With winter descending upon Flagstaff, we're sure to see several days where there is too much ice, snow or wind to get out safely for a run. Add on top of this the rigors of the holiday season -- travel, cooking, shopping -- and it's no wonder that this is the most difficult time of year to keep up with a fitness regime. Luckily, however, more and more research is demonstrating that people can effectively improve their performance while also running less total distance each week.
According to an article recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, it appears that reducing training mileage by 25 percent and completing three to four sessions each week of six to 12 30-second intervals improves the biological machinery necessary to run fast over both short and long distances. The subjects improved performance in an intense run to exhaustion of about 2 minutes in length and also over the 10 kilometer race distance by 36 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The runners were able to take their 10k personal bests from an average of just over 37 minutes down to just over 36 minutes in nine weeks or less. To reiterate, that's a one minute personal best on 25 percent less training each week. Not bad.Another landmark study completed in 1999 in Finland demonstrated that replacing 33 percent of your training mileage with jumping, sprinting and strength training initiatives is capable of producing improvements in an 18-minute 5k runner's time by nearly 45 seconds in just nine weeks. What is very exciting, is that these improvements in performance came without improvements in the commonly hailed "VO2 max" which shows that there are multiple components to performance that must be addressed. Instead of improving the oxygen delivery, the subjects were able to improve their movement efficiency to a point where they required less energy to run at a given speed. It is essentially training your body to be less like a Chevrolet Tahoe and more like a Toyota Prius.
By reducing your training volume and incorporating targeted strength training, faster running, and jumping exercises, you'll be able to stave off injury because you are more efficient and by taking away some of the stress that comes with running high volumes in wintery conditions. Each time your foot contacts the ground a shockwave is sent all the way through your body, placing stress on your body's building blocks. A stronger runner is better suited to attenuate this stress, so each stride causes less damage to the efficient athlete's body than would be experienced by a less-prepared athlete. As the majority of injuries in the running world are the result of repetitive foot contacts, reducing the total amount of running done will also serve you in keeping you healthy and able to train more consistently.
Unquestionably, the winter is the perfect time to take advantage of these tools as it will save you time, make you fit, and help lay down the foundation for a successful spring racing campaign.
Carson Boddicker is owner of Boddicker Performance, a Flagstaff-based company focused on using an integrated model to improve performance on the road, track and trail.