completed over a shorter distance than your race. These sessions are often combined, for example: completing a 15-20km run with the last 5km at race pace or faster.

Stability and Core
Perform at least twice a week.
When running we are only ever contacting the ground with one foot at a time. This means that your ankle, knee and hips’ stability play a significant role in stride efficiency and injury prevention. Poor hip stability or gluteal function results in internal rotation of the femur (thigh bone), causing knees to point inwards and our arches to collapse (over pronation). These two errors in biomechanics result in an increase in stress on the muscles and ligaments around the knee and ankle, in time this leads to patellofemoral dysfunction (runners knee), plantar fasciitis, shin splints and increased chance of calf strains to name a few. Additionally it will increase your contact time with the ground, resulting in a reduced running pace. Gluteal strengthening and single-leg exercises should be completed to stabilise your hips and knees.

Core strength and endurance is vital in counteracting the rotational force of running and posture maintenance during longer races. Rotational and counter-rotational exercises should be performed to enhance running power and protect against injury. Core stability, posture and foundation exercises are the building blocks of any strength and conditioning program from distance running to powerlifting.

Race Pace and Speed Development
Perform one interval session per week; advanced runners perform an additional repetition session.
Developing anaerobic capacity is a commonly overlooked aspect of running training, as most people just try to run faster for increasingly longer distances. The most effective way to increase your race pace (running pace) and beat your PB (personal best) is to implement interval and repetition training into your program.

Interval training involves completing high-intensity intervals (greater than 80% of maximal effort) with rest periods between each interval, usually with a work to rest ratio of less than 1:1. For example: Six 1km intervals with three minutes rest in between each interval. Repetition training involves performing near maximal repetitions (greater than 90% of maximal effort) with a work to rest ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 depending on the duration. For example 15 x 200m sprints with one minute’s rest between each repetition.

You can vary distances and rest durations depending on experience, training load and the event that you are training for. These sessions are the key to getting faster!

Strength and Power
Perform 1-2 sessions per week.
Often completely neglected by runners, strength and power training significantly increases your maximal power output. The higher power you can potentially produce per stride, the lower the percentage of maximal power (effort) required per stride, thus improving running efficiency and speed. All strength and power programs should begin with general conditioning exercises and then progress to more running-specific, power-based exercises. General conditioning exercises could include a bodyweight squat or lunge; advanced running-specific exercises include plyometric exercises and powerlifting.

Perform 3-4 individual flexibility/mobility/release sessions per week.
Tight hip flexors, hamstrings and calf complexes (to name a few) are the downfall of many runners. Not only will tightness lead to poor running posture, incorrect neuromuscular patterns and eventually injury, it will also slow you down. A small amount of flexibility or mobility training should be incorporated into all sessions (in the warm-up and cool-down). Additionally, you should complete specific flexibility and active release sessions, i.e. stretching, foam rolling and massage ball release. Use a combination of static and dynamic stretches to maximise flexibility as different muscles respond differently to different stretching techniques.

Rest and Recovery
Have at least one rest day per week, ideally with a recovery session and utilise your recovery techniques daily.
There’s no room for being a hero and skipping recovery (rest days, recovery sessions and techniques). Rest days allow your muscles and endocrine system to bounce back, additionally every 4-6 weeks you should have a light week to allow your body to adapt/improve, or else you will keep fatiguing and actually start to see a decrement in your performance in training and racing (this is called overtraining).

Recovery sessions are a great idea on the day following big training sessions or races. This can include pool/ocean work, or light walking and mobilisation (try wearing compression gear) and help increase blood flow to the areas without causing further fatigue, meaning that you can get back to training harder sooner.

Post-session acute recovery techniques should be completed after every session and include your cool-down exercises, nutritional supplementation (protein, simple carbohydrates, hydration, and electrolytes – see page 100 for more information on running-specific nutrition) and contrast temperature showering/ice baths.

Tapering should be factored into your program, depending on training load and the race distance, usually step back the training volume a week out from the race, performing a few speed sessions and short runs. Make sure you are getting at least eight hours sleep a night for maximal physical recovery. When used well these rest days, recovery sessions and techniques - as well as tapering - will mean you recover better form every session and every race, allowing you to train harder and avoid injury, thus optimising performance on every race day!

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
AM Tempo Run Strength/Power Repetition Training Stability & Core Interval Training LSD Run Recovery Session
PM Flexibility & Release Stability & Core Rest Flexibility & Release Rest Flexibility & Release Rest

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil Russell is VIP Trainer for Atleta Fitness and Isowhey Sports and has over 10 years experience in personal training, strength and conditioning coaching and exercise rehabilitation. He has been a strength and conditioning coach for Australian and NZ representative athletes and a PT for internationally acclaimed actors, models and media personalities.


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