Might As Well Jump

What if I told you there was a way to improve your speed, agility, power, endurance, balance and coordination in just five to ten minutes a day, three times a week?

And not only that, it would be fun?

Most runners are always looking for a way to get stronger and faster.  More running usually is the best way to do it, but there’s a limit to how much running you can do with your body and your lifestyle.

This is where plyometrics come in.  Plyos are high-velocity movements that generate power which translates to more speed and stamina on your runs.

In other words, jumping.

Studies have shown that adding plyos into your weekly routine improves muscle strength and running economy.  One study of highly trained athletes showed that after 9 weeks of plyo training 3 times a week, elite runners increased their running economy by 4.1%!

Yes, please!

Does that mean that you have to do a million burpees and box jumps to increase your power?  Those are great, but there’s a more fun way.

Jumping rope.

Jumping rope works all the major running muscles (calves, quads, glutes) as well as your stabilizer muscles (core, shoulders, back and chest) used to turn the rope.

It also increases the elasticity of your Achilles tendon, making it a great choice for runners prone to this common injury.  When you jump rope, you strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves, which all support the tendon.  You are training your feet to land properly, avoiding some of the alignment issues that can cause Achilles tendon pain.

As far as calorie burning, jumping rope is roughly equivalent to running, but there’s no way you can keep it up as long!

The first thing you need, obviously, is a jump rope.  But don’t get one of those old-school ones that are actually made of rope or covered in plastic rigatoni noodles.

You need a speed rope. They cost less than $10.  The thin cable is easy to turn fast so you can spin the rope quickly.

Here are a few pointers to getting the hang of it if you haven’t jumped rope since the fourth grade.

Keep your arms low on your sides and turn the rope with your wrists only, not your whole arms.  You want to jump exactly once per rotation and avoid that “double bounce” thing that a lot of people do when they start.  In order to do that, it means you need to spin the rope quickly so that it passes under your feet in time.

You’ll need to have great posture with your core tight and your shoulders down and back in order to jump rope smoothly.  Just like running!

Be sure that you are landing and taking off on your forefeet.  Don’t crash down flatfooted or with your heels.

A great routine to start off with is one I borrowed from pro athlete Sarah Brown.  Often sidelined with Achilles injuries, Brown and her coach had to come up with ways for her to get her explosive speedwork in without so many risky sprint sessions on the track.

Her routine is 10 jumps with both feet, 10 with only the left, 10 with only the right, and then 20 jumps alternating feet.  Aim for 3 to 5 sets of these allowing for short rests in between sets if you need it.  The entire thing takes less than 10 minutes and is perfect right after an easy run.

When you get bored with that, add in some high knees, jacks, front-to-backs, and side to side moves. Have fun and play with it!

There are tons of jump roping videos on YouTube and here’s one that talks about all the benefits from a super fit dude that can do all the tricks! (Or mute it if you just want to watch a buff guy jumping on the beach!)

I keep my jump rope right next to the front door and after I get back from a run, I’ll grab a drink of water, and then jump for a few minutes.

Of course, just like with running, you can get carried away with too much of a good thing.  If you go too hard too soon with your new toy, you’re going to end up hurt, so go easy on it at first.

The routine I’ve described is fairly low impact since you are only jumping a few inches off the ground, typically much less than you would running, so you can jump rope several times a week without adding much more stress to your training.  But add a heavier rope, throw in some double unders, and you are changing this into a high-impact exercise that requires recovery time, so be sure to factor that in.

For now, I’m just keeping it simple as the marathon miles are starting to add up.  But if a few minutes a few times a week are all it takes to make me a stronger, more powerful runner, then I’ll take Van Halen’s advice and jump!


When Strength Sabotages Speed

“Make the hard days hard and the easy days easy.”  This is pretty standard running advice that basically means you should avoid doing strength training on rest days so that you can get a full rest to recover your best.  The only problem with this advice is that it’s hard to go hard twice in one day!  If I do a tough Muscle Pump class in the morning, there’s no way that I can run hard at track the same evening.  I would love it if the schedules were reversed and I could go to morning track and then take a strength class in the afternoon or evening, but my gym doesn’t offer evening strength classes and to be honest, I don’t know if I’d have the motivation at the end of the day.  I certainly won’t do it on my own.

