The concept of making small adjustments to our training habits, will eventually produce improvements in our running performance.
In fact, we should focus on identifying several small opportunities for improvement (even as little as a 1% improvement) and add them.
Here are our 9 tips to help us achieve some marginal gains in our training:
1. Mental Preparation
Dedicating some time each week to work on the mental side of training, we will be able to develop the mental toughness required to get you through stages in our runs or races and make us more resilient.
Visualization is used by a number of elite athletes to help them focus on positive outcomes.
An advanced form of visualization is known as mental imagery.
It is a technique that challenges us to not only picture or see the positive outcome, but to bring all our senses into play. Try using this for your more intense training sessions or when you feel more negative or especially before your next race.
2. Running Drills at the End of Our Runs
Running drills are great, and extremely effective if done at the end of a training run.
If performed regularly, they can really improve our running technique.
They are a way of enhancing our ABCs (Agility, Balance, and Coordination) and are also useful in helping correct any muscle imbalances. Some of the drills considered the most effective are:
High Knees: Run with your knees pushing up to your waist.
A-Skip: Skip forward, lifting your lead knee up to your waist while keeping your back leg straight as you hop off your toe. Continue doing this alternating legs and hitting the ground with your mid-foot or forefoot.
B-Skip: Skip with high knee motion and extend your leg. Push it down with an eccentric contraction of the hamstring. Alternate legs.
Butt-Kicks: Run and push your legs back so that your heels come close to your butt.
Straight-Leg Bounds: Run with your legs straight in front of you, no bending at the knee.
Carioca: Face sideways and cross your trailing leg in front and then behind and you continue in the sideways direction. Continue facing the same direction for your return trip.
Side-Shuffle: Extend one leg to the side of your body and shuffle the other leg toward it. Keep your chest up and your feet straight. Return facing the same direction.
Backward Running: Perform just as it sounds.
Running Drills Video: https://vimeo.com/637869361
If you dedicate 10 minutes after 2 of your weekly runs to performing drills and do it consistently over a 3-6 month period, you will notice the results and benefits.
Strides are great way to finish our runs.
Spending that extra 5 minutes performing them after completing our run, it will give our body a real boost.
They provide a good dynamic stretch post-run and help reinforce a good running form.
Also, running the strides after our long aerobic runs will develop our body’s ability to switch from using mainly slow-twitch fibres to the fast-twitch fibres of anaerobic running.
Aim to run a series of 4-6 strides over a 50-100m distance on as flat a surface as possible.
Once we get used to perform these strides, we can also incorporate strides running downhill. There is evidence to suggest that this can increase our cadence and turnover which will ultimately develop our speed.
4. Yoga and Stretching
A common issue for a lot of runners is tightness in their hips.
Also, with more and more people spending time sitting in the office all day, or home office, it’s only natural that the glutes, hamstrings, and hips will become more stiff, sore and less flexible.
By committing to a daily stretching program, we’ll be not only help us prevent injuries but will be giving us a better chance of running some personal bests.
Try and commit to 10-15 minutes of stretching on the running days (especially after hard training sessions). And to perform even light 5 mins stretches post-run is very important to release all the muscle tightness.
Yoga sessions have many benefits for runners, look to incorporate it in one day a week. In addition to the gains in our flexibility, we can also use it as a relaxation tool to help our body recover from the constant training load.
5. Quality vs Quantity
A lot of us think that the only way to improve something is to do more of it.
However, at times by reducing the focus on one thing and prioritising another, it can surprisingly lead to increased performance.
So, if you aim to reduce your weekly aerobic running by 10% and then replace that with quality workouts such as intervals this will lead to improvements.
High-intensity workouts include:
Short Speed Intervals
The stress we put in our body during these tough sessions should not be underestimated and it is recommended to allow at least 48 hours before performing the next hard session so that our body has sufficient time to rest and recover.
6. Increase Sleep or Have a Nap
The quality and quantity of our sleep will have an impact on our potential performance.
We should aim to get as close to 7-8 hours every night and if possible, we could also incorporate a 30-minute nap during the day according to our daily schedule to help us feel refreshed and ready for the big training sessions we have planned.
There are a few things we can do to help improve the quality of our sleep: reduce afternoon and evening consumption of caffeine, establish routines for sleep and getting up times, and avoid any screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime.
7. Core Exercise Training
We should add some core training session 2-3 times/week.
It is a great way of improving our core stability and will help reduce the impact on our legs, lower back and hips feel from each stride.
Core strength training sessions can help us avoid potential injuries, reduce post-training muscle soreness and give us greater muscle endurance.
8. Faster Shoes
Road Running shoes with tech like carbon fibre plates, like the new Nike Vaporflys, or New Balance Fresh Foam, RC Elite shoes are very popular, and there’s evidence to suggest that they can give us an edge. It has be shown that these shoe models can make runners more biomechanically efficient and on average 4% more economical while running.
The outcome is that our body will use 4% less oxygen at any given speed, making us more economical. However, as this structure of the shoe is different, they will take a little bit of time to get used to, so the recommendation is to wear them for shorter runs initially and to allow our body time to get used to the new sensations and feel of the shoe.
9. Hills for Strength
Hill running can build specific leg strength and make an athlete much more efficient as their running economy is enhanced.
There’s a number of different types of hill session that we can do. One is to find a long hill of between 80-120m with a moderate gradient, and run a series of 8-10 repetitions, with a jog back recovery. Or shorter distance 50m, where we can push a bit harder on the uphill.
Remember it is not a race to the top, and the main purpose of this session is to improve our running form by increasing the knee lift, and activating our core to lift the knees. Also using our arm strength on the uphill, helps support our body, with less impact. Therefore, relax, focus on your knee lift and maintain an upright upper body posture.
Consistency is key
The key to success is our ability to train regularly and not pick up injuries. So, to only change one thing at a time or incorporate one of the marginal gains, we should test it out for a period, and then add another.
Train Regularly, Add Some Good Training and Recovery Activities, Feel Better, Run Better and Happier!