Yup It's true I'm a running geek and every summer I go to running camp. I've been to camp as a camper, a counselor, a guest speaker and finally as a coach. Now, not all of these adventures have taken place at the same camp but as a coach I've spent most of my time at RunningWorks Cross Country Camp which calls Camp Canadensis it's home once a week every August since 99'. Camp Directors Marcus O'Sullivan, Cricket Batz-Shaklee and Steve Shaklee assemble an amazing group of athletes and coaches every year to which I am honored to be included. It's such an amazing experience, I still go even though I've been living in California for the last two installments of RunningWorks. Like I said I love Camp, always have always will. With the exception of the food (which was a shock in 90 as Freshman at Colt Camp, I've been prepared ever since)it's the best week of the year. All you have to do is show up and train hard for 6 days. Nothing else really matters, it's about being in the moment completely focused on the task at hand. Since becoming involved at RunningWorks I become know as the "strength guy."
As the "strength guy" every morning after breakfast I present an hour long talk on the benefits of strength training for cross country runners. As runners our training needs to be specific, and in order to be a better runner you need to run, plain and simple. With that being said supplemental strength training can help young runners improve by leaps and bounds. I decided to keep the talk simple focusing on two movements; the push up and the air squat. After all is you cant do a push up of squat should your really be doing anything else before your get that dialed in? Over the years I've observed thousands of young athletes performing these movement incorrectly most of the time under the watchful eye of there coach. Heck I'm guilty of it, I admit it.
My goal was to teach each and every athlete how to move properly and or how to scale the movement so that proper mechanics could occur. Here's of how I broke down, the push up and the squat, for the Campers' at RunningWorks
Key Cues for the Push Up:
1. Hand Position: Athletes often times have their hands to far apart, the key is to stack you joints over top one another. When holding the staring position, the shoulder should be over the elbow and the elbow should be over top of the wrist. Once the joints are aligned make sure the shoulder is over top of you knuckles. Finally spread your fingers, give yourself a wider base of support.
2. Stay Connected: Often times athletes are only concerned with what the arms are doing and not what's going on with the rest of the body. All movement begins and ends with posture. If you have good posture you'll move better. If your disconnected and lack good posture you won't be very efficient. So how do we get connected? Simple squeeze! By squeezing I mean get your muscles engaged and become rigid like a board. Squeeze the abs, quads, hams, and glutes so that when you move through range of motion the joints move off the floor at the same time. As you push off the floor, the shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joint need to remain in a straight line.
3. Range of Motion: All movements need to travel through complete range of motion. What I've found is lack of strength and fear of not getting off the floor restricts range of motion. In order to promote full ROM, I prefer to see athletes work from the floor up rather then go to the floor and back up. Starting from the floor each time allows us to relax and reconnect each time, before pushing off to complete our push up. When starting from the floor you know your connected (squeezing) when the knees and quads are not in contact with the ground. As you're learning this new style of push up I guarantee your elbow will fan out, remember to focus on external rotation and fight to keep that elbow stacked over the wrist brushing along your rib cage.
4. Foot Position: Often time athletes do push ups with the feet together. Remember just like joints up top, keep your feet under your hip. Give yourself a wider base, you might find this wider base not only allows you to connect better, it will also help you move through ROM a little easier.
5. Scaling: If after these corrections if you still find it difficult to complete a push up from the floor, chances are your core is not strong enough to stay active. So rather then continue to train poor movement patterns scale the push up back and go from your knees rather then from your feet. For some this can be a blow to the ego but it's always better and safer to scale then to move poorly. Poor movement patterns will eventually lead to injury and time off. When in doubt SCALE!
Key Cues for the Squat:
1. Foot Position: When squatting feet should be at shoulder width or slightly wider. Toes should be pointed straight ahead or at most at 10 and 2. It's very common for athletes to set up with the feet to close together. Also it should be noted that as the athlete begins to squat they should adjust their weight toward the back of the foot rather then up on the toes.
2. Knee Position: As with the push up the same is true for squatting, always keep the joints stacked. As you move through the range of motion of a squat you need to focus on keeping your knee stacked over the ankle. The cue here is to push the knees out (as a demonstration I push the athletes knees in and had them push their knees against my hands). It is important to note the this outward push needs to occur from the start of the movement through completion of the squat.
3. First Movement: Most inexperienced squatters first movement will be a bend in the knee. Unfortunately when this occurs our knees shoot forward in front of our foot putting our knees in a dangerous position. When squatting properly the first movement is always push back of the hip. By pushing the hip back first this allows the knee to stay staked over the ankle (remember don't over over emphasize the hip push back).
