A quick Google search for running training plans often distils down to a) slowly increasing volume, speed, intensity, depending on the goal and b) using gym sessions to build up core strength and ‘single-leg strength’ work.
Now part a) has its place in any endurance program and of course to get better at running speed-endurance, we had better run.
Typically, our gym work is physio-like movements that micro-target individual aspects of the running movement. Single leg deadlifts, 1-8th range single leg squats, push ups (?), planks (?), hyperextensions… the list is endless.
Advice centres on the idea that muscular strength in ‘sport-specific’ movements transfers over and improves our performance. Alternatively, large compound movements building full body strength, and prepare our muscles for the volume in running. Build strong legs, a strong back and a strong core and you’re a strong runner! Right? Wrong.
Why are large compounds better for body transformation than running? Large lifts target our musculoskeletal system, with massive metabolic effects, whereas running (and so the fundamental of human movement) is fascial and cardiovascular.
When we run, we utilise networks of fascia to propel us forward. Fascia is like a webbed network across our body, it encompasses our muscle groups, and gives that ‘whipping’ effect whenever we throw, run or jump. Think about the difference in feeling between a really good throw and smashing your chest with bench press. Our throw feels all encompassing (think about a baseball pitch), whereas a chest press is isolating.
Even if we don’t know about it, the SAID principle applies. This ‘Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands’ basically says that we get better at what we do more of. I’d like to point out, this adaptation includes our muscular system, our cardiovascular system AND our biomechanics as a whole.
Picture the biomechanics of a horse. I hope you imagined something like this.
Now do the same thing for us, what are the biomechanics of the human body?
Now to core training… most fitness professionals (from my small perspective) agree that sit-ups are largely redundant for optimal posture and performance because they encourage slouching, which most of us are pretty good at anyway! That is, the problem is that it is ‘training’ us to be in a poor position. (This is additional to the mismatch with the actual function of the rectus abdominus as a dynamic stabiliser.)
Let’s talk about planks. Question is this position what I want to get better at? 9 times out of 10, runners have tight hip flexors, kypho-lordosis and associated shoulder-chest rounded problems. Get in a typical plank with all this going on, and what’s getting encouraged?
You got it. Tighter hips. A slack lumbar. Rounded shoulders.
Running is a challenge in hip extension (kicking our leg down, from bent to straight). From sitting, stressing and other lifestyle problems, 99% of us have dysfunctional core-hip relationships and our glutes cannot properly facilitate running.
If your plank is practicing pelvic tilt, pelvic shift, kypho-lordosis and rounded shoulders, it might not be improving your core in any helpful way.
So what’s the alternative?
Take a look back at Usain (who, by the way, does not have perfect biomechanics, but obviously he’s doing something right!). Notice that at no point in his movement does his body look like a plank, Russian twist, dragonflag or anything else. Likewise, I’m hard-pressed to see a hip-hinge pattern, a squat, a push up or anything like that.
If being an efficient runner is our goal, the SAID principle tells us what to do, impose demands on our body that parallel the movements we are aiming to enhance!