Why Try Trail Running

The last few years I have been slowly turning into a runner. It wasn’t until I found trail running though, that I was full on hooked. Below are some reasons you should consider lacing up your shoes a little tighter and hitting the trail.

After a steep climb up, a short flat run, the downhill is coming up. You’re huffing and puffing and your legs are burning. There is no thinking about a to-do list, no work stress, no thinking about the beer you’re going to have later. You need pure focus. You start picking up speed on the downhill, step on the big rock, dodge the roots, hop over the stream, pick your feet up and step carefully over the slippery technical section, cut to miss the mud pit and continue cruising along, staying focused.

The technical aspect of trail running puts you in an instant flow state. Flow is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

I was first introduced to the flow state while trying to improve my own mental game while playing hockey. It was like trying to figure out a magic formula of proper sleep, superstitious food selection and always making sure that I put my left skate on first.

Since then, I have been a flow junkie, reading books on how to achieve it, how to focus more and be more mindful of what I’m doing. Flow isn’t just about sports, it can be about productivity and feeling accomplished too.

I was instantly dropped into a flow state the first time I ran on some muddy, technical trails. Many runners talk of the runner’s high, that is the flow state. Running on the road, I could get there, but it would take longer. The chaos of road running –  cars, other runners, intersections and being in a familiar place – all make it more difficult to reach this delicate state.

On the trail, you must always be mindful of your footing. Hopping from rock to rock, careful not to slip, how many steps should I take between here and there? You’re always computing the next move, losing focus isn’t an option unless you want to fall.

In his book, Go Wild, Dr. John Ratey goes into detail as to why trail running is important to us as humans. Running on trails makes our brain compute while we are moving (which, Ratey argues that movement is the reason we have a brain in the first place). It isn’t monotonous, repetitive motion over and over again – it is constantly varied, each turn being different from the next with new obstacles to overcome.

The technical trail surface forces us to shorten our stride, land more on the mid foot and gives us better cushion than hard pavement. These trails can also slow us down, which I think is a good thing. Runners can become obsessed with pacing and distance, sometimes to their detriment. You can’t compare trail times to road times. This shifts the focus from the distance ran, to the quality of your run. How did you feel? Were you floating over rocks and tip-toeing through roots. Or did your feet feel heavy with a lack of agility?

The most profound benefit of running on the trail, the trail itself. Getting out into nature and immersing yourself in the quite of the woods. A goal of mine over the past couple years has been to get outside more. Trail running has allowed me to check two things of my list at once. I can train/exercise and also spend time outside, instead of being in a gym. The nature aspect of trail running is another reason why I find the flow state much easier to find than on the road.

 

If I’ve convinced you to give it a shot, here are a few tips for you:

Start by setting a time-based goal. Measure your results not by how far you when over the duration, but how did your running technique feel? On a good day, I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, easily floating down the trail.

Keep your headphones at home. How can you expect to focus while you’re concerned about Spotify’s song shuffling? Seriously, ditch the headphones and watch your performance skyrocket. This goes for road runners, too. Before everyone asks, “what are you supposed to think about with no music, it’s so boring,” exactly. It’s boring because you have never been able to focus on what you’re doing – running! Think about your stride, your breathing, what muscles are burning. That’s how you become better, deliberate practice.

Don’t just look at your feet! Keep an eye out in front of you so you know what coming next. Don’t let anything sneak up on you.

I recently re-read (listened) to Christopher McDougall’s amazing book, Born to Run. In it, ultramarathon runner and friend of the Tarahumara people, Caballo Blanco, tells Chris, when choosing to take 1 or 2 steps between an object, take 3.

If you’re interested in learning how to take your running to the next level, GAIN endurance, a weekly, drop-in style class kicks off in August. GAIN endurance is a strength and conditioning program to be used as an addition to your current training plan. Learn how to feel better, move better, go further and faster.

GAIN endurance kicks off on Tuesday August 8th. You can find out more information or book your first workout here: gainsc.com/gainendurance

 

 

 

Why Try Trail Running

The 3 Most Effective Core Exercises You’re Not Doing

The core’s primary function is to brace and stabilize your spine. During endurance sports like running, cycling and swimming, your ability to keep your spine in a solid, braced position will have tremendous impacts on your speed and power. If that’s not enough to convince you to throw these moves into your next workout, bulletproofing your trunk (core), is a great way to keep injuries at bay and keep you going longer and faster.

Now, you probably know that you should be including core exercises into your training regimen. You probably even do a fair share of plank variations, sit ups and crunches. Here are our 3 favorite non-conventional ways to train the core for endurance athletes (and everyone else).

 

  1. Loaded Carry Variations

I’m a believer that simple always wins when it comes to strength training. It can’t get much simpler than this – carry heavy stuff around. There are dozens on variations, and array of all of them is best. I will explain our 3 favorite below.

First, why loaded carries? Because they cover a lot at once, they’re easy to learn and difficult to do. Loaded carries can improve your hip stability, core strength, improve shoulder stability and upper back strength and build your conditioning by mixing them into your strength workouts.

