Friday, 31 May 2013

How to run a 5k faster!

With the sensational boom of park runs pooping up across the globe there has been recent interest in runners who want to know how to get faster over this distance. Just like any other distance, you need to vary your training methods if you want to post better times.

The most common mistake people make in training for any distance is running every run at the same speed and intensity. In the beginning they will get slightly quicker but a plateau will be reached and progress thereafter will be limited. This common pitfall can be avoided by varying run times ans intensity. 

So what do you need to do for 5k training?

  Run 1

This should be a very easy over distance run. That means running much slower than race pace but going for 8-15km building up over a few weeks. What this does is allows the body to adapt to your running style, lay down solid connective tissues and increase mitochondrial density in the muscles cells. An increase in mitochondrial density will allow you to burn more fuel more efficiently, which makes you faster and gives you the ability to run longer.

Lets say your desired goal is sub 25mins. That makes race pace 12km/hr. This run should be performed at about 10.5 or 11km/hr depending on your lactate threshold (see previous posts).

Run 2

A mid week run should be based around interval training. The intensity of the interval will change from person to person but if we stick with the sub 25min goal, the work out should be something like this;

Warm up 1km at 10km/hr
800m at 10.5km/hr 200m at 12.5km/hr
800m at 10.5km/hr 200m at 13km/hr
800m at 10.5km/hr 200m at 13.5km/hr
800m at 10.5km/hr 200m at 12.5km/hr
Cool down

As you progress the intervals can change either by increasing the high intensity speed but never the low intensity speed or by increasing the high intensity duration like this;

Warm up 1km at 10km/hr
600m at 10.5km/hr 400m at 12.5km/hr
700m at 10.5km/hr 300m at 13km/hr
700m at 10.5km/hr 300m at 13.5km/hr
600m at 10.5km/hr 400m at 12.5km/hr
Cool down

This type of session will get your muscles in tune with running faster. It also lets you raise that glass ceiling of lactate threshold, which is what enables you to go faster for longer.This is achieved by opening dormant blood vessels and increasing lung function.

Run 3

You get a choice on this one, depending on how the body feels you can either do;

A recovery run: 5-8km at 10km/hr strict.
This type of session is essential for long term recovery and injury prevention.It will maintain all the work and progress from previous sessions.


A fartlek run: leave the heart rate monitor at home for this one and just go out and run. When you feel good speed up and when you feel tired slow down, as soon as you feel recovered from the tiredness speed up again. When I do these sessions I usually pick a tree or bus stop or house up the road and I speed up until I reach it, then I slow right down and when I'm ready I chose another landmark and go again. Some of the intervals will be long, some will be short and the high intensity speed will vary from all out sprint to just below race pace. It really doesn't matter so long as you mix things up quite a bit.
This type of session will allow you to rekindle what it is you love about running because you are totally free and totally in control. It will also raise that glass ceiling and build great strength in the legs and lung capacity.


Saturday, 25 May 2013

Exercise and weight loss!

Why can't I lose weight when I exercise so hard?

I was in Kensington gardens this morning personal training a client and it was a beautiful morning. With the nice weather there has been a return of the fair weather personal trainers, one of which caught my attention this morning.

I was drawn to the fact that the client was somewhat over weight. With a rough guess I'd say the client was slightly above 6 feet tall and about 105-110kgs. So it's safe to say his training goals are most likely weight loss.
They were training about 50m away from where I had set up my TRX suspension cable so I was in ear shot and I had full view of proceedings. All in all I observed about 30mins of their workout. Assuming most personal trainers charge an hourly rate again I'd say its safe to say I observed about half of their workout.

During the 30mins I observed the client was working really, really hard. He was instructed to do intervals of running with super sets of anaerobic jumps, squats, push ups and step ups onto the park bench. Between the intervals, the circuits and the minimal rest the guy was getting a great work out, his facial expressions proved he was both working to his limit and getting value for money. How proud his trainer must have been as he glanced over at my client performing aerobic circuits of 4 exercises each one coupled with a core strength exercise, while she maintained a much lower but very constant heart rate after she had completed her 20min warm up run around Kensington gardens.

