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!”
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your right knee to waist level at a 45-degree angle.
- Keeping your knee high, rotate your hip so your knee is straight in front of you.
- Step your right leg in front of your left.
- Step to the left with your left foot.
- Step behind your left leg with your right.
- Step to the left with your left leg. Repeat the sequence for 20m, then change directions.
Full range of motion in the hips is critical for injury prevention – it lessens the force on your feet, lower legs and knees, says Cook. Do all or part of this flexibility and drill series (plus carioka) before every run.
As you walk, bring each knee up to waist level, thigh parallel to the ground.
Pump arms. Go 20m. If doing before speed work, turn the move into a skip.
Get on all fours, back flat and head up.
Bring your right knee in toward your torso.
Extend your right leg upward.
Repeat10 times on each side.
Frontal leg swings
Stand next to a wall, left hand on wall.
Flexing your left foot, swing your left leg forward and back. Do 10 reps per leg.
Switch to side leg swings. With both hands on the wall and a slight bend in your left knee, flex your left foot upward. Swing your left leg to the left, then to the right.
Do 10 reps per leg.