My hamstrings are sore again. They’re getting worse. I know I should stretch more, but I always forget until I’m running late and then I don’t have time.
I started running because it was cheaper than other exercise. I can’t afford a massage!
Where does she get off suggesting the gym to me? I’m a runner! I’m fit enough.
Ugh, cross training? But I don’t like other kinds of exercise! And if I want to be an amazing runner, I think I should just keep running.
Sound familiar? Yep. I get it. I’m right there with you, in fact. But over the last year I’ve slowly and steadily warmed up to the reality that there is more to running than just running, and adopted a new attitude toward training my body. I’m not just training myself as a runner, I’m training myself as an athlete.
What’s the difference?
Well it’s not so much a difference as it is a relationship. See, it’s a lot like squares and rectangles. As we learned in geometry class, all squares are rectangles,but not all rectangles are squares, as shown in figure A, where the square represents runners and the rectangle represents athletes.
I was a square for years, and it was limiting. I lost flexibility, range of motion, coordination, core and upper-body strength and other skills valuable to athletes, and where did it land me?
I pulled something in my knee, the result of a systemic injury that continues to nag me. Two years and thousands of dollars worth of physical therapy and massage and yoga classes later, I’ll be damned if I’m not a convert to the Church of the Total Athlete.
I was baptized into the church in November of 2012, when I attended the USATF Level 1 coach certification course. At the beginning of the course I was a little nonplussed that I had to suffer through learning about field events, jumping and even sprinting – god forbid! But as the hours passed I learned more about distance running from the jumping and throwing presenters than I think I ever have from actually putting one foot in front of the other. Running, they taught me, is just one way a human can express her athleticism.
My square mind was blown open, and suddenly I was a rectangle. No wait! I was a pentagon.
Every biomechanical expression we have, you see, is a result of combining five* primary biomotor abilities:
*There is another level of abilities as well, but for simplicity’s sake we will treat them as combinations of these five and discuss them further later on.
Running is one way you can express them. Playing catch with your kid is another way. Ballerinas, weightlifters, snow shovelers, soccer players, nightclub partiers, yogis, ping pongers and mall walkers all have these five things in common, the difference is how we combine them. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I promise I’ll get to it in a follow-up, but for now let’s work on this basic truth: when you run you use all five of these biomotor abilities.
It follows then, that if you improve one of them, you will improve your running performance. Right?
So consider how you can train each of these abilities with your sport. Speed is a no-brainer, of course; I do speed work to get faster. And I do long slow distance to train my endurance. If I want to get stronger I can do hills or run with ankle weights. If I want to train my coordination, I suppose I could run a technical trail and work hard to keep from falling. And I can train my flexibility by…
Surprise! Runners often find themselves chronically losing flexibility, and many times this results in injury.
So we stretch, right? And we look for complimentary athletic pursuits. Yoga is great because it trains flexibility, coordination, strength (including upper body, which we runners tend to neglect) and endurance. Crossfit seems to help a lot of runners find more strength and coordination. We lift weights or do Zumba or play baseball in a social league, and all that stuff helps us become better athletes, which in turn helps us become better runners.
To look at it from another angle, it’s easy for us to get hung up on “the numbers game,” as Allspice so eloquently put it: how many miles this week? How fast should the intervals be? One speed workout or two? How many days will I run? But when we work out our bodies, it’s important that we don’t just focus on what we’re doing, but also that we consider why we’re doing it. Use your time wisely to work toward balance in your athleticism! I promise, the speed work can wait if your hamstrings are so tight you can barely run without pain (been there). And if you fall every time you run? Maybe it’s time to work on quad strength so you can lift your knees higher, or maybe skip a few miles in favor of some coordination drills instead (been there too). Think about your running long-term, and it just makes good sense to train all your abilities, not just endurance, not just speed.
This philosophy of seeking balance between the five biomotor abilities is called Multilateral Training, and it’s almost universally accepted in successful coaching. And yes, that may be in part because USATF teaches it, but I would venture to say they wouldn’t be teaching it if it wasn’t tried and true!
My master plan here is a series of posts throughout this season, to take a little extra time with each one of the five primary biomotor abilities. I’ll cover some derivative abilities for each one and explore some suggestions for training each one of them. Hopefully you can then use this series as a gentle nudge in the right direction toward finding athletic balance and training yourself not only as a runner, but as a total athlete.
Until then, quit your whining and go cross train!
What’s your take on this stuff? Are you familiar with the concept? If so, how do you use it within your training? If not, what has been the primary philosophy behind your training thus far?