How to get the most out of your runs
Every time you pick up a new physical activity that requires you to move in an unfamiliar way it’s hard in the beginning but after a while your body optimizes itself to manage the load and the activity itself, becomes easier. Being an adaptive bio-machine the body is designed to recognize patterns so it catches on fairly quickly and, as you continue working, it eventually optimises all of the processes involved for a minimum energy expenditure. With running, for example, your breathing stabilises, your body develops muscle memory and it becomes easier to flow with the run.
This is great because your form improves and running becomes second nature to you. Unfortunately, this means that your body has completed its evolution and entered its comfort zone which also means you will not progress any further. There is simply no need to continue changing if you are already capable of covering the same distance at the same pace without much effort.
That’s how most runners hit a plateau. Running the same distance at the same pace every day might be enjoyable but eventually it stops pushing your body to change and get fitter. Everything optimises: your body doesn’t burn the same amount of energy as before - it takes you fewer calories to run the same distance, you don't get faster and your endurance only lasts you until the end of the run. If you continue doing the same thing, running exactly the same run over and over again your body will optimize itself to be perfect - but perfect for this exact run only.
This is why it’s vital that you spice up your runs, run different distances in different conditions at different speeds and throw in some bodyweight training on top of that. That’s how you keep your body sharp and force it to continue changing, burn more every time and improve your speed and endurance.
Mix it up at every opportunity:
Endurance Running: see just how far your body can take you at your lowest speed. Endurance runs can be used for conditioning (over an hour long) and recovery (under an hour).
Speed Drills: sprinting is the best way to push your body to the next level and gain momentum. Teach your body instant response and acceleration. Do at least one set of speed drills per week and watch your body change.
Endurance + Speed: this is how you level up, first you push your body to endure long distance and then you force it into the final homerun to sprint. Make it 9/1 ration or 8/2. If you are running 10 kilometers then your last 1-2 kilometers should be done at your top speed. This is marathon training.
Fast Five: Every now and then, do a test run for 5K. Run as fast as your legs can carry you and aim to beat your previous record time every time.
Uphill: running is supposed to be challenging, if you are running on the same surface you are not getting the most out of you runs and handicapping yourself. Running is meant to be uphill and downhill and rarely level 0 – your body has to be able to deal with changes in the environment and the only way to make it stronger is to force it to adapt. Finish your runs by running up a small hill and, if you run on a treadmill, change your incline level and go up. Try it at least once a week.
Bodyweight Add-ons: when you do sprints finish them up with a double push up and double squat to break the pattern and hyperload your muscles even further. Do jump squats, jump knee tuck exercises and skipping and straight leg bound drills in between your runs to improve your acceleration and speed.
Extra weight runs: get a pair of wrist weights, the lightest you can find, and run wearing them. Run at the same speed you normally would and see how much faster you’ll get once you take the weights off. Note: don’t wear them on your feet, it’ll screw up your landing and can potentially cause injury – only run with wrist weights and work your arms as you run.
The more variety you have in your running the better the results you’ll get. You will perform better and you’ll look better, too.
If you run every single day, make sure you run differently, challenge yourself and try different things, different routes and run under different conditions at different speeds. It’s important that you continue challenging your body and your cardiovascular system – that’s when you gain the most. Runs that are identical to each other day after day will be the only runs your body will become able to do and you are just wasting its potential. Break away from the pattern and liberate yourself.