So how much value is this guy really getting for his money?

I can't imagine very much, particularly if his goal is weight loss. How is he supposed to burn fats if he is training way above his fat burning zone. Fitness is a very tricky and temperamental phenomenon. As I explained in the post "running faster" we all have about 60-90mins of glycogen stored in our body. So if you have a personal trainer who "smashes you " (a very common term thrown around gyms and training studios) every session you will inevitably end up feeling smashed, tired, beaten up, hungry, moody and worst case scenario injured or sick.
If your goal is to lose weight and you have addressed your diet, you are committed to training a couple of times a week for 6 weeks but haven't seen any real change then I've got some news for you. You are either training too hard or you are using incorrect methods to achieve your desired goal.

A few years ago I used to teach spin classes. This population of fitness fanatics are the people who seem to use these incorrect training methods over and over and over. I estimate that the vast majority of these guys are training way too hard and as a result find it impossible to make any sustained change in body weight.
If you are a regular gym user you will be familiar with the spin warriors in their spandex tights. In my experience these guys come with limited time but want maximum results. They naively believe that this is achieved by getting the heart rate as high as possible. It seems to them that spinning is the best work out. Lots of sweat seems to equate to lots of calories burned. Maybe this is true! However this is where calorie counting will let you down. You see if you want to lose weight (fat) then you have to burn fat, which is not possible if you heart rate is very high. If the calories you are burning are derived from a carbohydrate source then it's obvious you aren't going to lose any weight. Particularly if you are drinking a sugar bursting sports drink which is replacing the carbs you are burning. Every calorie burned is replaced with a calorie going in, or worse it might be replaced with 2-3 calories going in, depending on how crap your sports drink is and it's sugar content.

If you are familiar with this scenario either while running, cycling, spinning or with your PT then wouldn't you be better off sitting at home watching TV. I'm not joking, think about it, read some of my earlier posts and you will realise you would actually be better off sitting on the sofa watching TV and drinking a glass of water. Rather than pummelling yourself on a bike while drinking (garbage) refined sugar  and subjecting your heart to unnecessary stress.

Tip; if you enjoy the high intensity bike sessions and don't see how this will inhibit weight loss, then at least do one thing "stop drinking refined sugar while you exercise, water is a far better choice."

The key to weight loss is low heart rate training in a controlled manner with weekly (not daily) intervals of high intensity interval efforts and a whole foods nutritious diet. Cardio, resistance training and nutrition are all essential components. Sustained weight loss is impossible without addressing all three. Training in a manner that produces excessive sweat and tiredness is most likely an indicator that you are way above and beyond your fat burning zone. If you continuously train your body this way you will end up craving carbohydrates (because that's the fuel you are using) and your weight will yo yo up and down without any real change.

Slow down, run sensible and think about what you are doing a little more. Remember every workout should have a purpose.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Stretch 004 Rotator Cuff

This video compliments the last videos on neck and chest stretches. This one looks at the rotator cuff and internal external rotation of the shoulder. It is a good stretch to do before a pool set or sea swim and as always it's an easy one to do at the gym or at you work desk or work station. Keep watching for some mobility exercise at the end of this vid!

I recommend holding each stretch for 30-45 seconds and make sure you do both sides!
Drink plenty of water and get up and move about every 20-40mins if possible.

For more explanation check out
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Thursday, 9 May 2013

Stretch 003. Pec Major

This video fits in nice with he previous vids on stretching. It can be used as a solo stretch or as part of a routine to keep the neck, thorax and ventilatory muscles in good function.

I recommend holding each position for about 45seconds. This particular stretch works very well before a swim set so highly recommended for triathletes.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Zone training!

Using the method that I outlined in the post "lactate threshold" here is a breakdown of what you can achieve in each training zone or what each training zone is for.

Zone 1 (aerobic zone, slow twitch muscle)

Dara Torres knows all about rest and recovery
Recovery training zone. The purpose of this is to reuse lactic acid built up from a previous long session or high intensity session. The lactic acid is buffered to the liver converted to glycogen and reused as an energy source. This is an excellent was to stay fresh and limit or prevent injury. By training in zone 1 all your connective tissues get the chance to build up a responsiveness to the demands of training something they can't do at higher intensities when the demand on these structures is much higher.

