Exercises to Improve Your Sprint Start

Sprinting, as opposed to endurance events, places a large emphasis on strength and dynamic power. Even before the race begins, as you position yourself on the blocks, the goal is to be able to explode off the starting line, which requires a huge amount of force generated throughout the body.

Your choice in shoes can also go a long way in help you to improve your sprint performance. For instance, select a shoe that fits tightly and provides comfortable cushioning and maximum traction. The Nike Zoom Superfly R4 is a popular springing shoe that features these elements.

While there are many drills to assist in your starting technique, many experts say that you should also think outside the realm of the track and incorporate strength training into your schedule.In fact, a 2004 study in the Journal of Sports Medicine found a direct correlation between an athlete’s ability to execute heavy squats and their sprint performance.

To build both sustainable strength and explosive power, you’ll need to use a combination of standard weight lifting exercises and plyometrics. For your lifts, choose light weights that only account for about 60 percent of what you’re really capable of lifting. This will prevent you from tiring out your muscles and potentially slowing you down on race day. You’re ultimate goal is also to increase your ability to generate a lot of force quickly, so you want to be able to perform these exercises quickly.



The snatch is a somewhat complex, demanding Olympic lift that primarily targets your quadriceps. However, your glues, hamstrings, back shoulders, and arms are all involved as well. Because of the full-body nature of the snatch your coordination and balance may also improve, which will help you to maintain your form both at the starting blocks and throughout the race.

To begin, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and grip the barbell so that your palms are facing back towards you. Your hands should be slightly more than shoulder width apart. Drop your hips and bend your knees so that you are in a sitting position. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.

Push against your heels to straighten your legs and keep the angle in your back. Once the bar reaches about the middle of your thighs, stand upright and use the moment to bring the bar overhead. Shrug your shoulders for added pull.

Once your arms are fully extended, lock them to keep the bar where it is. At the same time, lower to a squat position. End the exercise by standing upright with the barbell still above your head.

Again, start with low weight to avoid injury. You should also work with a trainer to be sure that your form is correct.


Weight Throws

Weight throws use similar dynamics to a squat but include the added element of a plyometric push. With both hands, hold a shot between your legs. Squat down into a sitting position so that your thighs are roughly parallel to the ground. Propel yourself up and out, using the momentum to help send your arms up to release the weight. Your goal is to gradually increase the distance that you throw the weight.

You can also perform overhead weight throws to challenge different muscle groups. The execution is largely the same, except that you throw the weight behind you.


Lunge Jumps

Lunge jumps mimic the movement of a classic lunge but with a plyometric twist. Begin in the lunge position and the explode upward. While in the air, switch the position of your legs and land in this new position. Immediately repeat. Try to increase your jump height and number of sets to exhaustion.


These are just a few techniques that can help to improve your sprinting start. What exercises have worked for you? Please share them in the comments!






Running in the Rain

I try talking to the man about the weather, but he never listens. Typical man. The weather reports haven’t been too kind of as late, which isn’t surprising. It is winter and how I long for a little friendlier weather for my long runs. But I vowed to keep a more positive attitude for 2013–one of my new year’s resolutions. Thus, I decided to take my long run outdoors this weekend on a not-so-pleasant rainy day. With my new-found happiness and avoidance of all-things negative, I discovered a few reasons to love running among the clouds and rain.

New sounds to hear. Because of the devastation I would feel if my iPod suffered any destruction, I left my not-so-waterproof iPod at home in my gym bag. Instead, I just listened to the drops on the street, the spray coming from the cars as they drove through the puddles and my feet making slushing sounds. While not exactly Rihanna and Pink, the sounds of nature were a welcomed change to my run. I loved hearing the light drops change to torrential rain.

A new route to run. Because of all the puddles, I couldn’t exactly run through the streets like I usually do. My typical six-mile route suffered from record-breaking waterfall and now found itself covered in mud pits and three-inch puddles. Rather than brave blisters, I took to the sidewalk on a new path. Because of this, I got to watch older men try to play a game of golf in a downpour (which was very entertaining) and bikers take a spill while peddling through the street (not so entertaining…actually kind of sad and I stopped to help.) New views always added a little something extra to my run that sometimes felt rather monotonous–and I have Mother Nature to thank for it.

