I am a marshmallow. After enduring two gruelling days of dynamic stretching, strength-training, and hurdle and sprint drills – all under the exacting eye of Olympic coach John Cook – muscles I didn’t know existed are aching. The verdict is in: I am a runner without strength – I am soft, like a marshmallow.
Cook uses a full-body exercise regime to transform his professional runners into complete athletes: fast, strong, balanced running machines capable of withstanding the rigours of training without getting hurt. On top of running 75-plus miles a week, his athletes – who include US 1500m World Championships bronze medallist Shannon Rowbury – do daily dynamic flexibility moves to improve range of motion, strength sequences to enhance fitness and balance, and medicine-ball work to build core strength.
According to Cook, runners can’t rely on their lungs alone to excel. “If you’re just running, you’re developing one thing: breathing,” he says. Eventually, speed disappears and you’re destined to shuffle. And shuffling is a mortal sin in Cook’s book. Developing whole-body strength gives you ‘pop’, or speed, and the strength to summon it in the final stretch of a race, he says. It also helps shore up your form, which can, in turn, protect you from injury. It’s a point of pride for Cook that his runners rarely pick up injuries.
Of course, tacking on all those extra exercises can be time-consuming. But for middle-of-the-pack runners, committing just a few minutes a day to some of the following exercises can enhance your speed and help shield you from injury. You don’t have to do everything.
I cobbled together a routine that fits into my hectic life and set a PB by 57 seconds in a 5K. I emailed Cook to tell him my time. His reply was swift and satisfying: “Big! You’ve got pop!”