Zone 2 (aerobic zone, predominantly slow twitch muscle)

Rich Roll ultraman advocates Z2 training.
This is the engine building zone. An endurance athlete should spend most of his/her training hours in this zone. It will promote the opening of new and dormant blood vessels, increasing blood flow to muscles which provides fuel faster and removes waste. It will also cause an increase in mitochondrial density. This is how the engine gets bigger allowing you to move faster for longer.

While training in this zone you can go for hours and hours without depleting fat stores. However you do need a small amount of carbohydrate replenishment to avoid the brain from bonking, this happens because the nervous system can not use fat as a fuel source (see previous post)

Zone 3 (transition between aerobic and anaerobic zone, slow and fast twitch muscle)

Macca knows how to race IM in Z3
Race pace zone. All those hours spent fluctuating between zone 2 and 4 will allow you to race at the high end of zone 3 without building up too much lactic acid or getting injured. If you are going long in zone 3 you need some carbohydrate fuel.
It is very important to do a few swims, bike sessions and runs in this zone on the weeks leading up to race day. This lets you get a feel for race pace and the task ahead.

During training this is known as the grey zone because you are not specifically relying on fats or carbohydrates as a fuel source but more a mix of the 2, if weight loss is you goal get out of this zone ASAP!

Anybody doing a marathon, ultra distance run, 70.3 IM or an ironman triathlon this is the zone you are going to race in. It requires a lot of refuelling while racing particularly on the bike during an ironman. If you get your nutrition wrong whilst racing in zone 3 you will bonk, hit the wall and your performance will deteriorate immensely.

Browlee racing in Z4
Zone 4 (anaerobic zone, predominantly fast twitch muscle, lactic acid production)

Lactate threshold zone. Once you reach this coveted zone you are no longer relying on fats as a fuel source. This rapidly depletes carbohydrate stores, if you start a race in zone 4 due to excitement and nerves you will suffer the remainder of the race.

If you are a seasoned triathlete and you are fairly fit and fast you can probably get away with racing an Olympic triathlon at the low end of zone 4. Carbohydrate stores can last about 90mins and if you consider the swim will not be at zone 4 rather zone 3, then I think the real fit guys can race this in zone 4 with a small amount of fuel replacement. 

Bolt in Z5
Zone 5 (pure fast twitch muscle activity)

A very specific zone most notably know to build speed over a short distance by improving the neuromuscular junction message relay. Where the never tells the muscle what the brain wants it to do i.e. flex, extend, flex, extend very quickly so we can move fast and win this race.

Zone 5 is good place to be if you want to improve your sprint finish.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Integrated training habits!

I outlined in the race report from the 10km race I did in Dublin that I had only done one 7km run between racing in Paris and then 3 weeks later in Dublin. Strictly speaking that is true but I do a lot of training which is integrated into my day to day living. This is something I learned I had to do after becoming a father to two energetic boys.

When I uploaded my race data to Strava I was surprised to find I was leader overall for the final run up to the finish. I was leading the 67 people that had also uploaded data. You don't get to lead Strava routes doing no training.

My trusty Steed!
For example today, I commuted 57km by bike. The trusty steed I use is a single speed so this is a good source of resistance exercise for my legs. I also ran 4km with a client, walked briskly for 20min with another client. I stood up for no less than 6 hours between training clients and treating patients in my osteopathy clinic. When I reached home I got off my bike did 2 sets of 12 push ups while my boys climbed on my back, I planned on doing 2 sets of 12 squats but the boys took my attention and I didn't get it back until they both went to bed. By then I had lost the momentum and must confess I didn't do those squats. "Lazy"

So when I say I had 3 weeks off to rest, it was specific rest from marathon training. Not total bed rest. The activity I did today was not an unusual day, this sort of movement is fairly normal for me and I've been doing this my whole working life. This lifestyle is a large contributor to my fitness and lack of injury. Since most of this training is way below my lactate threshold my body is very well adapted to progressive overload and my connective tissues rarely get injured.