Finding hilarity in my run. Running through pounding rain is both ridiculous and incredibly enjoyable at the same time. I found tremendous joy in the heavy rain hitting my head and drowning me with each step. One car driving by actually slowed down to ask if I needed help. “No,” I said and continued on laughing my way back home. I looked insane and in desperate need of a towel, but I wouldn’t take it back. I felt like a kid again going outside and just playing in the rain.

I encourage you to take your run outdoors even in inclement weather. Is it snowing? Find peace and zen in the run with the silent snowfall. Is it raining? Jump through puddles and come back home muddy.


Vacation Workout Tips

Everybody looks forward to the break from reality that comes along with a long awaited vacation. Unfortunately, vacations can also mean a break from all the good diet and exercise habits that you’ve likely worked hard to develop. It’s understandable, too, since most people want to take it easy on vacation or just have so many other things on the agenda that it’s hard to schedule in time to workout. Most people also tend to indulge on food when vacationing, as well, which can be a big hit to all those positive steps you’ve made towards a healthy diet.

It can be daunting, then, to try to maintain your routine with all these negative pressures working against you. By making just a few changes, though, you can stay healthy on vacation.


Careful Planning

You’ve doubtlessly researched your destination to come up with even a rough itinerary, so why not do a little extra digging to find ways to stay active?

For example, will there be a gym available where you’re staying? Many hotels offer fitness centers, and those that don’t sometimes have arrangements with nearby gyms. If neither of these options are available, you can still get an effective workout with a little creativity. Use your body weight and the hotel furniture to improvise a full-body strength routine. You could also bring lightweight equipment like resistance bands to expand your exercise choices.

If working out inside, away from your friends and family, doesn’t appeal to you than try to find other ways to stay active. Plan to visit parks with walking trails or take a bike tour. Could you rent bikes to tour the area? Some beach-side vacation spots also have ocean kayak rentals or similar attractions that will get you moving while still enjoying your vacation by doing something out of the ordinary.


Do What You Love

Just like at home, it’s important to do things that you enjoy so that your workouts don’t become a chore. To that end, your mindset about your workouts can go a long way towards keeping you healthy.

Plan your workouts in such a way that they won’t interrupt your vacation or take you away for your travel companions. If you’re an early riser, could you go for a walk or run before everyone else gets up? Doing so will help you start off with a boost of energy and help you set a healthy tone for the day.

Sunrise runs don’t appeal to everyone, though, and for these people a slight shift in viewpoint may help. Try to think in terms of “activity” rather than “exercise.” The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 10,000 steps per day as a healthy amount of activity. You can easily carry a pedometer with you throughout your daily activities and shoot for this goal.

Remember, too, that sometimes a week or even two of rest from your normal routine could actually be beneficial. If you keep your diet healthy by eating moderately and making good decisions, the time of active rest could give your muscles need time to recovery from your usual workout. When you do return to reality, though, do so gradually so that you don’t shock your system.

Have you managed to stay healthy on vacation? Please share your tips with us in the comments.





The Trouble With Diets

As we begin the new year, millions of Americans are working to fulfill their resolutions. Not surprisingly, losing weight and improving fitness levels are statistically among the most popular resolutions each year. What is surprising, though, is that only about 20 percent of people actually accomplish these goals. In fact, regardless of resolutions over two-thirds of Americans report that they are on some sort of diet and obesity continues to be an issue.

So, why do diets fail? What pitfalls should you be aware of if you are attempting to lose weight? Being aware of common obstacles can help you take steps to avoid them so that you can follow through on your goals.


Lack of Sustainability

Many health and fitness experts encourage people not to think in terms of diet anymore, but to focus on lifestyle change. This is because diets can be overly restrictive and leave you stuck to following a certain plan or only eating a specially prepared meal. Once those products are taken away, however, which can happen if you go on vacation or otherwise have your routine broken, it can be difficult for you to know what dietary decisions to make.

A similar problem exists with crash diets and most fad diets, which are designed to make you lose weight quickly. You may lose a few pounds over the course of a week but as soon as you return to your regular eating habits, the weight will come back.

Overly restrictive diets are also difficult to maintain, since no one enjoys eating the same foods over and over. The key is to focus on what to eat, rather than what not to eat and find foods that you enjoy. If you genuinely enjoy eating a healthy diet it will be easy for you to stick to it because you won’t feel as though you’re missing out.

