So you’ve made the big decision of taking on the big 42.2km. 42.2km of pure enjoyment, or agony depending on how you prepare for it. Hopefully you are well under way in your preparation with a training schedule specific to you from an expert in the field, and not some internet quick fix, however if you are not, here is a guide on what you should do before the first km of training is covered. To make sure your experience is favourable there are a few very important planning and preparation steps you should take before embarking on your training for the big event. It must start with guidance from professional’s.
Step one – General Practitioner
If you’ve been sedentary for a while and are starting from scratch, your first point of call should be to see your GP for a health check. This is important when starting any new exercise regime as it will identify any major health concerns that may inhibit your future training.
Step two – Physiotherapist or Osteopath Screening
Following a pass mark on a clean bill of health, its time to get specific about your training goals; to successfully complete a marathon injury free. Marathons, and all the training required will put a great amount of stress on your body; the muscles, joints, and the connective tissue. Because of this, it is important that you limit the chance of injury by seeing a qualified physiotherapist or osteopath who will take you through a full musculoskeletal screening.
From a clinicians perspective, the musculoskeletal screening process is essential in determining any pre-existing injuries or risk factors for potential injury in the future. A thorough assessment is important for both injury prevention and any injury management prior to a training program. Preparation and the right advice can reduce overload stresses, help with injury prevention, and optimise performance.
The clinician will ask about your injury history and keep a log of this information in order to address recurrences of injuries. For example if the participant has suffered from shin splints in the past with running then the therapist can advise on specific preventative measures i.e. specific calf stretches. Should the clinician find any current ailments then they will be able to direct you with appropriate pre-habilitation to allow you to start your training safely and as soon as possible. There will also be a discussion regarding pointing you in the right direction for seeking advice from other health professionals i.e. doctors, podiatrists, nutritionists and Performance Coaches.
Range of movement examination (flexibility)
In order for running to be a smooth movement, the body’s joints need to move through normal ranges of movement. Therefore an assessment of available range of motion of the joints in the body is crucial for running to spot any restrictions. Reduced rotation in the hip for example can affect the loading response through the foot and significantly alter lower limb biomechanics. There may be other reasons for the restricted motion which need to be cleared such as intra articular/ joint disorders. Movement restrictions can explain why muscle imbalances occur.
The reason a clinician looks at muscle strength is to address weaknesses in certain muscle groups which can then lead to stability issues and alter biomechanics for running. Simple tests can be a single leg squat or a single leg hop. Strength is addressed to assess endurance of a muscle and maximum power of a muscle. Endurance of muscles is more important when it comes to marathon training as these muscles need to function over a longer distance. If there is inadequate strength, especially in muscles around your weight bearing bone’s, then with marathon training the forces going through these weight bearing areas can become excessive and lead to stress reactions and/ or fractures.
These tests are used by clinicians for assessment of the integrity of a joint; ligament stability, joint congruency. These tests assess the function and structure of joints which need to be within normal limits for pain free function. Commonly assessed joints are the hip, knees and ankle joints. Assessing proprioception is also part of this assessment and form the kinesthetic awareness of the athlete. Poor proprioception can lead to a tendency to joints giving way, poor joint position sense and impaired balance. Good proprioception training has been shown to reduce the recurrence rate of injuries especially lower limb injuries. Palpation is also used to assess for abnormalities; joint pain, muscle tone, bulk, trigger points in muscle, joint stiffness. This hands on approach gives the therapist a good picture of your overall requirements.
Certain movements are performed in this assessment to determine bad habits and poor technique in the way the athlete moves and this can lead to determining a better more efficient way for the athlete to perform an activity. Some movements could be for example dynamic activities such as a walking lunge, step up/ down, single leg balance or simply running on the treadmill for gait assessment.
Step three – Performance Coach Assessment and Bespooke Program Design
An experienced Performance Coach, like here at Absolute, will run a series of tests such as anthropometry (body dimensions and composition), strength levels, power, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. They can also hold an assessment of your movement proficiency’s. All of this is to ensure that any training program undertaken is designed specifically for you and your strengths, imbalances and fitness level. Discussing goals i.e. target times will be covered so that you can be made aware of just what it will take, and weekly schedules will be set to ensure that your training program is manageable to fit in with your day to day commitments.
The Performance Coach coach will go through your full sports and exercise history. This will include all activity you have participated in and are currently doing. This is to ensure that training levels you begin at are appropriate. Following a generic program found on the internet will not address any of your specific needs in terms of strength and volume of training. Because of this, there is a danger of injury that will get in the way of your ultimate goal, and you don’t want to be sitting watching others coming over the finish line.
The first part of the screening will be anthropometry. Body weight, girths and composition (body fat via skin fold testing) can be measured here if suitable and comfortable. This will provide an insight into muscle imbalances or dominance on one side of the body. It will also provide a starting point for measuring progression throughout the program, ensuring your nutrition is meeting your body’s training needs. This is however not a necessity and can be uncomfortable and invasive so don’t feel put off by it.
A postural assessment will also be done to aid in determining any muscle length or strength imbalances that need addressing in training. Correct posture is vital for injury prevention and running efficiency, which will prove important when running 42.2km.
Running is a dynamic sport so it is important to look at the body in motion to pick up muscle tightness, weakness or poor movement habits. The assessment can be simple exercises such as a glute bridge or single leg squat, or more complex movement such as overhead squats and Olympic lifts. The type of testing will depend on your particular training experience and injury history.
Strength and power
Strength and power levels of the lower body, upper body and core will be tested. The type of testing for each strength group will be dependent on body type, injury history, and training experience. Strength testing will provide information about weak and dominant muscles, and body balance to ensure that the strength training program can be designed to address your needs and strength levels. The specifically tailored program will ultimately reduce risk of injury as your running load increases.
There are many ways to assess cardiovascular fitness. For long distance runners common tests include the ‘12 minute Coopers test’ and the ‘six minute Gambetta test’. These are performed on an outdoor track, and are based on running a certain distance. Another test you may undergo is an incremental treadmill test known as the ‘Bruce Max Protocol’. All of these tests are designed to determine aerobic fitness (VO2) and efficiency. This information will help identify the training levels in volume (mileage and intensity) at which you should start. They will also show heart rate maximum and training zones. Your strength and conditioning coach will also assess your running technique and develop technique drills to help improve your running efficiency.
From there, the coach and therapist will develop a comprehensive week by week training program to get you across the 42.2km line, happy and injury free. Regular Massage therapy throughout your training will keep you in tip top shape, supple and mobile.
With sound advice, screening and planning you will be able to put your best foot forward when beginning your marathon training. You’ll be training knowing that you will be injury free and achieving your best performance, so come on in to Absolute to ensure you too are making the most of your training and preparation.
Written by Performance Coach Dave Smith