Friday, August 27, 2010

Running Strong As You Age

I hear it all the time...."I'm just not running like I used to." It's a given. We all age and as we age the activities we do may change and the ones we stick with doing may not have the same intensity as they once did, but there's a lot that one can do to keep that intensity alive as long as possible. Actually a lot longer than you might think.

I'm 45 and silly me thought that as I got older, the competition would begin to wane. Oh contraire! The exact opposite is happening. I used to place in the top three in my age group quite frequently at local races, but that's getting harder and harder to do. Once I moved into the 45-49-year-old bracket, the competition got a lot tougher. There are a lot of fast runners in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

What's the key? Well, the other day, a client of mine mentioned how surprised he was to learn how muscle-specific different sports can be. He's a runner in his 50s and he's a really good runner. He's coming to me to improve his upper body and core strength and endurance. He is right, different sports can be pretty muscle-specific. It's not until you try a different sport or do some general fitness training that your realize maybe you're not in as good a shape (overall) as you thought.

Soccer is probably one of the best sports for full-body conditioning. You're using just about every muscle in your body as well as moving your body through the three different planes of movement--frontal (lateral movements), sagittal (forward movment like running), and transverse (rotation and twisting). It also involves a great deal of cardio from the constant moving around and running involved in the sport.

Runners tend to think it's all about their lungs and their legs and while those are major aspects of running, that's not all there is to running. A strong core and upper body is also needed to ensure powerful movement in the legs and in maintaining good running form. Youngsters in their 20s and early 30s tend to be involved in multiple activities--golf, tennis, soccer, softball, Frisbee football, volleyball, working out at the gym, etc. Because of this variety of activity, the upper body gets a good workout without the individual realizing they're strengtheing their upper body and core. Then somewhere in our late 30s, 40s and 50s, due to work, family, just life in general, many of the activities fall by the wayside. Somehow many manage to hang-on to running. Maybe it's because we can fit it in whenever. Maybe it keeps us sane. Maybe it's because it's cheap. But, over the years, that core and upper body fitness begin to wane. Don't use it; you lose it. Probably wasn't that obvious because as runners we tend to be lean. But lean doesn't always mean fit.

A runner needs muscular endurance in the upper body and core just as much as in their legs. You're swinging your arms just as much as your legs are moving forward. There's no resistance to your arm movement other than some air, but they're still moving. If your upper body doesn't have muscular endurance then a domino effect can begin to happen. First the arms fatigue causing you to round your shoulders and slump. This puts more stress on your core. If your core is not strong, then it will begin to fatigue as well, causing even further decline of your running form. By now your legs are taking the full brunt of the domino effect. Not only has the core stopped providing a strong support and power system for the legs, now the legs are having to deal with poor running form and soon fatigue will consume the legs as well. What's that I see? Could it be? Yep! The dreaded WALL! You're about to smack right into it.

Not only can you hit that dreaded wall, you can begin to suffer from injuries like calf pulls or strains, issues with your Achilles heel, IT band problems, pulled hamstrings, muscle cramps...the list goes on. Sound familiar? Are you beginning to have issues in your legs that you never experienced when you were younger? Could be specific to your legs, but it could very well be related to something higher up--a weak core and/or upper body.

So, what's an older runner to do? Invest a little money in an exercise mat, a medicine ball (or a set of dumbbells or weight plates) and work that core! Whatever the resistance form you choose, it doesn't need to be very heavy. An 8lbs, 10lbs, or 12lbs medball will do fine. 10lb, 15lb, or 20lb dumbbells will work nicely too. Use the core workout and your new toys to work that core. If you don't have a medball most of the exercises can be done with just body weight, a dumbbell, or a weight plate). Do the workout 2 or 3 times a week and you'll be well on your way to a much stronger mid-section. Check back in with the blog on Sunday for an upper body workout for runners.

Note: Remember, if you have any upper-body health-related issue or this is the first time you've attempted an upper body workout, it's recommended that you check in with your doctor first to get his/her approval.


Andrew Opala said...

cool - can't wait (or weight) :)

RunnerDude said...

Hi Andrew! Thanks for checking out the blog!

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

Looks like a good workout! I'll try it this week!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Tina! Let me know how it goes!

Coachhrd said...

Good advice - thanks for sharing, dude!

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

I needed a new core workout. Went through this circuit twice this morning. Thanks for sharing the workout!

GoMelRun said...

Awesome. I just started working out my arms, back and core recently. They were feeling neglected. Can't wait for your other workouts!