One study even showed that these fluctuations many dieters experience can increase cravings for junk food. The swings between following a diet and indulging create similar neurological responses to those seen in alcoholics and drug addicts. These findings emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy, long-term view of diet.


Underestimating Food, Overestimating Yourself

Despite all of the magic-bullet foods and workouts that promise enormous fitness benefits, a simple truth remains: Weight loss or gain is a matter of balancing calories. Excess calories become fat so to lose weight you have to create a caloric deficit. Because of this, monitoring your calorie intake and expenditure is still one of the most effective ways to lose weight.

The problem is that many people underestimate the amount of calories they take in over the course of a day. Pay close attention to your portion sizes when preparing food at home and try looking up the nutritional information of a meal ahead of time when eating out. Also, there are several apps available for smart phones that allow to track this information, complete with the nutritional facts for thousands of meals.

On the flip side of the equation, people tend to overestimate the amount of calories that they are burning. It can be frustrating to realize that running a 10-minute mile only burns about 115 calories when you feel so exhausted afterwards. Remember, though, that everything you do throughout the day counts. The American Heart Association recommends making it a goal to walk 10,000 steps per day to maintain a healthy level of activity. Purchase a small pedometer that you can keep with you and you will likely be surprised by how active you are in just going through your daily routine.

These are just some of the problems people encounter when trying to lose weight. What issues have you dealt with and how have you overcome them? Please share with us in the comments!







Running a Marathon in Copenhagen

Two years ago I participated in the Copenhagen Marathon, which is still one of my favorite races. Anytime I travel to Europe, I fall in love with its wonders all over again–European chocolates, outdoor cafes, adorable pastries and delicious cuisine. Thankfully, this time in Europe I partook in an opportunity to burn the calories I generally acquired when traveling to this part of the world.

European marathons are quite different from American ones, mainly because they are run primarily by men…and fast men. Out of 10,000 runners, 8,500 were male in the Copenhagen Marathon. This marathon actually has a greater percentage of women than other races in Europe. Spain’s main marathon in Madrid, for example, is 97 percent male. It’s not a bad demographic for a single female, I must admit. One of the positives of European marathons is getting to run with loads of attractive European men.

However, the negative is the field is very quick. For a not-quick person such as myself, it’s hard on your mental endurance to end up so far in the back.

This course had a relative out-and-back of sorts for part of it, so I saw the 3:15 marathon group coming toward me (of which I am clearly behind). This pacing group had at least 1,000 runners with it–a massive amount of racers keeping a very fast pace. Because of the sheer power of the marathoners, I actually ran faster than I expected just to keep up with the crowd.

I experienced very unfortunate weather the year I participated. While other years runners get lucky and the Marathon Gods clear the skies, it wasn’t to be for me. At mile nine, the clouds burst and torrential rain poured through the streets. All spectators abandoned the course and numerous ambulances carefully maneuvered through the streets to attend to runners suffering from hypothermia–not exactly ideal racing conditions. I considered the weather that morning and wore a long-sleeved running shirt, but sans gloves. My hands froze and I kept trying to pull the sleeves down over them to warm up; unfortunately my shirt was so wet it didn’t quite work.

During the rain, one of the aid stations offered bananas. The runners tossed the peels right onto the course–runners + banana peels = slipping and sliding. The streets are also quite flat, so the rain really had nowhere to go; we just ran through puddles down the cobblestone streets.

Despite the weather, running through the colorful European neighborhoods and smelling the European bakery treats made this a wonderful running experience.

I’d totally do it again.

Exercising Through Cold and Flu Season

You’ve worked hard to build your running base, to establish and maintain your routine and you probably tenaciously resist any potential interruption. But, while some things are simply a matter of scheduling, there are times when even the most zealous runner needs to take a break.

During cold and flu season, it can be especially tempting to workout despite the sniffles or to rush back to the gym as soon as you can stand again. But should you? When should you bench yourself and when should you muscle through it? When is it safe to return to your fitness routine?



When It’s Safe

Writing for MayoClinic.com, Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. says that the rule of thumb for deciding whether or not it’s safe to exercise to consider where your symptoms start. If they’re “above the neck,” you clear. This includes symptoms like a running nose, sneezing or a minor sore throat.

