Book Review- “Runner’s World Your Best Stride”

I recently read the book “Runner’s World Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster–With Fewer Injuries” by Jonathan Beverly. The title is a mouthful, but the book is a BEAST!

The whole reason I wanted to read this book is because I had been having several running issues. For whatever reason my gait had changed over the years and I had gone from someone with a nice, fluid natural gait to one where I seriously looked like I was hobbling. My right leg would hyperextend instead of naturally bending when I landed.

Before I even bought the book, I began working on my gait and trying to not hyperextend my right leg. It was a very long, difficult process that was extremely frustrating and I even gave up once but I knew I needed to try again so this past spring and summer I began working on it again. You can read more about that here if you’d like.

So back to the book. Why do I say it’s a beast? It’s so crammed-full of information, it’s almost too much to absorb. I had to read through it and not do any of the million exercises in it then read through it a second time and start doing some of the exercises for it to sink in. This book would be overwhelming to the brand new runner, I would think. I’ve been running for let’s just say a long time, and it was almost overwhelming for me.

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A big part of the book is devoted to discussing foot stride. With many people like physical therapists and running coaches to back him up, Beverly states that it really doesn’t matter where your foot lands on the ground. As runners, we’ve heard that our foot should strike mid-foot as opposed to landing on our toes or heels. Apparently it really doesn’t matter where our foot lands on the ground. Foot strike is variable and changes in different situations. Beverly goes on to say that what is more important than foot strike is what happens with your leg motion and body mass when you touch the ground. We should focus more on having a quick, fluid turnover.

There’s also a huge emphasis on the hips and proper posture. Beverly states we first need to play with balance, to see what it feels like when our hips are rotated in all directions. When we run our hips shouldn’t be twisting from side to side but rather the hips should be stacked under the torso. Since most of us have jobs where we sit for long periods of time, our hips have become tight as a result. There are several stretches in the book to work on not only tight hip flexors but also glutes. While sitting causes tight hips, it also causes weak glutes. When we run, our hips and glutes ideally work together.

Another big piece of the posture puzzle is arm swing. Many people probably underestimate the importance of our arms for running. Beverly devotes an entire chapter to arms and effective arm swing. There are of course multiple stretches for the chest, back, and shoulders and a section on arm swing exercises.

Probably not surprising is that there is another chapter entirely on the foot. Beverly talks about the barefoot running movement and has multiple sections throughout the book about running shoes. Suffice to say the author feels that cushy shoes with tons of padding aren’t doing our feet any favors in the long run. While he doesn’t say to throw out your running shoes and run barefoot, Beverly does say to run in the least shoe possible. There are multiple foot and ankle stretches and exercises designed to strengthen our feet and ankles.

Stride and cadence are discussed with many experts weighing in that a faster cadence doesn’t always make a runner faster. According to the author, one problem with increasing your step rate that can result is your form suffers. Hip flexors get over-worked and arm swing is more in the front of the body rather than the backward motion it should be. Basically Beverly says that some runners may be able to increase their cadence and thereby become faster runners, but only after they’ve addressed posture, hip flexibility, glute strength, and upper body mobility.

I think the book can be summed up from a section in the preface entitled “A Process, Not a Problem.” I’ll paraphrase here. The process of having good form isn’t something you’re born being able to do, nor a matter of good or bad movement like where your foot lands. Running well requires an effective range of motion from our limbs which are restricted from daily sitting. In the US where most people drive to work, drive to run errands, and even drive to a trail head before going on a run, our hips have become tight and our glutes weak. Without working on our posture, hips, shoulders, and overstriding, we’ll never achieve good running form.

You can buy the book on Amazon here. I don’t recommend just borrowing this book from your local public library. There’s just too much information here to be able to read through it in a week or two. You’ll also want to keep it to have all of the stretches and exercises available. Obviously there’s no way anyone could incorporate all of the stretches into their weekly schedule. I suggest choosing some of the ones where you need the most work and focus on those and every so often going back and doing some of the ones you haven’t done in a while.

What do you all think? Does this sound like a book that would help or interest you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Book Review- Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.

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FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold  / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.

Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.

You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.

One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.

I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.

But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.

There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.

In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.

I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running.  I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?

Now to the real meat of the book:

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This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.

What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.