Thursday, June 28, 2012

Become a Stronger Runner Through Strength Training

It's time for another guest post, and one I'll do a follow up on from my own experiences related to cross and strength training. Something that is often overlooked when the focus is all too often on the weekly mileage.

Runners know the pure pleasure of finishing a morning jog, a marathon or even an ultramarathon. The sweat, the breath, the adrenaline pumping through your veins - all of these things come together at the end of a long run to make you feel strong and healthy. But there is something extra that runners should add to their routine to make them feel even stronger; weight training.

We all know that weight training is good for the body, but many runners ignore this vital part of the exercise trifecta (which consists of cardio, stretching and strength training). There are numerous reasons why people shun the strength building part of their workout routine. Some think they don’t have time for it, some think it isn’t necessary and some are afraid they will become too bulky. However, if you really want to optimize your fitness, you need to incorporate strength training into your weekly exercise routine.

For runners, the benefits of strength training cannot be overemphasized. For one, strength training puts stress on the bones. This works to increase bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis. This is especially important for long-distance runners who can have poor bone health due to increased levels of cortisol in the blood. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress. In addition to a number of other effects, cortisol works to decrease bone formation and bone density, and strength training can help to offset that effect.

Strength training (particularly resistance training) can also improve flexibility, if the routine involves full-range workouts, such as curl ups and leg extensions. And when combined with cardio (such as running), strength training helps maximize the body’s ability to burn fat. This is because your body continues to burn calories after your strength workout to heal torn muscle fibers. Most importantly, strength training can reduce your risk of knee, back and other joint injuries, because it builds up the muscles that support your joints and lower back.

For many, the idea of strength training conjures up thoughts of body builders and heavy machinery, but there are actually several different forms of strength training; resistance training, weight training and isometric training. Resistance training is a phrase that can be used to describe all forms of strength training but specifically refers to strength exercises that work against an opposing force generated by resistance. Weight training is a form of resistance training that uses gravity or elastic/hydraulic resistance to oppose muscle contraction, and isometric training involves the contraction of a specific muscle group but no joint movement. Isometric exercises only work to maintain muscle strength, not build it.

If you are a runner who is interested in starting a regular strength training routine, it is best to first consult a personal trainer or sports medicine professional. They can help you build a regimen that is perfect for your body type.

Alvina Lopez, a freelance writer who also volunteers at a local literacy organization, is passionate about education trends and reform. When not writing or teaching, Alvina loves cooking, walking her dog and enjoying the great outdoors. She welcomes questions and comments at


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” Book Review and Prize Give Away

Bloomsbury Publishing have sent me a copy of "Eat and Run" by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman to review, and the good news for you  is that I also have another copy to give away. Simply enter a comment below to be in the draw for a copy on it's Australian release on 1st July.

I was intrigued to see what Jurek would write to be different from the likes of Karnazes’ “Ultramarathonman”, “Born to run” and Ulrich’s “Running on empty”.  The key difference is that he has consistently competed at the top level and not only won, but set multiple records.  The book gives an interesting look into his history, and whilst it catalogues his achievements, they are almost incidental to the message from within its pages.

Clearly his has a natural talent for the sport, but it underlines the incredible determination and dedication he had to make to his training to be the very best he can.  One very interesting point he made was that he got to a stage where he was running as hard as he could but not getting any faster. So to improve his times he would need to change something else, and he explores nutrition, running form and the spiritual-psychological aspects. 

Its inspiring to read that the elite guys go through the same challenges as the rest of us mere mortals, and that to win these races you can’t just be gifted, you need to be tough on many different levels.

The book has a nice mix of stories, both personal and running related, and each chapter finishes with a tasty sounding vegan recipe that makes you want to get in the kitchen and give it a try.   Most chapters also finish with a simple running tip, and given his physio training and experience, they are balanced and “fad free”. 

