When you think of an elite runner, what traits come to mind?
They’ve got speed and stamina. They’re strong and sflexible. These are the 4 ‘S’s of elite performance.
Now, I’m taking a few liberties here. For one thing, I’m putting aside the semantic difference between stamina and endurance.
The other issue you’ve surely already noticed.
If you’ve been feeling that something was slightly off about the word sflexibility, you’re right. It turns out that the s is not silent as I asserted to all of my proofreaders. In fact, there’s no s in the word flexibility at all.
But, be honest. Would you have read this article if it were titled The 3 ‘S’s (And 1 ‘F’) Of Elite Performance? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
What the 3 ‘S’s (and 1 ‘F’) mean to you
These focus areas (strength, speed, stamina, and flexibility) are all functionally related. At the same time, they can be separated into two groups as running is concerned. The first group I’ll refer to the as core traits: speed and stamina. Strength and flexibility form the second group, which I’ll call the ancillary traits.
The core traits are the things we think of most commonly when we think of running. We think less about the ancillary traits, but they are no less important. In practice, the core traits and the ancillary traits work in concert to drive and support your running performance.
A runner can get by with weaknesses in one of these areas. But too many weaknesses begin to degrade performance. To perform at your best, all of these areas should be trained with equal rigor.
Let’s take a look at how each trait supports your ideal performance.
Train your Core… Traits
Since stamina and speed are the traits we think of most commonly when thinking about running, these are the areas we’ll spend the least time on.
Speed, to state the obvious, is a measure of how quickly a runner propels himself through the world. Speed isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, nor is its importance to a racer. At the same time, increasing your speed is a difficult process that often involves lots of funny words (and occasionally painful processes) like fartlek, intervals, and Yasso 800′s.
Stamina refers to body’s ability to resist fatigue. This especially applies under any of the training tools listed a moment ago. Stamina also connotes a degree of efficiency of movement. The more efficient the athlete, the less likely to fatigue.
These core traits are strongly connected to the ancillary traits of strength and flexibility. Happily, strength and flexibility also share a lot in common.
The Ancillary Traits
So, what is it that strength and flexibility have in common? For one thing, they’re the two traits that we think of as being least related to running. Consequently, they’re the two traits runners most often neglect to train.
But there are other, more important similarities to these two. Specifically, both play a significant role in reducing the amount of stress that is applied to your joints with every step, thereby increasing your efficiency and reducing your risk of injury.
Strength training increases muscle volume, and greater muscle mass translates into lesser amounts of force being applied. In layman’s terms, your muscles act as shock absorbers. The stronger you are, the more your muscle is able to absorb that force, reducing the concussive strain on your joints.
However, there’s a downside to increasing muscle volume. As muscles fibers lengthen, the connective tissue surrounding them gets stretched tighter. This creates additional strain on the joints where the muscle attaches. Flexibility training loosens the connective fascia, and reduces this strain.
Keep in mind that neither strength nor flexibility exists in a vacuum. Strength without flexibility absorbs more force, but places additional strain on joints. Flexibility without strength leaves the joints without muscle to stabilize them. But developing both in proper balance reduces your overall risk of injury.
Train your ‘S’ off
If you’re looking to improve your performance, you could do worse than starting with the 3 ‘S’s and 1 ‘F’. Try looking at which area is your weakest, and focusing for a week or two on just that area. Then train your next weakest, and so on.
Just don’t forget to consult your doctor before adding a new exercise, or modifying your existing exercise program.
So, what do you think? I know I ignored the traditional 5 competencies of athleticism. Are there areas you train more? Less?