Coaches Corner

Coaches Corner: Why You Should Try Plyometrics

Eight miles before the end of his first-ever ultramarathon, Tom Vrizi started to get a nasty case of IT band syndrome. He finished the race, then limped around in pain for the next month, trying to run through it.

Finally, he consulted Dr. Google, trying to figure out what was weak, and how he might fix the problem with the right strength training exercises.

The exercises worked, and made him realize something: Other NBR members were also suffering from running-related injuries that might be avoided if they started strength-training. “During a drive to pick up race bibs, while sitting in traffic, I had the idea to lead a workout for the club,” he says.

The first plyo class took place on Monday, April 13, 2015. “I remember because I was still sore on that Friday and had a race the next day,” Tom says. (It ended up being the most successful race he’s ever ran.)

Now an NASM-certified personal trainer, Tom leads a plyo class every Monday night, helping his fellow team members stay strong and injury-free.

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What can plyo do for runners?

  1. It helps strengthen the fast twitch muscles runners use for speed.

  2. It can work your cardiovascular system if you’re pushing to do the exercises quickly.

  3. It helps strengthen the bones—the stress from landing from a jump helps make them less brittle.

“I've had many people tell me that my plyo class is responsible for them being able to hit PR after PR without injury. Some people go on to conquer longer distances than they ever thought they could,” Tom says. And, although he admits that he’s hurt himself due to his own clumsiness, he hasn’t gotten a chronic “running injury” in years.

What is Tom’s plyo class like?

The class is built around three four-minute sets that consist of four exercises done for 30 seconds each, then repeated with no break. Between every set, Tom switches it up with some running drills. “This gives muscles a chance to recover ATP and clear any lactic acid that built up,” he says. “The longer break we take between sets is aimed at a full recovery so you can give each set your all.”

The class focuses on exercises aimed at strengthening the things that city runners typically lack. “One of the main problems with being a city runner is never facing steep challenging climbs (bridges don't count),” he says. “The other is the complete lack of lateral motion. Conga squats emulate having to get your knees up on a big climb. To help with lateral motion we do side-to-side exercises, such as side leg lifts, clam shells, lateral jump squats, etc. These were the key to curing my IT band syndrome. Additionally, we do pushups to keep our arms and chest strong to enhance arm swing.”

Class typically ends with core work, and a few stretches for the hips, hamstrings and calves. “Contrary to my previous incorrect stance, I’ve learned that stretching isn't evil.” 

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What's the best strategy to approach plyo exercises?

For the true plyo experience, try to spend as little time as possible on the ground between jumps.

Plyo exercises have three phases:

  1. Concentric: the time in the air

  2. Eccentric: the time recovering from your landing

  3. Armortization: the time between when you stop your decent and launch again

“You want to land softly and controlled with feet facing forward in the eccentric phase, and then quickly armortize and get off the ground. The more time that's spent in the bottom of a squat, for example, the weaker the jump will be.”

If I hate cross-training, what's the least I can get away with?

If you work on your feet all day: “5-10 minutes of single leg balance work combined with side leg lifts and clam shells.” 

If you sit in an office chair all day: “5-10 minutes of hip flexibility and mobilization followed by 5-10 minutes of single leg balance work combined with side leg lifts and clam shells.” 

“Neither scenario will result in you getting faster,” says Tom, “but it will help you avoid injury and keep moving.” 

How should I incorporate plyo into my training to get the most out of it?

Tom suggests doing plyo the day after a long run, and taking a rest day afterwards. “Long runs and plyo have totally different goals. You can then take a rest day to recover by taking a walk or another light activity.” 

Coaches Corner: Train for a 5K with Becca Ades

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Looking to nail a faster 5K? Look no further than NBR coach Becca Ades. She’s developed a 12-week training plan specifically for the 5K distance, adapted from legendary coach Pete Pfitzinger’s program. And she’s leading an NBR training group to help runners gear up for the Boston Athletic Association’s 5K (which takes over Beantown’s streets just two days before the Boston Marathon).

With a PR of 17:36, and a few recent local 5K wins under her belt, Becca loves the versatility of the distance: It can be a low-key fun run, or a serious test of your speed—and grit.

“And at the end of the day, if things don’t go as planned, you have what, six minutes to get through? That’s nice, too.”  

She created a program of speed, tempo, and lactate threshold workouts for runners who are serious about putting in the work to get a faster time.  

The furious intensity of 5K races pushes you past lactate threshold pace, with your body relying on its anaerobic system. Which means you need to train for it differently than you would for longer distances where you’re running more slowly and using your aerobic system.

“You will work your way up from both the top end (speed work) and the bottom end (tempos), and gradually start putting your 5K together through different track pace work and short time trials,” Becca explains.

Her other 5K tips?

Have a goal pace in mind. “This will help you mentally prepare during the workouts and give you the confidence you need for race day.”

Find a pacing strategy that works for you. “Word on the street is the best 5Ks are run with a fast first mile, slower second mile, and fast third mile. I think when I’m in the best shape, I view the 5K as a one-mile race: You’re running the first two miles at pace to get to the last mile and hold on for dear life. Prefontaine once famously said, ‘No one will ever win a 5,000-meter by running an easy two miles. Not against me.’ So, you know, take everything with a grain of salt ☺”

Once you hit the start line, believe in your training, execute your race plan, and be your biggest supporter. “If things turn south, set mini-goals during the race, like, ‘I’m going to keep up with the guy in the orange shirt,’ or ‘I’m going to push as hard as I can to the big red building.’ The same things you do in a workout, do in a race.”   

Want to join Becca’s training group? Email her at rebecca.ades@gmail.com.

Becca Ades