Farmer’s Carry – stand with two dumbbells or kettlebells, squeeze the handles, slightly pull shoulders back and maintain a slight bend in the elbow. Then, keeping upright and not letting the weight sway you around, walk. Try for 30 seconds in between a lower body strength movement or try to accumulate 3-5 minutes as a finisher for a workout.

IMG_0519

Suitcase Carry – same rules as the farmer’s, except done unilaterally. Focus on not leaning away from the kettlebell and walking in a straight line. Keep the weight away from your body and don’t let it come in contact with your leg.  Fighting this rotation builds your strength while running to resist the urge to rotate too much while fatigued.

Goblet Carry – A goblet carry is done by carrying the weight held on your chest. This variation is a favorite of mine for people who like to over arch their back while running. This exposes you and allows you to feel what a neutral spine is like while running. We cue athletes to crunch forward while maintaining a tall posture.

 

  1. Deadbugs

Speaking of over extending the back while running, dead bugs are a go to for people who over arch too much to find stability and teaches a way to find stability in a more neutral position. The carry over to running is that you learn to get more range of motion from your hips (where we want to it) and not so much through moving your spine (we want that to stay braced).

Dead bug’s are a great warm up exercise to get your core operating properly before training. We also program them into the end of a training session at a core finisher. Low reps are plenty here and the key is creating tension through your whole body. The more tension you have, the harder they are. Expressing the tension will have carry over to strength in other movements like deadlifts and squats.

IMG_0515IMG_0516

  1. Anti-Rotation Press

 

I always think about training the core in “anti-movement.” What that means is that instead of focusing on training my abs to create movement, I want to train them to resist movement and other forces so I can always stay in a solid braced position.

The anti-rotation press is a great exercise to build that anti-rotation strength for more efficient running. Having anti-rotation strength can keep you from getting sloppy near the end of a run. This movement is typically done mixed into a strength set, 5-10 repetitions per side with a slight pause in the extended position.

IMG_0514

Try mixing these core movements into your training program. Loaded carry variations can be done during or after each strength session. Dead bugs are great warm ups or done after any heavy work. Anti-rotation press is a good thing to mix in with your strength work. Make sure you are breathing! It’s easy to hold your breath while performing these movements but the breath is the key to stability and you don’t hold your breath while running or cycling!

If you want to learn more about movements like these, GAIN endurance, a weekly drop-in style class for endurance athletes is coming to GAIN Strength and Conditioning in August. This class is an addition to your current training plan to work on strength, mobility and conditioning.

The 3 Most Effective Core Exercises You’re Not Doing

Top 3 Strength Movements for Runners

Running is hard on your body. The continual, repetitive forces over long durations and large distances are certain to add up for anyone. Strength training should be mandatory if you plan on logging miles this summer. It’s the best way to fight off injuries, improve your technique, stability and control.

Here are 3 of our favorite strength movements for runners and endurance athletes alike.

  1. Squatting

I’ve written about this before. Squatting gets a bad reputation in the fitness world. The truth is, you need to know how to squat though, and a lot of people are taught poorly (or not at all).

When done correctly, a squat, no matter the variation, had endless benefits for endurance athletes. It teaches you to use and load your hips properly. Requiring you to get range of motion from your hips, while keeping your spine locked in and stabilized.

Since there are so many different variations and progressions/ scaling options – we can always find a variation that is appropriate for your skill level, strength and any restrictions you may have. Not only will these build up strength to go the distance and power up hills, taking your hips through a full range of motion will have you feeling looser and smoother with your running.

IMG_2952

  1. Push ups

 

Push ups, one of the most poorly executed movements. They don’t get the credit they deserve! A push up is a technical exercise in which you must display a strong trunk (core), stable shoulders and control though a range of motion that we see in running. Your running position, elbows bent, hands near ribcage, is analogous to proper push up form.

The ability to express this strength by doing strict push ups, can save your shoulders during long runs and prevent you from getting what I call “runner’s shoulders,” with the scapula’s upwardly rotated and the shoulders internally rotated. Along with control of the shoulders, you must show control of your hips by using your core to prevent hips sagging – which will pull your shoulders out of position too.

IMG_2969

  1. Deadlifting

 

Deadlifting is my go to with runners who need to improve the strength of their posterior chain. The glutes and hamstrings can get neglected when runners rely on their quads to propel them forward. Using these muscles in the back, will give you better power up hills, improve your top speed and help prevent any overuse injuries from putting too much stress on your quads and knees.

Much like the other two movements, deadlifting requires you to express a stiff trunk and stable spine. This teaches you about moving through your hips and maintaining stability though your spine while moving.

 

Now, this is certainly not an exhausted list of strength movements for runners. But, these exercises are great fundamental movements to master. They all have functional carryover to running because they make similar shapes to the shapes we see while running. They all take core and trunk position into account, which is imperative for carryover to the road or trail. Bracing yourself and your spine is overlooked and important to keep you running healthy and running far.

IMG_2831

 

*Check back soon for our top 3 single leg movements for runners.

 

Launching in August – GAIN endurance – a weekly 90 minute drop in class focused on improving strength, mobility and conditioning. This program is an add on to your current training plan. You know you need to start strength training, come get some coaching.

Top 3 Strength Movements for Runners