Have a good weekend, run sensible, race sensible and enjoy the moment. Remember every work out should have a goal or a purpose no matter how short you are on time.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Lactate Threshold! Are you in the correct Zone?

So I've been banging on and on and on about lactate threshold so I suppose I should tell you how to find yours. I need to outline that there are many methods of finding this data. The use of very expensive machines is probably the most accurate. But if you are like me and don't have access to one of these hi-tech, high-spec machines here's how it can be found using any basic heart rate monitor. This is how I find mine. This method is not something I developed, it is a common method used by many running and triathlon coaches in the USA, Australia and Europe.

This test takes 30mins exercise time, followed by about about 5mins brain power time. So I carb up but not on sugars!
I do a short routine of functional stretching before starting. I set out with my Garmin powered on but the stopwatch not started. I do a 10min warm up run slowly pushing my heart rate up to about 80% of my maximum or until I'm exerting myself to 8/10 of my ability. After 10mins I stop, wait for my heart rate to drop to about 50% of my maximum (this takes about 40-50seconds) and then I get ready.
I start my Garmin stopwatch and run as fast as I can for 20mins maintaining the same pace throughout and the ability to keep good technique. This takes a little practice. The first 2-3 times I went out too fast and my pace dropped for the last 3-4mins. I must explain that you must run as fast as you can for 20mins and not as fast as you can run period. A good way of achieving this is to know the rough distance you will cover in 20mins. Depending on fitness I usually cover 4.8k-5k averaging about 14.8kph -15kph. If you start too fast, correct your pace and continue as best you can.
As soon as you reach 20mins (regardless of distance covered) stop your watch.

When finished view the data. The average heart rate for the 20min run is the important number. This number + or - 3 beats per minuet (bpm) is your Zone 4. Subtract 20bpm from the original number, take this number + or - 3bpm and you have your Zone 2. Anything in between Zone 2 - 4 is, surprise surprise, Zone 3. Anything below Zone 2 is Zone 1 and anything above Zone 4 is,,,,, Zone 5. Simples!

So where is the lactate threshold?
The moment you enter zone 4, you have crossed the lactate threshold. Here yo are no longer using slow twitch muscles fibres, therefore you are not using fat as a fuel source.
Zone 2 or if you want to be a bit more specific, the high end of Zone 2 is where you want to be if you want to increase your lactate threshold. So training in the low end of Zone 2 will be the best place or pace for any endurance athlete or anybody trying to lose weight. If you are above this number you are in the "grey" Zone doing "junk miles" and your progress will be limited.

Lets take the female I used in the blog post "running faster", we said she reached lactate threshold at 120bpm. So 120bpm is the high end of Zone 2, which means Zone 2 is between 114-120 bpm (remember + or - 3bpm). That puts 117bpm right in the middle. Add 20bpm to 117 and you get 137bpm. She must have ran for 20mins and had an average heart rate of 137bpm when she finished. Her training Zones would look like this;

Zone 5 140-180bpm (above 180bpm is above maximum heart rate)
Zone 4 134-140bpm
Zone 3 120-134bpm
Zone 2 114-120bpm
Zone 1 90-114bpm (below 90bpm is considered in normal range for daily activity)

This is a standard 5 Zone breakdown. There are literally hundreds of ways of doing this, some with 3,4,5,6,7 Zones. I like this one! It's easy (I know it doesn't read too easy) but it does take 2-3 attempts to get it right. I've been doing this for quite some time and I don't need a heart rate monitor anymore to know what Zone I am in, I do however still use a Garmin on almost every run and on every cycle.

If you are doing this test on a bike, it is recommended to cycle as fast as you can for 40mins and proceed as advised with the data.

I think this is enough to digest for now. Give it a go and please ask Q's or comment below. The next post I will explain the junk miles and grey zone areas of training.

I am due to do a Lactate Threshold test this week. I will explain this again and use my data as another example to try and clarify it a little more. Sorry it's a bit geeky but it can't really be made any easier without losing the key points.