Aim for a Stronger, Faster, Healthier 2016

12/30/2015 - 15:47

By Lena Hollmann
It’s a new year again! Or at least it will be soon when you are reading this. Maybe you have resolutions or specific goals that you want to reach in the New Year, or maybe you just want to stay healthy and injury free. Regardless whether you have resolutions or not, now may be the perfect time to examine how you train, and seek out a few things you can do differently in order to run faster, or at least to keep injuries at bay.

If you want to improve your current race times, it is more likely to happen if you make a few changes. However this may be easier said than done for us masters runners. Many of us have been running for a while, and may have already tried several training programs, sometimes to no avail. We have “been there, done that,” and may be hesitant to try yet another program. What I am going to suggest are not training programs per se, but “secrets” that you can incorporate into your current training. And you may give your race performances and your well being a boost in the process! So, if you aren’t already practicing these activities, you may want to give them a try in 2016.

First, make sure you include Recovery Periods in your training. With this I mean not only a day of rest or easy running right after a race, but a few weeks of just easy running at least once or twice a year. Many of us tend to skimp on this, “forgetting” that it’s during recovery that our muscles and cardiovascular system get stronger. A stronger heart and muscles will not only make us run faster, but will also help us stay injury free.

Recovery doesn’t mean complete inactivity. But it does mean cutting back on pace and mileage. And maybe also substituting some of our running with alternate activities, like cycling, swimming or yoga.

For example, if you are a marathon runner and put in 20 mile training runs to prepare, take a break and run no longer than 10-12 miles for several weeks. You will not get slower because of this – on the contrary you may get faster! Or maybe your times will stay the same as last year. If so please don’t despair, since your age graded times will get better each year when your actual times stay the same.

Taking recovery periods a few times per year can also give you a mental boost. Running long every weekend year after year will likely wear you down mentally sooner or later, especially if you run the same route and keep the same schedule every week. But taking a few weeks off when you switch to alternate activities (cycling, swimming, weight training, etc.) can bring you back with renewed energy.

If you choose to pump iron in the gym you will see other benefits too! It will make your muscles stronger, which will likely translate into faster race times and fewer injuries. So, including regular Strength Training in your training plan is another change you can incorporate if you haven’t already. This is especially important for us masters runners, since losing muscle mass is part of the aging process. But it doesn’t have to be! If we exercise our muscles regularly, we can significantly slow down this process.

If you don’t have a gym membership, or don’t want to invest in one, many exercises can be done at home with no, or little equipment. Lunges and squats for example are great for strengthening the glutes, quads and hamstrings. Or try a wall sit! See how long you can sit with your back against the wall but no other support. If you last more than a minute you are doing great! If not, wait a day or two and try again. Each time you will be able to sit a little longer, and you get stronger in the process.

Planks and side planks will strengthen your abs, back and hips, and also your legs and arms to some extent. And while you are on the mat you might as well do a few pushups too, just for good measure. And there you have a full body workout, all done at home if you want to, with no equipment needed, except maybe a mat.

For best results, perform some strength exercises two or three days a week. You want to stick with this all year round, not just during recovery periods. Although you may want to skip a session or two before important races, so that your muscles are fresh come race time. And don’t work out on consecutive days. Your muscles need at least 48 hours to recover from a strength training session. It’s for the same reason we don’t want to run hard two days in a row, by the way.

Finally, to stay motivated and make your training more interesting, do something different next year! Run a destination race you haven’t done before, or a distance you haven’t tried. Run a new race on your vacation. Or if this is what you normally do, take a vacation that involves no running, or at least no races.

There you have it, a toolbox to make you strong, motivated and injury free. With the possible exception of running in a new race, my suggestions aren’t New Year’s resolutions per se. They are more like a pledge to have a great year at the races in 2016.

But if you make specific resolutions or goals for 2016 – and want results - you may want to look them over to make sure they are SMART! A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. I wrote about SMART goals in detail a few years ago, and the following example is a quick recap.

Instead of making a resolution to “run a faster 5K,” set a goal to run a 5K in a specific time by a specific date, a 25:00 by July 1 for example. If you just want “a faster 5K,” how would you know when you achieved it? If your Personal Best (or best recent time) is 25:01, you will have run “a faster 5K” if you run it in 25:00. But you were probably aiming for a bigger improvement than this.

By determining a time and a date we make our goal specific, and also measurable. We will know exactly when (or if) we get there. It is also timely because we set a specific deadline when we want our goal accomplished. However, we also have to make sure that our goal time is attainable and realistic. If your best recent time in the 5K is 32 minutes, then a 25:00 5K may not be in your cards. Or at least not within six months. In that case you may want to adjust your goal time to something you could reasonably achieve. With some effort though!

Yes, with effort. Last but not the least, we want our goals to be Challenging. Why set goals if we don’t have to work for them? So, how about replacing the ‘A’ in SMART with Arduous (a synonym for challenging), since at least when it comes to race times, ‘Attainable’ and ‘Realistic’ have very similar meaning.

Now, if your best recent 5K time is 32:00, maybe you want to go for 31:00. Not 31:50, since that wouldn’t be challenging enough. And certainly not 25:00, since then you would set yourself up for failure – or more accurately, it could discourage you from trying.

You see, we can’t really fail when it comes to goal setting! If you don’t reach your goal time by the date you had determined, then adjust your goal and try again. Your original goal may have been to ambitious, or maybe life got in the way when you were working to achieve it. So set a new date, and you may also need to adjust your goal time. And remember that the key is to keep ourselves challenged and motivated during the New Year, regardless whether or not we make resolutions and set specific goals.

Have a happy and healthy 2016, and good luck at the races!

Lena Hollmann is a certified personal trainer with American Council on Exercise (ACE). She lives and runs in Naples, FL, and can be reached at

This column appears in the January issue of Running Journal. To subscribe to Running Journal, go to:

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