4. Range of Motion: When squatting with full ROM athletes will have there hips below their knees. When done properly with good mechanics squatting below parallel is completely safe and beneficial to improving leg strength in runners (I allowed the athletes to use the fence to assist hip below parrallel).
5. Staying Active: As with the push up it is crucial that the athlete stay active and keep the core engaged. I saw many athletes in poor position, easily correct themselves with the simple cue of squeeze your abs, push your knees out (with this cue, athletes immediately picked their chest up putting their spine in a much better position).
The goal was to make things as simple as they are (so that it was easier then camp food to digest). By focusing on these cues athletes were performing push ups and squats with better movement patterns with complete range of motion.
After one of the talks I was asked who my influences were in the Strength & Conditioning World. Below is a brief description of my journey to learn more about Strength training for Runners.
Over the the last 2 years years I seemed to have become the CrossFitter in the eyes of my Running Friends and Circles and to my CrossFit Friend I've always been the Runner. But in my eyes I'm a Ronin , a coach wandering seeking information from sources outside the Running Community.
It started off as fun MMA style conditioning, (flipping tires, pushing cars carrying kegs) which led to internet searches, that lead to CrossFit.com. Whoa! Olympic Lifting! Gymnastics (always wanted to be a gymnast! bucket list, CHECK!) Deadlifts! I'm in.
Like I said I am a Running Geek and being that Geek I remembered my Father bringing home a book that had pictures of Seb Coe(in his white short shorts and his knee high socks) doing barbell movements like Clean, Press, Snatch, Deadlift. I always felt that some added barbell movements would be beneficial not just for my training but for my athletes as well. Only problem I had no idea where to start and if I can't do it I'm certainly not having my athletes do it. So with that the CrossFit Level 1 Coaches Certification offered the most bang for its buck. Without ever picking up a barbell out side of benching and curling or having been to a "Box" I got my L1 Certificate. Now I could start lifting and eventually coach my athletes to do the same. Hopefully I won't hurt myself or anyone and maybe I'll get a 1/4 of a Seb Coe in an athlete! I spent the summer of 2010 practicing my lifts while giving my athletes body weight met-con workouts. I seemed to be feeling better on my runs and these kids are starting to get shredded?!? Something is up...
In September of 2010 I headed to CF Morristown to attend a CrossFit Endurance Seminar. Why? 1. It was in New Jersey. 2. I had the $ to afford it. 3. Like CF it addressed addressed technique. 4. Like CF it covered nutrition. 5. Just like CF, it laid out its template(s) of the hows and whys. It presented me with another opportunity to better educate myself and help me be a better coach. I noticed on the CF Motown Community Board that they were having a Olympic Lifting Clinic. I asked Coach Mike D "Hey can anyone go to this or is this for members?' "Dude you are more then welcome to sign up!" Another opportunity to learn more about Oly lifts for $20, I'm in!
Before the Oly Clinic I still had not had use more then a 45lb. bar for an Oly movement. By the end of the night I had accomplished both and was stoked to had gain some more insight into the Oly lifts. Well worth the $20 and 2+ hours of driving during Jersey Rush Hour. By that time I was a loyal Tuesday/Thursday 6:15am at CF Motown. Why? because the Coach Mike D was giving. Helping me to move better as an athlete but also, how to cue my own athletes and how to better access their movement.
By December of 2010 I had be bitten by the CF Bug, the opportunity to learn more presented itself and off the California I went. I spent 2011 in Southern California submerged in the "Scene"(this is a blog for another time and another place) soaking up as much content as I could be apart of. Along the way in my travels is where I picked up the techniques and cues I presented during my Strength talk at camp.
Say what you want about CrossFit (I will, soon enough) it has it's good and it's bad. Like anything if you put yourself in front of the right people your going to learn things. You might not agree with everything but then again you don't have to. Thats what being a coach is all about. It's about style. Yes there is science behind it and it is an art (it's like college, it's not for everyone) but your style is yours and my style is mine! It's 2012 people lets be real honest with ourselves, check your ego and realize no one is inventing or reinventing the wheel at this point. The Law of Specificity is pretty simple if you want to be good at running you need to run. How you choose to supplement your training or coach your athletes is up to you.
The most important take away for me is that when you hurt or get hurt that's your body telling you you're not moving properly and rest isn't the correct answer. Correct the movement and get stronger you'll be able to run more and in turn you'll run faster.
RunningWorks 2013 is scheduled for August 12th-17th and there's no place I'd rather be then Canadensis, PA
I Love Camp!