by Dylan Bowman, World Class Ultra Runner
I’ve been a professional athlete for more than a dozen years. That means I not only have a lot of miles on the odometer but that I’m also getting a bit older. Of course, that age and experience has made me stronger and more mature, but it’s also left me feeling a bit more fragile, tighter, and weaker than I was in my mid-20s. This feeling has reinforced the importance of all the non-running related exercises I need to do to keep my body in a place to compete at the highest level for as long as possible. I like to divide my routine into two modalities – lengthening and strengthening. Here’s a glimpse into what I mean by that, taken individually.
First, there seems to be a controversy about the efficacy of stretching in certain strength and conditioning circles, especially in running. Speaking for myself, I absolutely love stretching and find that it really helps my body to feel limber and mobilized enough for the training that I do. My routine is uncomplicated, mostly consisting of me listening to podcasts, rolling around on the ground in my basement targeting the large muscle groups in my legs. The only tool I use consistently is the ProTec Stretch Band, which helps me to get a little deeper into my hamstrings and hips.
The other half of my “lengthening” program revolves around mobility and self-massage. Of course, people talk about foam rolling alot but I do two things that I think are worth mentioning. First, I use the ProTec Orb Extreme Mini to go deep into my hips and glutes. My right hip has always been a place where I’ve noticed significant tightness. Not coincidentally, I have a history of bad ankle injuries on my right foot. I had an epiphany moment a couple years back, realizing that the tightness in my hip was impacting the way my foot struck the ground. And when it was more mobilized, I didn’t experience nearly as many ankle rolls as I used to – a great example of the importance of always doing the little things to prevent injury.
The other thing I do during my foam rolling routine is focus on my calves with the ProTec Y Roller. Again, I’ve had a history of ankle injuries and have learned that constant mobilization of the tissue in my lower legs helps to ensure my ankles have more elasticity – minimizing the risk of catastrophic sprain. I highly recommend foam rolling calves, a muscle group that sometimes gets overlooked in favor of the larger quadriceps and hamstrings.
I do at least a little stretching and mobilization every day, but I’d advise aiming for at least 2x per week for runners of all levels.
Where the above exercises help to keep my muscles soft and pliable, the strengthening part of my routine obviously help to keep my muscles strong – something we naturally lose as we age. Within the strengthening routine, I break my program into two sub-groups – everyday exercises and twice per week exercises.
The twice per week exercises involve going to the local gym where I live and lifting heavy with a group of committed trail athletes. I’ll do another post in the future about this, but suffice to say, it’s a hard session that pushes me out of my comfort zone. It’s an important subject deserving of its own conversation in the future.
The everyday routine is much simpler. I use the ProTec Resistance Bands religiously to help activate and strengthen my muscles before heading out the door for a run. The program mostly focuses on my hips and glute – areas notorious for weakness in runners – but bands can be used for any number of activation and strengthening exercise across various applications. So if you don’t have access to a gym, you can still get quite the workout with these simple tools. Here’s a great 16min resistance band workout on YouTube from my friend Vlad Ixel, who is a great strength coach for runners. For a more generalized workout, Pro-Tec provides a nice resistance band workout as well.
The resistance bands travel with me all over the world and not a day goes by that I don’t break them out for at least a couple minutes of activation. It’s one of the most underrated tools for runners that should be used with regularity. I have at least one band in my car and one in my backpack at all times, in case I need a quick session at a trail head or even between calls in my office. I can’t emphasize enough how important they are to being at your best physically.
In conclusion, keep these two words in your mind – lengthening and strengthening. Try to do at least one thing every day that helps you improve in both departments. I guarantee your running and your health will improve.