As the new school year begins, it's important to integrate strength training into your team's routine. By increasing stability and balancing muscle strength, strength training cuts down on injuries and makes your students more efficient runners. A Running Start includes videos on strength training exercises for middle school and high school students. Kids in elementary school should wait until they're older to begin strength training, but you can teach them games like Animal Tag and Toe Tag to develop agility, coordination, and body awareness.
With cross country season fast approaching, it's time for coaches to plan training to help young runners master the challenges of hill running. Here are a few workouts designed to build the endurance, strength, and technical skill needed for success on hilly courses.
As a general rule of thumb younger athletes and beginners at any age should start on relatively short and shallow hills. For elementary school runners, focus on games that incorporate hills – it should be all about having fun and developing body awareness and good movement skills. You can promote these benefits by holding a Continuous Relay on a hilly loop or including a hill in an Obstacle Relay.
A standard workout for middle school and high school runners is repeated uphill or downhill runs at a fast, controlled pace. For beginning middle school runners, try six 150-meter uphill runs, each followed by a slow walk to the bottom of the hill for recovery. An advanced high school runner can complete eight 300-meter uphill runs, with a slow jog recovery. An add-on to this workout is to maintain the fast pace for at least 50 meters after the hill crests. This demand will condition runners to avoid the common habit of slowing down and losing good form at the top of a hill.
As runners develop physical fitness and good form, they should progress to longer and steeper hills. At least once every two weeks, you should try to hold workouts on courses that simulate the hill-running demands of upcoming races. This means training on hills of the same or similar terrain, length, and steepness as the hills your athletes will race on this upcoming cross country season. Any interval workouts with repeated uphill or downhill sprints should include ample rest between repeats. Take the case of a runner whose form breaks down completely as she begins an uphill sprint. She is at risk for an injury, so giving her more time between repetitions will ensure she can maintain proper form throughout each uphill sprint.
For a fun team approach to hill training, try The Centipede on a hill. Line up your athletes at the bottom of a hill and instruct the last runner to surge to the front. When he or she takes the lead position, the new runner at the line's end will then sprint ahead. The hill should be long enough for every runner to surge at least once. This session can be carried out for several repeats on the same hill, with a recovery walk or jog downhill. Alternatively, you can make it part of a continuous run on a cross country course.
A primary goal for all hill workouts should be to develop good running form. Coaches should regularly cue their athletes to maintain an upright posture, drive their arms in a straight line without crossing over the body's midline, and to powerfully straighten the ankle, knee, and hip joints when pushing off the ground. Remind your runners to be aware of their physical effort and body sensations. For example, when they're running uphill, cue your runners to feel their leg joints extending powerfully. On downhill stretches, give the instruction to feel the foot accelerating backward quickly, to avoid overstriding. New and experienced runners alike will benefit from the tips outlined in our Form 101 series. Check out the Uphill Challenge to help your runners strengthen and improve their arm swing as they tackle those hills.
Have you checked out Events to Run: Action-Ready Plans for Youth Running Events? It's a brand-new section of the A Running Start website with resources and guides to help you stage different youth athletic events. There are detailed event guides for organizing field days, fun runs, track and field meets, cross country races, and food and fitness fests for your students. They cover everything from logistics and suggested supplies to tips on finding the right location and ideas for motivating the kids. We also created resources to help you with general logistics, planning, and registration.
Click here to visit Events to Run, and good luck with your event!
Summer is all about beach reads, so there's a chance you missed out on news in the running world. We compiled a list of news stories you may have missed, as well as a few resources that every coach should know about.
News and Resources
- Running Times writer Jonathan Beverly asks how much mileage is too much for young runners. [Story]
- Researchers found running on soft surfaces may not be as beneficial as you think. [Story]
- 10 tips from Runner's World to motivate your brain that can be adapted for your students. [Story]
- The "10 percent rule" for increasing mileage does not cut down on injuries. [Story]
- Weathering the heat during a run. [Story]
- Coaching tips and reading recommendations from the Positive Coaching Alliance. [Story]
- Coach Jay shares daily tips about running and nutrition on NIKE Running. [Story]