Guest Post: How to break through the dreaded “running plateau”

**This post was submitted by Steve Cranitch,  a self-described running enthusiast and entrepreneur from Australia. Alongside Dr. Henry Thomas, Steve spent over four years developing the Bionic Runner, the unique non-impact running trainer. This post is not completely about that product, but offers up some suggestions for runners. The views in this guest post, as with all guest posts, do not necessarily reflect the views of Run Oregon.**

How to Shatter Running Plateaus

It’s the slowdown in improvement that all athletes fear.You’re training as hard as ever, but nothing’s happening. You’ve plateaued.

Why Plateaus Happen

Sometimes plateaus are mental. Mental stress or worry can interfere with training, and make it difficult to perform at your peak ability. But just as often, runners or other athletes hit a physical plateau. This isn’t surprising when you consider the goal of any physical exercise:

Exercise places stress on your body, which adapts to that stress through growth in muscle strength and endurance. Once your strength and endurance have improved enough to easily handle the stress, the need to adapt is gone. You stop improving, and you plateau. It’s one of the most frustrating challenges athletes face – especially for runners.

How to Break Plateaus

The solution is to add either more repetitions, or more resistance. For strength trainers, that’s simple. They lift heavier weights, and do more reps. Runners have a tougher time. They can add repetitions by running more miles each week, but that quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns.

Here’s why:

Let’s say your half-marathon time is around 2 hours and you run 20 miles per week to train. Bumping up your weekly mileage to 30 and training for a month might shave about 5 minutes from your time.

What if you’re already a higher level runner?

Now let’s say your half-marathon time is around 1 hour 45 minutes, and your weekly mileage is 50. Running an extra 10 miles per week won’t reduce 5 minutes off your time – even after several months. You’ll see a smaller improvement, likely even less than a minute.

As your ability improves, you see less improvement, even though you’re running more miles. And on top of that, running more miles is about the most dangerous thing a runner can do. Once your weekly mileage goes above 40, your risk of injury goes up exponentially.

But while adding more miles is the slowest and most dangerous method of breaking plateaus, it’s still the option must competitive runner choose. High level competitive runners often exceed 80 miles per week.

So how about adding resistance to running?

There are several common strategies. If you have access to a beach, running on soft sand can work. Or if you have a track nearby, a resistance parachute is a good investment. Another simple method is running with ankle weights.

You can also add resistance through cross training. Runners often take up cycling, elliptical cross training, or use other variable resistance workouts. All these methods are beneficial since they allow you to add resistance to your workout. The downside is that most of these techniques don’t apply resistance directly against the running motion. While they strengthen the same muscles as running, they don’t strengthen the running stride.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to add resistance directly to the running gait.

The Bionic Runner

Another option to help break plateaus is called the Bionic Runner. At first glance it looks like a bike without a seat. But instead of the pedals rotating in a circle, they mimic the running gait.

This allows runners to add miles to their workouts while removing the impact. You can add repetitions while minimizing the risk of an overuse injury. The Bionic Runner also has multiple gears for variable resistance, allowing you to add resistance directly against the running motion.

So if you’re not close enough to a beach to run on the sand, or you don’t have easy access to a track to run with a parachute, check out the Bionic Runner. It might be just the workout you need to break through you running plateau.


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