Listen to your body, though, and consider decreasing the duration or intensity of your workout. A few days or these easier workouts won’t effect your overall performance once you’re up and moving again.

It’s encouraging to note that several studies suggest that, not only will a minor cold not slow you down but moderate exercise could even help you recover more quickly.

Exercise increases the speed at which disease-fighting white blood cells can travel through your body, allowing them to wipe out the cold faster. A good workout also stimulates the release of hormones that directly control your sleep cycle, helping you to sleep more soundly. This deep sleep gives your immune system time to repair itself and do some heavy lifting that doesn’t get accomplished during your waking hours.


When To Rest

The previously discussed rule of thumb, then, eliminates exercise when your symptoms are “below the neck,” like chest congestion, a hacking cough or digestive problems. Included in the list of symptoms that require a break are fever, widespread muscle aches and exhaustion.

Working out if you’re experiencing these symptoms could make them worse and slow your recovery time. If you have any doubts about whether or not it’s safe to workout, consult your doctor.


Getting Back To It

After days of laying in bed, you’re probably itching to get moving again. But, just because your fever’s gone and you only have a slight sniffle left over, you shouldn’t pick up right where you left off.

If you still have those “above the head” symptoms, keep your exercise to a moderate intensity even if that means jogging when you normally run or walking when you usually jog. Keep up this slower pace until you’re completely free of all symptoms.

Doctor Howard LeWine, of Harvard Health Publications, warns that viruses like the flu can weaken the heart to the point that strenuous exercise can cause serious damage even after the virus has passed. Stop exercising if you experience sudden exhaustion, difficulty breathing and tightness in your chest.

Have you struggle to maintain your fitness routine during cold and flu season? Please share your experience with us in the comments!









Plyometrics: Give Your Running a Boost

It is frustratingly easy for runners to train themselves into a rut. Whether it’s a genuine plateau or just plain boredom, it’s important to find ways inject new and exciting training methods into your regime. Doing so will not only keep you interested but will also help to develop different aspects of your muscles to give you a more well-rounded running performance.

Based on emerging scientific evidence many runners have started incorporating plyometrics, a technique formally reserved for other sports, into their routine.

What Are Plyometrics?

Plyometrics, sometimes just called “plyos,” are a form of exercise that focus on dynamic, explosive movements. Exercises that utilize jumping or bouncing motions are the most basic examples of plyometrics but thousands of variations have been developed.

A basic muscle contraction consists of two phases: eccentric, lengthening, and concentric, shortening. Plyometric training forces your muscles to go through this cycle very quickly, recruiting more fast-twitch muscle fibers than running alone, or even weight training. These fibers are specifically adapted towards rapid, powerful movements like sprints or hurdles.

Improving Running Economy

Running economy is all about how efficiently you move and use oxygen. As you run, especially for long distances, your economy decreases because your muscles become more exhausted. Since plyometric training increases your muscles’ ability to launch you upward and forward, it also improves how efficiently oxygen is use to fuel those movements. This means that, ultimately, your feet will spend less time on the ground and you will be able to maintain a faster pace for longer distances.

A 2010 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research tested the benefits of plyometric training versus those of dynamic weight training. A control group didn’t follow any strength training program. All three groups followed the same 8-week endurance program and their running economy was compared when the program ended. Out of all three groups, the plyometrics showed the most improvement in running economy.

Another study showed similarly improved oxygen efficiency after only six weeks of plyometric training.

These studies, and countless other anecdotal reports, give strong evidence to the benefits of incorporating plyometrics into your regular routine.

How To Do It

Because of the intense nature of plyometrics there is an inherent risk of injury, especially if you are just starting to exercise or if you have bone or joint problems.

Start out slowly, with basic exercises like hopping in place or running bleachers two steps at a time before moving on to more intense exercises. Also, to help avoid injury, try to workout on soft surfaces like grass or mats. Since the whole point of plyometrics is to build up your explosive power, try to spend as little time as possible between reps.

Make sure to include exercises that will help to build your balance, as well, like single leg hops.

Again, because plyometrics carry with them an increased risk of injury make sure to ease yourself into this new form of exercise. Particularly when you are just starting out, it would be very beneficial to work with a trainer who can teach you the proper form.

Have you been able to include plyometrics in your routine? Please share your experience with us in the comments!