So what I’ve been doing is the Monday morning Muscle Pump before an easy run and then going to evening track on Tuesday.  I figured that more than 24 hours’ space between workouts would be sufficient, right?  Well, more often than not, I’d still feel sore during the warm up Tuesday night.  I’d get through the speed sessions, but it was a struggle.  But they are supposed to be hard, right?  Yes, but I wasn’t fully making the connection that my strength sessions were hurting my ability to do the speed sessions as well as I could.  But I didn’t want to give up the Monday class either.

Then last week a builder friend of mine told me he’d ordered too much sod for a new house and I could have it if I liked.  I had wanted to make some nice grass pathways between my garden beds for a while and I couldn’t pass up FREE, so with my husband’s help, we loaded up about a pallet of sod.  I figured loading and laying two truckfuls of sod was plenty of strength work for the day, so I skipped my class.

And then at track the next night, I felt like I was flying.  Sure, it was still a tough workout, but I did not have the dead legs and soreness that I usually have.  My last 1000 was 18 seconds faster than my first!

It sounds so obvious that I’d been going too hard in class, but it took skipping it for me to realize it.  Now that marathon training is on, I have to prioritize my key running sessions instead of my favorite gym class.

So I missed my Monday class yesterday and  just ran easy.  This morning, I went to the beginner strength class, which is easier and shorter and dropped my weights down by about half.  I know I still need to keep strength in the schedule, but going all-out every week is not helping me with my goal right now.

I’m hoping I made the right choice because tonight is the Newton, the timed 20x200m workout with decreasing rest that we did at the beginning of the summer.  Hopefully, I’ll see some improvement, but you never know.  No matter what happens tonight as far as pace, I want to see if the timing and lower effort of the strength class makes a difference.

If I still struggle tonight, I’ll see what I can do about finding another class that gets the job done without leaving me sore before key workouts.  It’s awesome to be strong, but I need to remember I’m not training to be a bodybuilder, but a better, faster runner.

Crawling My Way to Running Faster

The idea of functional movement seems to everywhere for me lately.  How can we move well through life?  As runners, we tend to move only in one direction:  forward.  It doesn’t matter if I can touch my toes or squat with my heels touching the ground.  Or does it?

Aaron Alexander is a physical and massage therapist and was being interviewed on a recent No Meat Athlete podcast.  He talked about all the ways we runners can integrate different movement techniques into our day to not only become better runners, but to feel better with every movement.  Little kids have perfect running form, yet somehow start to lose that around the time they enter school.  Too much desk time and not enough barefoot play time changes the way we move and subsequently the way we are able to move.  Luckily, we can change that.  Alexander’s website, www.aligntherapy.com has some great videos and tips for stretching, strengthening, and moving so that we can get the most out of our bodies no matter what our lifestyle.  He even has videos on how to sit better if you’re stuck at a desk all day.

One of the challenges he has clients do is to be able to squat with your heels touching the ground.  I tried it and I can only do it if my squat is really wide with my toes facing outwards.  With my feet straight ahead and shoulder-width apart, I’m probably a couple of inches off the ground.  When I was really into yoga before I started running, I could do a flat-footed downward dog, but I’m a long way from that now.  I asked my almost-7-year-old son to try it and he could do it with effortlessly.

So I’m going to work on this.  The way to begin is by placing a book under your heels and practicing 30 seconds a day.  Gradually, you can switch to a skinnier book until your heels can reach the floor.  Just doing it a few times trying to take a picture for this post was enough to improve some. I’ll get there.

Then yesterday in my strength class at the gym, our instructor decided to make us really move to work our legs.  We cleared the room of our weights and did walking lunges and squats forwards and backwards.  Then we put our hands on the ground and crawled without letting our knees touch and keeping our butts down.  Then the same movement laterally.  Then jumping squats across the room.  It was really tough, but great to actually move in a way our bodies once might have had we had not decided to sit in chairs all day.  And if I have to admit it, it was a little fun too!

Runners do not have to be flexible gymnasts to run well and some say it might even be detrimental.  Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments function as a spring which, if stretched too loosely, does not effectively propel you forward with a long stride length.  But being flexible within the full range of running motion is important to get all the length out of your legs possible.

And what is also important to remember (which I often forget), is that running is not absolutely everything.  Being able to move well for life is.