Thursday, September 2, 2010

Form Fit

In my prior training tip, “When to Say When” I talked about the importance of listening to your body when trying to determine when it’s time to push hard during training or to back off and recover. SO many variables can and will affect your body’s state of readiness/fatigue as you progress with your training plan. Although there is nothing wrong with pushing your body to its limits during training, doing so when you’re too tired, sick or injured is a surefire way to compromise your best laid training plans and to actually set yourself back fitness wise!

Never forget: Fitness is relative. Just because you’ve logged hundreds of miles and pushed yourself through an endless succession of intense training sessions does not mean that you’ll necessarily be ready to perform up to your potential on race day. Case in point: All things being equal, the athlete who can run a 5k at sub 5 min/mile pace would be considered “fitter” than the athlete who can only hold 6 min/mile pace for the distance.

Most, if not all, of my worst athletic performances have occurred when I’ve raced during a state of training and/or stress induced fatigue. This is the number one reason that the vast majority of coaches will agree that an athlete’s best performances will typically occur during the taper (reduced stress load) phase of training, not while in the midst of major training build ups/blocks. As I’ve said time and time again, rest and recovery is 50% of the training equation and this fact must be respected at all times!

There is another factor that we must address when determining appropriate training load though, and that is the relationship between fatigue and form/biomechanical efficiency.

Without going into great detail on the subject, let’s take a look at the notion of running “economy” or “efficiency.” Simply put, the greater your running economy, the less oxygen you require to run at a given speed or pace. Generally speaking, the athlete who requires less oxygen to run at a specific pace for extended periods of time is typically the faster athlete; especially in endurance events such as the marathon where running economy plays a large role in performance potential.

There are many variables that affect a runner’s economy, some of the most prominent being training volume, training frequency and training intensity. However… like any machine, the amount of fuel (or in the case of our bodies, oxygen) consumed in order for work to occur is also, in large part, determined by the biomechanical efficiency of the machine.

The same can be said for our bodies. I’ve already noted some of the biomechanical issues that affect a runner’s performance in many of my prior training tips and vlog posts. We can now clearly define what constitutes sound biomechanics, but even the most biomechanically efficient runner is prone to fatigue once training stress reaches the point of overload.

Biomechanical efficiency is something that has to be practiced. Those of us who learned how to throw a baseball correctly typically received instruction as to how to do so. Our coaches, parents or physical education teachers typically walked us through each step of the movement pattern and then we practiced it over, and over, and over again until the movement pattern became “automated.”

Proper running mechanics are no different; they are something that can be improved upon, or worsened, via your training practices. In my next training post, we’ll take a closer look at the subject of neuromuscular efficiency and talk a little more about the relationship between fatigue and biomechanics. Stay tuned!

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