Supplemental training includes non-running
activities, such as stretching, running form drills, circuit training, strength
training, and plyometrics. While these activities may not have a direct impact
on cross country running performance, they can improve the athlete's overall
fitness, increase muscular strength, and reduce the chance of injury. Think of
supplemental training as exercises and activities that prepare the runner for
more formal training and the ability to handle greater training loads. In other
words, supplemental training trains runners to train.
Stretching should be dynamic (rather than static) in nature, and focus on the important body parts for the cross country runner-hips (including glutes and hip flexors), quads, and hamstrings. While research does not fully support that stretching significantly reduces the risk of injuries or improves performance, stretching does improve flexibility and mobility, priming muscles to move dynamically through their full ranges of motion, which is important for cross country runners. The best stretching for cross country runners is dynamic (or active-isolated) stretching, during which the opposing muscle group is contracted, causing the stretched muscle group to relax so a greater stretch can be obtained as the limb is moved through its complete range of motion.
For young and inexperienced runners who are still developing their running skills, drills can help improve running mechanics and coordination. Running has an under-recognized neural component. Just as the repetition of the walking movements decreases the jerkiness of a toddler's walk to the point that it becomes smooth, the repetition of specific running movements can make a runner smoother and improves running economy, the amount of oxygen used to maintain a given speed. With countless repetitions, the athlete's motor unit (muscle fiber) recruitment pattern becomes ingrained, allowing for smoother running mechanics and a more efficient application of muscular force. In addition to the neural adaptation obtained with drills, drills can increase flexibility, since their dynamic action moves joints through an exaggerated range of motion.
Cross country runners can use circuit training for overall body conditioning early in the season. I prefer using body weight exercises rather than dumbbells since it's important for developing runners to increase their strength relative to their body weight so they can master the weight of their own bodies.
Any strength training that cross country runners do should be aimed at improving muscle strength without increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). Adding muscle mass reduces running economy (the amount of oxygen used to maintain a given pace) since it costs more oxygen to transport a heavier weight. (Young, physically immature runners may benefit from a slight increase in hypertrophy to make them stronger, more powerful runners.) To increase muscle strength without hypertrophy, athletes need to lift very heavy weights using only a few repetitions. Given the intensity and stress of this type of strength training, athletes should spend a few weeks preparing their muscles by first performing a muscular conditioning phase using circuit training, followed by a muscular endurance phase of more formal weight training, using lighter weights with more repetitions.
Plyometric training includes jumping and bounding exercises involving repeated rapid eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) muscle contractions to improve muscle power. During the stretch-shortening cycle of muscle contraction, muscles produce more force during the concentric contraction if the contraction is immediately preceded by an eccentric contraction. This happens because muscles store elastic energy during the eccentric contraction, which is then used during the subsequent concentric contraction. Plyometric exercises exploit this elastic property of muscles, making the muscles more explosive and powerful. Since a runner's foot is in contact with the ground for only a fraction of a second when racing, there is not enough time to produce maximum force. What's important is the muscles' rate of force production-producing as much force as they can against the ground as quickly as possible. Power equals force times velocity, which can also be thought of as strength times speed. For a muscle to be powerful, it must be strong, and it must be fast.
When doing supplemental training, remember that runners are runners first-never sacrifice running training for supplemental training.
Workout #64: Flexibility Training
Objective: To increase athletes' functional range of motion.
Description: Athletes should perform these active-isolated stretching exercises either after running or apart from their running workouts. A rope can be used to assist at the end of each movement to increase the limb's range of motion.
Coaching Point: For each exercise, athletes should move actively through the range of motion, remembering to contract the muscle group opposing the one being stretched,
and use the rope only for light assistance at the end of the range of motion.
The athlete should lie on his back and bend the exercising knee, placing the hands behind his knee/thigh (Figure 64-1). Using the abdominals and hip flexors, the athlete lifts the exercising leg toward the chest until he can go no farther. The athlete should gently assist the leg at the end of the stretch with his hands (Figure 64-2). He should hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat.
The athlete should lie on his back with both knees bent and feet flat on the ground. The athlete should make a loop with the rope and place the foot of the leg he's exercising into the loop. The athlete should lift his leg until his thigh is perpendicular to the ground (Figure 64-3). He should grasp the ends of the rope with one hand and place the other on top of the thigh of the exercising leg to stabilize it. He should gradually extend the leg by contracting the quadriceps, causing the foot to rise to the ceiling (Figure 64-4). The goal is to lock the knee and have the foot pointing straight up. The athlete should use the rope for gentle assistance at the end of the stretch, but not pull the leg into position. He should hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds, return to the starting position,
The athlete should lie on his back. He should begin with his non-exercising knee bent and with that foot flat on the ground. The athlete should make a loop with the rope and place the foot of the leg he's exercising into the loop, locking the knee so the leg is extended straight out (Figure 64-5). From the hip and using the quadriceps, he should lift his leg toward his chest, aiming the foot toward the ceiling or sky. He should grasp the ends of the rope with both hands and slightly pull the rope toward him to assist at the end of the stretch, but not pull the leg into position (Figure 64-6). He should hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat.
The athlete should lie on her side with her knees bent (in a fetal position). She should slide her bottom arm under the thigh of her bottom leg (Figure 64-7). She should reach down with her upper hand and grasp the shin, ankle, or forefoot of her upper leg. She should keep her knee bent and her leg parallel to the ground. The runner should contract her hamstrings and gluteus maximus, and move the upper leg back as far as she can, using her hand or the rope to give a gentle assist at the end of the stretch (Figure 64-8). She should hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat.
The athlete should lie on his back with both legs extended straight out, looping the rope around the inside of the ankle, then under the foot, of the exercising leg, so the ends of the rope are on the outside. He should lock that knee and slightly rotate the other leg inward (Figure 64-9). From the hip and using the abductors, the runner should extend the exercising leg out from the side of his body, leading with the heel (Figure 64-10). He should keep slight tension on the rope and use it for gentle assistance at the end of the stretch, but not pull the leg into position. He should hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat.
The athlete should sit with both legs straight out in front of him. He should loop a rope around the foot of his exercising leg (Figure 64-11). The runner should flex his foot back toward the ankle, using the rope for a gentle assist at the end of the movement (Figure 64-12). He should hold the stretch for 1 to 2 seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat.
FROM: 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners, Chapter 10, By Jason R. Karp, Ph. D. via Coach Ross Dunton