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Functional Training and Running is a dream team as you could clearly read in the article “Why Burpees make athletes better runners” of Jens Rossa. The bodyweight exercises strengthen the muscular system, which helps to prevent injuries and significantly improves stride length and stride frequency. Part 2 puts the theory into practice: Which workouts are suitable to effectively boost performance? How much athletic training fits to my weekly running schedule? And what to do before a race?
An article of Jens Rossa
In the first article on the subject of running and bodyweight exercises, I explained why both perfectly complement each other. My favourite training approach also combines this method – but it is not a new one. Read what Alberto Salazar said about Mo Farah (multiple world champion and Olympic champion on 5000m and 10000m) and his training start in 2010: He said that Farah was a lean medium-distance runner with lots of power, but without any strength in the upper body. Concerning his trunk musculature and his abilities in situps, pushups and pistols he had been the weakest athlete Salazar had ever trained.
Thus we are on the right track. But how can athletes combine different kinds of workouts in their training schedule?
The four phases to success
An important point is the subject of periodization – something that in my opinion isn’t appropriately taken into consideration by current fitness apps. Periodization, that means to regularly change the training intensity. No one is permanently capable to train on his highest level. If you don’t respect that, you risk physical overload and therefore stagnation or even muscular depletion instead of having a progress. Only with periodization and division of the training in different phases athletes can peak.
On running this is approved consent. There are plenty of concrete philosophies and not every single one works for every athlete. Personally, I like the approach of Owen Anderson in „Running Science“. His system consists of four different stages with variable duration:
- Strengthening phase
- Specific strengthening phase on running
- Hill training
- Explosive training
All those stages have one common goal: They shall enable runners to put more power on the ground with every single step and transform it more explosive and faster through shorter contact times.
The first stage is general strengthening. Here we work on whole-body fitness and specific technique training for running. In terms of bodyweight exercises, I can recommend all that strengthens the entire body without excessive running. In Freeletics that could be nice workouts like Dione, Helios, Kentauros and Persephone. Athletes who prefer Goliaz could do workouts like Sculptor, Mab, Euporie, Marmor or Proteus. Advantage of some of the Goliaz workouts is the inclusion of isometrical exercises like wall sit or elbow plank, which intensify training for the deep musculature. Particularly in the stage of general strengthening, this is an important factor. Additionally it is a good idea to involve one-legged squats (pistols) in training.
The following two phases, specific strengthening on running and hill training, can also be supported through HIIT training. Workouts that include the components running and jumps work well for that. In Freeletics athletes can pick especially Hera, Apollon and Uranos. Goliaz offers nice workouts like Amerigus, Bergelmir or Denebola. One workout of Freeletics is a perfect candidate for hill training: Hermes! Here you have a short break directly after a sprint of 2x20m. You can perform the 40m-sprint in one direction on a nice incline of 6-8% and use the following break to slowly jog back to the starting point.
This is how a suggestion of Anderson for marathon training looks like (yes indeed, he too includes these kinds of training in his programs):
- 800m in 5k race pace
- 6 Chinups
- 40 Crunches
- 20 Burpees
- 15 Pushups
- 24 Squats (fast)
- 800m in 5k race pace
- 15 Squat with 5kg weight (you don’t need it necessarily, but then do them really deep)
- 10 Elevated Pushups
- 40 Lowback Extension (can be substituted with superman-exercise)
- 18 Bench Dips (equivalent to Chair Dips)
- 36 Lunges
- 1200m in 5k race pace
In preparation for shorter distances, you proportionally reduce the running parts and simultaneously increase the pace. For a race of 10k this means for example running units of 400m/400m/600m in 3k race pace.
Smartly combine workouts and running
With these 3 phases of about 4-6 weeks duration, you established a good basis. The last phase, explosive training, finally assembles all the hard work. With lots of intensive training sessions, you now try to maximize your running performance, supported by explosive strengthening units. Here I’d also like to present an excerpt of Anderson’s marathon plans:
- 60s in 5k race pace. Count your steps. Repeat maximum twice, until you manage to increase your stride frequency to at least 90 with every leg. If you are successful on first attempt, you can accordingly move on. Needless to say that it’s easier with a fitness watch (e.g. Garmin) that can display the stride frequency.
- Raise balls of the feet for 30s, as fast as possible
- 2x40s per side one-legged hopping on place (the other leg remains on a 15-20cm high rack behind the athlete); try to make 80 hops per set
- 2x60s per side one-legged hopping on a 10cm high bench – jump on it, jump down on the other side, do immediately 2 fast jumps forward, turn around and back
I recommend avoiding exhausting bodyweight exercises in this last stage and just working on keeping the status quo. Because of the very intense roadwork, you need to watch out that you do not obstruct recovery and therefore the intended progress with too much crosstraining. Still, smaller sessions of the first phase like Sculptor, Mab, Persephone or Thanatos can be included unhesitatingly.
Now that we know which workouts suit to which phase, it remains one question: How should the relation between running sessions and workouts look like? To put it in a nutshell: It depends on level and history of the athlete. Myself, personally, I would do 2-3x athletic sessions on general strengthening per week, followed by 2 sessions/week in the next stages, where one of those training sessions replaces an intense running unit. In the last phase I focus on pure maintenance, that means firstly a short workout on 2 days/week and no additional workout in the last 2 weeks before the race. Especially on longer races, it is more important to rest, and it anyway takes 7 days until a training stimulus operates.
Now it’s your turn: Which experiences did you do with combining both sports? Did it help you on your running performance or vice versa? One thing should be perfectly clear: If someone is able to run on a high level for a long time, then he’ll be able to persevere in HIIT training far easier as if the same person would be already out of breath after a 1km walk.
Jens Rossa is a passionate runner since 37 years. He participated in lots of competitions from 800m up to 24hour runs. As skilled coach he engages himself with funtional training for more than 10 years now and practices this combination himself of conviction.