This week was Phase 2 of the Kinetic Revolution 30-Day Challenge. While last week was useful and I could feel a slight difference, Phase 2 was revolutionary. Here’s what I found particularly useful and why.
What’s in Phase 2
This week focused on four key concepts:
- Split Squat (aka Lunge) Exercise. This builds on the flexibility work from Phase 1. In fact, I found it really useful to do the Phase 1 hip flexor stretch right before each set of lunges to fully open up my rectus femoris (front of quad) hip flexor. This requires tilting the pelvis backwards (posterior pelvic tilt) when viewed from the side (sagittal plane), which means engaging the glute and ab muscles.
- Hip Thrust. I have always found this gym exercise really great for targeting the glutes.
- Single-Leg Deadlift Balance Drill. Definitely the hardest one for me. This simultaneous works on balance, hamstring flexibility, and glute engagement– three areas I suck at.
- Abdominal and Hip Control. Towards the beginning of the Phase 2, these were dynamic plank exercises. I do planks like crazy during the winter so they weren’t that interesting. What was more interesting were some cool exercises to control pelvic rotation in the sagittal plane (side view).
What Was Most Useful for Me
This is a great routine to do right before heading out for a run. The whole routine is great– a super dynamic warmup, but I definitely found the split squats and abdominal control exercises to be the most amazing part of the routine. I have been making sure to do them right before heading out for a run as part of the full routine– and then sometimes even during the run.
What do I mean by “during” a run– and why should that help? Well, this week adds a strength component to the hip range of motion work that was included in Phase 1. Specifically, the split squats simultaneously open up the hip flexors (notably the rectus femoris) while simultaneously engaging the glutes and abs. That’s an amazing muscle pattern, but it’s pretty useless unless it’s incorporated into running. This is the reason for doing this exercise immediately before running. If you do it right, you can almost feel your stride lengthen by six inches right after you do just a few lunges. But the feeling doesn’t last forever– only a few minutes. So, I’ve also found it super helpful to do a few during my walk breaks in the middle of runs. The emphasis here is on a few lunges (no more than 5-6 with a strong glute/ab engagement, definitely posterior pelvic tilt, and strong stretch of my rectus femoris)– you just want to activate the neural pattern in your brain and then run and see if you can carry their neural pattern over to running.
Use Walk Breaks to Become a Better Runner
If you read my post yesterday, you’ll know that I am a big fan of doing drills during my walk breaks in my recovery runs– mostly to add a plyometric “pop” back into my tired legs. Towards the beginning of Phase 2 of the 30-Day Challenge, however, I also played around with adding a few lunges in my recovery walks as well. I’ve found that, whenever I have introduced a new movement into my running in the past, the movement is quickly forgotten in running without constant cues. What’s better than cues alone, however, is a movement pattern (like a lunge) plus cues. So I can keep reminding myself to tilt my pelvis backward and fire my glutes while I’m running– but taking the additional step of stopping every now and again to do lunges reinforces the concept much more effectively.
Sadly, the human body is stubbornly stupid, especially when it comes to running. Part of the problem is that motions in running happen very quickly and we need to rely on muscle and nervous reactions instead of conscious motions. But muscles get recruited more if they are used more– so it definitely helps to “sensitize” a muscle to firing right before you do an activity where you want that muscle to be more active.
Towards the end of Phase 2, the Kinetic Revolution guys introduced some sagittal plane pelvic control exercises into the mix that were also perfect for also doing during walk breaks in running. In the photo at the left, James Dunne shows how to do it incorrectly because the back in arched and the pelvis tilts downwards. Instead, the leg should move back while the hip stays level or even slightly backwards. That pelvis control feels very much like an isometric ab/glute control– and it helps to stop every now and again and remind yourself of that!
Why this Matters for Older Runners
All of this matters more for older runners. Most of us have day jobs, which shortens our hip flexors and makes our glute muscles into a flabby cushion. You can see the consequences of this at any local 5K or 10K race– the older runners tend to be crunched up and have shorter, staccato-like strides instead of the long, gazelle-like strides that our youthful competitors have. This is your chance to turn back the hands of time and gain back some of that youthful speed.
Watch the Calves
The 30-Day Program doesn’t mention this, but I thought it deserved a bit of attention. My awful calf strain right before Powerman Zofingen last year happened to come shortly after a few weeks of working on hip flexor mobility. And last night, I noticed a little extra tingling in my left calf as well. As the hip opens up and allows you to swing your rear leg further back, your supporting leg may stay on the ground slightly further back in the stance phase than before– i.e. there is a little extra stretch on the calf muscles. If the guys at Inform Running are to be believed, this doesn’t mean you should be doing more calf stretching unless you have ridiculously tight calves. Instead the solution is to develop a little bit of strength in this newly found range of motion. So right before you head out (and maybe a few times during your run), find a step and do some calf raises with the slightest of bend in your knee. This may help remind your body that you need just a little strength around the extra few fractions of a degree of extra ankle flex that comes with extra hip mobility. And, because calf injuries are particularly common with older athletes, it makes a lot of sense for us to include them while our younger competitors might not have to. It’s a very small price to pay for free speed.
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