The chapters are typically focused on a particular race or significant event in his life, and he takes the opportunity to give a little history of some of the best known races like Western States, Hardrock, the Spartathalon and Badwater.  He comes across as someone with a lot of respect for the sport, its origins and the characters who made it so. You get a better understanding of the community that exists within ultramarathons and the friendly camaraderie that exists at the top level (much the same as us middle to back of the pack competitors experience).

What I really liked about the book is that he has a writing style that makes for very easy reading (I read it in three sittings). He gives a different viewpoint to the events of his visit to Copper Canyon and running with the Raramuri, somewhat detached from the more poetic version you’ll read in “Born to Run”, and throughout the book you don’t get the feeling that writing it was an ego trip in any way. I got the feeling that to write the book was part of his ultrarunning journey, and in line with the sport’s ideal of sharing knowledge with fellow competitors.  He makes a great observation on this topic that basically you may as well share all you know about your training and the sport in general, as on race day it comes down to mindset and strategy.

So in summary it’s a great read and one I didn’t want to put down.  After you get past the first couple of chapters where the picture is painted of Ultrarunners being super humans, it settles into its stride where it will inspire the non runner to put on their trainers, and the experienced to want to do more.  He makes some compelling arguments for vegetarian and vegan diets, without coming across as some sort of new age evangelist. He simply states the benefits he has experienced from such a lifestyle, and has shown that on a vegan diet you can run 100miles or more and win.

I’ve come away from reading the book with a far better understanding of the sport, the elite competitors, and that Scott Jurek isn’t all that different from you or I – and that is inspiring in itself.

Don't forget to leave a comment below (even if it's just "Count me in!") to be in with a chance of winning a free copy of the book when release in Australia on 1st July.

Run Happy!


“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, nor a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Guest Post - Health Benefits of Running (not just Ultramarathons)

It's time for another guest post, and this one is very timely given all the current negative articles in the press about the potential health risks associated with endurance sports. It's seems the media are keen to give people an excuse to not be active (whilst at the same time they broadcast warnings of the obesity epidemic!) That's my two cents, now here's Stacey's article...

Running is the basis for all physical activity. Not only will it help you become a better athlete in other sports, running can stand on its own and is a great exercise. Running has many great health benefits including weight loss, increased energy, improved bone density, better sleep and increased confidence. Here’s a deeper look at the health benefits of running:    

Weight Loss
When it comes to losing weight, running is one of the best things you can do. A South African study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in February 2010 concluded that your body burns fat at a higher rate during running than it does during cycling at about the same intensity. Because you have to carry all of your body weight with you when you run (opposed to sitting on a saddle), you get more of an all body workout. Running helps burn calories and melts fat and you can do it virtually anywhere.  

Increased Energy 
There’s a reason why the term “runner’s high” was coined. When you run endorphins are released into your brain which creates a feeling of happiness. So no matter how tired you are going for a run is the most natural way you can get a little boost of energy and a good feeling. 

Improved Bone Density
Move over milk, according to the U.S. Sports Academy, running is the most beneficial thing to you can to promote bone health.  Because running is a weight bearing activity it helps increase your bone density. The stresses and pressures it puts on your body are actually good for you because it makes you stronger. Be sure that if you are a beginner runner, you ease into it and listen to your body. 

Better Sleep 
Running and exercise in general has been said to help people fall asleep faster, get a deeper sleep and feel more refreshed when they wake up. This could be due to the fact that running is therapeutic.  Problematic thoughts seem to figure themselves out and running helps reduce stress in your life. A less stressful day means you’ll be able to sleep better at night. 

Running is an individual lifetime sport. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and yourself. The more that you run, the more benefits you will reap and the more you will improve. Setting attainable goals and achieving them will help you build confidence that will carry into other parts of your life. By running, you will become more toned and fit. Stick to a running routine, invest in a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the short and long term benefits.  

Stacy Randall is a writer for the Nebraska Medical Center. She enjoys writing on topics in the health and fitness field. The Nebraska Medical Center is the largest healthcare facility in Nebraska and is known for its cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, etc) and heart treatment units as well as being the designated trauma unit 3 days a week.