This week's article is about strength and conditioning for Cross Country. How do we not only make our runners stronger and more agile, but also injury free? Trainer and Coach Haley Downey talks about ways to get your team stronger, faster and healthier for the 2018 XC season.
Coach and Trainer Haley Downey
Coach and Trainer Haley Downing attended George Fox University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Performance. While at George Fox she played both soccer and basketball, and currently works with the George Fox soccer team as head strength and conditioning coach, and assistant soccer coach. As the strength and conditioning coach, she works directly with all team members, developing in-season and offseason strength and conditioning programs. She also works directly with the athletic trainer to connect coaches and athletes who are injured.
Haley is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at OHSU and a personal trainer at Therapeutics Associates in Lake Oswego. Additionally she is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach, and a Functional Movement Screen and EXOS Certified Fitness Specialist. Haley owns her own business, Downey Performance Training and can be reached at email@example.com and downeyperformancetraining.com
Stronger, Faster, Healthier for Cross Country
An Interview with Coach and Trainer Haley Downey
For a Cross Country Team, what kind of strength, conditioning, and agility program would you suggest?
Strength is built in the off season and maintained during the season. My #1 goal for in season training is for the athlete to stay healthy. Keep in mind that your newer runners may get stronger through the season but that is not the main objective. Gaining balance, working on technique, making sure they are staying mobile, and most importantly as the season wears on, making sure they stay mentally engaged. One simple way I keep them engaged is to switch up the warm-up routine on a regular basis. I don’t want the athlete to get complacent. Make sure they are constantly being challenged!
Runners need to be more flexible, more agile, and have a stronger upper body. What kind exercises would you give to a XC Team to help them develop these skills?
It is important for all athletes to be able to squat, bend, lunge, pull, push, anti-rotation, abdominal bracing, and carry. It is no different for runners. They need to be strong throughout their entire body. If a team is unable to get into a weight room, it doesn't mean they can’t still strength train. They can do body weight squats, double leg and single leg dead-lifts, different lunge variations, pull ups, push ups, pallof presses (http://www.stack.com/a/pallof-press), planks, and carries. Being creative is one of the best things about working with teams, you almost never have enough equipment for everyone to use or you have just a few simple pieces. Use your imagination, use medicine balls for stronger athletes on the squats, dead lifts, and lunges, use benches for those who struggle with push ups from the ground, find bike racks or a sturdy railing to do modified rows on, use a post as an anchor for a simple long band band for pallof presses, or have one athlete hold the band while the other presses. Find more fun and challenge planks for them to do over the standard crunches.
Injuries are always the fear and frustration of many coaches. What injury prevention tips can you give us for both new runners, and also more experienced, but still young runners?
Runners have to be strong and stable, especially on a single leg. Running is basically a lot of single leg balance as they go from leg to leg in their running stride. Because of this, runners experience up to seven times their body weight in force. With the high level of repetition in running, it is important to train the body to be able to absorb these forces. I like to do this with single leg balance drills, starting out with simple drills done in place working with the eyes open and closed. You can also add a partner, a small ball like a tennis ball, and the runners can play catch while working on a single leg. Something as simple as adding in runners touches to a warmup routine can make all the difference in stability and strength on a single leg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT31s0XaCZ8 To progress this I move it to a single leg skater balance (see video). This will have the athlete working on single leg balance, shifting from one leg to the other, while slowly progressing forward. As this movement becomes perfected and the athlete is proficient in technique, you can transition into a larger movement, a single leg jump and stick. This will take the previous exercise into a movement more similar to the impacts of running. The athlete will now jump into each landing working on maintaining position and absorbing the impact. In addition to doing this in running shoes, this drill and many of the balance training drills can be done barefoot. Getting the athlete to connect their foot to the ground and not rely on the shoe to create stability.
In XC, conditioning is taken care of with the running but do you have any advice on overtraining or too much repetitive training? Any cross training ideas? For a whole team or an injured runner?
I am a firm believer in cross training, whether that is another sport in the off season, or training differently with strength training. But make sure the athlete has an off-season. This is important both physically and mentally. Biking and swimming are a great way to get in some active recovery after hard workouts or races. During the season you can also incorporate games to create a fun and inviting environment for the athletes. Ultimate Frisbee is a favorite with many teams!
How is working with young runners different than working with adults runners?
For young athletes it is extremely important to coach proper technique when you begin a strength program. The form and technique they use will carry over as they age. It is much easier to teach a new athlete proper technique then to have to change their technique later on.
With adults they typically have more aches and pains from either many years of running or from their current occupations. Most of the time you are working on the same problems that if addressed at a young age through strength training, may not have been a problem as they aged.
How would we as coaches progress our strength programs?
It can be as simple as adding weight or time to a weightlifting routine. As we touched on earlier, most teams don’t have much equipment, and this makes things more challenging than just increasing the weight. I would incorporate progression in your program by adding on to an exercise they have already learned. For example, a stationary lunge can progress into a reverse lunge and then into a walking lunge. Or while working on correct bracing with the dead bug, you transition to a bird dog and then into an elevated bird dog. All of these progressions happen when the athlete has mastered the initial exercise.
Can you suggest a warm up for a xc runner before training and racing?
I always make sure they get in mobility, activation, and dynamic stretching in a warm up. I typically start slower with a couple of mobility exercises, then 4-5 activation exercises varying in difficulty, next standard dynamic stretches getting the athletes moving, and finally I build up into a few more maximal running efforts. My goal is to get them warm, mobile, and working the correct muscle groups without getting them exhausted prior to a practice or race.
Here is a video of Haley Downey doing many of her suggested exercises:
A Pre Race Warmup for Cross Country
Thank you to everyone for this list! I have "stolen" my ideas from colleagues, PT's athletes, and trainers! Thank you!
Charlotte Lettis Richardson
Athletes - Make sure you know the start time of your race. Work backwards about 45 - 60 minutes to begin your warm up.
Warm up with a 10 - 15 minutes easy jog.
Find a flat, open surface (if possible) for your Dynamic Exercises. Mark out about 30 meters.
Begin with the slower dynamic exercises and finish with the more active dynamic exercises.
Dynamic Warm up - 30 meters
In and out feet - (Feet and toes inward and gently reach down to touch toes, walk a few steps, feet and toes outward and gently reach down to touch your toes.)
Hamstring Stretch - (gently pull your knee towards your chest, grabbing hold behind the knee and lifting up)
Quad Stretch - (keep the foot flexed and grab your ankle behind your back. Keep thigh aligned with the hip)
Hip flexor stretch - (James Bonds)
Over and Under Hurdles - (Imagine your self a mime! Step over the hurdle and duck under the hurdle)
Runners Touch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-SoCqdR1x8
Prisoner Walks - Hands behind your head, back straight and tall, lift knee up and down, lift same knee to the side and down. Take a few steps and do the other side.
Karaoke or grapevine - Arms out to side wide, right leg goes behind left leg and then behind right leg. Stay facing the same direction and come back - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euYH7H-I76c
"A" Skip and "B" Skip - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFGw5pTcUl4
4 - 6 x 75 meter Progressive Strides
Time your warm up to finish the strides right as they call you to the starting line!
Have fun and run fast!
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