We aren’t all professional runners, but that doesn’t mean we can’t train like them. Though it’s important to recognize that the comparison game can be a slippery slope, there is a lot to be learned from the training habits of pros.
“As a coach, the greatest lesson I have learned from working with elite and professional runners is that hard work goes a very long way, but genetics also play a large role in an athlete’s potential and performance,” explains Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, coach at I Run Tons. “Because of this you have to remember that more isn’t always better and what is best for someone else may not be what is best for you. It’s important to give credit to the genetics and years of dedication and hard work the professionals demonstrate and not compare yourself to them.”
That being said, we spoke to professional runners and a coach to find out what simple, realistic things they do to take their performance to the next level and encourage you to incorporate, too.
WARM UP AND STRETCH
There is a lot of debate about whether you should stretch before, during or after a run, but taking time for drills that help warm up their muscles is something professional athletes work into their training schedule.
“The number 1 thing that professional runners do differently is dedicate much more time to their warmup, thinking of it as no less important than the rest of the workout,” shares Gallagher-Mohler. “Though time constraints are an issue for most athletes, building in a minimum of 10 minutes for a dynamic warmup and 10 minutes for a full stretch each day will go a long way in performance enhancement and injury prevention.”
Frezer Legesse, a professional miler sponsored by Under Armour, adds that he has seen runners consistently jump into runs without taking the time to properly stretch and believes it is something that should be done before every run.
RECOVERY AND REHAB
Taking time to properly rest and recover post-run is just as important as warming up. Of course you may not have all the time in the world to dedicate to the sport due to commitments with family, friends and work, but taking even 10 minutes after your run to properly cool down your muscles helps.
For example, Legesse uses his cooldown time to take ice baths. He sees it as an integral part of his training routine.
“It is very important for me to get an ice bath after some of my hard workouts to help get the recovery process started,” he explains. “I recommend everyday runners to take the time to hop in an ice bath after some hard workouts so that they too can recover faster.”
CORE AND STRENGTH WORK
It is important to spend time to work muscles that aren’t worked solely on the roads or trails, according to Rachel Schneider, a professional middle-distance runner sponsored by Under Armour.
Dedicating at least two days to cross training — and even 5 minutes a day to core work such as planks — not only helps you build muscle, but can also prevent overuse injuries from just running.
“Some distance athletes perform better on lower mileage while others do better with higher mileage,” notes Gallagher-Mohler. “The other factors include foam rolling, stretching, strength training, cross training, getting optimal whole food nutrition and seeing a highly-qualified chiropractor, physical therapist, dietician and massage therapist all add up.”
READ MORE > THE 5-MOVE CORE WORKOUT FOR RUNNERS
The most important component in all of training may be getting enough rest at day’s end to recharge. Both Legesse and Schneider noted that just as you would log your training, keeping track of your sleep can also have an impact.
“Sleep is something that is very important to me as a professional runner,” notes Legesse. “It is the most important part of the recovery process, so everyday runners should take the time to log their sleeping and work on it if they want to improve their performance.”
It doesn’t matter if you are a night owl or an early bird as long as you get enough sleep to power your runs. Of course the usual recommendation is eight hours of quality sleep, so making a bedtime routine can help you send signals to your brain that it is time to rest. Many people prefer to limit their screen time before bed and even ban electronics in the bedroom in order to avoid distractions and unnecessary light that can keep deep sleep at bay.
The final thing professional runners do involves intentionally training every day. For the pros, running is their way of life, and even though they are dedicating every moment to training, you can still find consistency no matter your schedule.
“Time spent on training is extremely individual,” reassures Schneider. “It depends the distance a runner is training for, their goals and their other commitments. As professionals, we consider running a 24/7 lifestyle.”
Of course you can just run with the bare minimum training, but you may not actually reach your goals. Prioritizing training over happy hour with friends or taking time to run over your lunch hour can be a drag sometimes, but, in the end, all of your efforts lead to a stronger performance.
“The most Important lesson I have learned is that It is not about doing one big workout, but rather putting together consistent training,” adds Legesse. “Focus on saving some for the next day.“