Because running is most often a very solitary sport, it may seem odd that some of the strategies employed by athletes such as basketball and football players could offer some important lessons. Whether you are on a team or doing a solo sport, at the end of the day, all you can do is train and perform your personal best.
For runners, getting to your best involves a lot more than just running; something that can be learned by watching athletes in other disciplines. From analyzing game footage to performing shooting drills to strength training in the gym, athletes who play other sports aren’t simply focusing on one thing; they are making sure they are strong in multiple areas. To learn more and see how runners can apply this lesson, we talked to four coaches who work with athletes in basketball, football, triathlon and strength training, to get some insight.
RUNNING ISN’T ENOUGH
Many runners can get by by simply lacing up their shoes and regularly running. Just because you can, however, doesn’t mean you should. When it comes to the sport, there are other supplemental activities — such as strength training, foam rolling and plyometrics — that all add up to make you a more well-rounded runner.
“A marathon runner needs to focus on developing qualities that will improve performance,” explains Derek Hansen, an International Sport Performance Consultant who has worked with Olympic medalists, world-record holders and more, along with consulting numerous professional teams in the NFL, NBA, MLS and NHL. “This includes: improving aerobic capabilities, improving biomechanics and running economy, ensuring diet and sleep needs are properly addressed, picking the proper equipment (shoes), varying running surfaces to avoid overuse injuries and selecting appropriate volumes of work throughout the week.”
By focusing on these different pieces of the larger running puzzle, you not only become a stronger runner, but you also avoid the chance of injury. By supplementing your running with additional training and recovery strategies, you are using all of your muscle groups and avoiding the injuries that come with the constant pounding and repetitive motions of running.
“I see many more injuries coming from run-only athletes versus triathletes,” reveals Natasha Van Der Merwe, a professional triathlete and the director of team programs for Bicycle World. “I think this is partly due to the fact that athletes alternate swimming, biking and running throughout the week which is easier on the body. It is something runners should look to add to help with recovery, but also an added aerobic stimulus to improve their fitness without wear and tear on the legs.”
FILL IN THE GAPS
When it comes to planning your supplemental training, however, you shouldn’t just add things for the sake of it. Athletes such as football and basketball players, for example, are intentional about what skills they look to maintain and improve, which is something that can be applied to runners, as well.
“When reviewing the training plans and lifestyles of professional athletes,” Hansen says, “we look at all of their current qualities and look to fill in the gaps, not necessarily pile on more of the obvious.”
Having a coach develop your training plan and take a look at where you may need improvement is a great way to make a list of where you can improve (and how to get there). Additionally, taking inventory of your training after a goal race to see what worked and what didn’t is a way you can personally take control of your training plan. This may mean adding supplemental training or may involve breaking down your running to fine tune your form. Either way, you want to make sure the additions benefit you personally, versus adding more work that can detract from your current efforts.
“I train many football athletes and track athletes and most of the football players are working on techniques that will help them at their positions,” shares Nate Soelberg, owner of Utah Speed Academy. “I think runners could take a page out of their book and be sure that they are training and running with proper form/technique and not just out running to run and get their miles or distances in for the day. There is an efficient way to train and run and runners that want to get better need to make sure they have the best form and technique possible to be able to be their best.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Becoming a successful runner takes more than running. Being intentional about how you approach training is key and can not only help you become stronger physically, but will improve your mental performance, as well. The important thing is to not take on too much and to consider your commitments outside of the sport so you don’t overexert yourself and potentially do more harm than good.
“I think a specific mental lesson all runners can learn is to not overthink or stress about training or races,” adds Natalie Johnson, certified personal trainer and founder and head coach at RUN F.I.T. Coaching. “It’s way better to have a ‘go with the flow’ approach. Stress itself causes stress hormones to rise and create havoc in the body, creating diminishing returns themselves.”
Even when physically resting you can be mentally training, which is a key component of becoming a well-rounded runner. Just as a football player would watch game tapes, you can take the time to review course and elevation maps for a future race, for example. At the end of the day, what may seem like a little thing adds up to big gains in performance.