One legged chair squats

With my speed improving over the past month, I took another read of Pete Magill’s Speedrunner book to see what extra I could learn. One of the things I’ve found with learning is that rereading stuff is helpful. The first time you read something it may seem to go in and be understood. If you then begin to apply what you’ve read and grow, a reread brings a different perspective on the same material.

Among the exercises listed in the book are one-legged squats. These are nothing new to me and last November I started doing exercises as I wanted to be able to do a pistol squat which is a full one-legged squat to the ground and back up. I did exercises for about six weeks which were beneficial but when combined with the faster running I was doing, my left glute got sore and I decided to put them on hold rather than get injured.

Reading Speedrunner as I sat in my garden last Monday, it was one of the rare sunny days we’ve enjoyed this summer. The front half of the book is an explanation of the concepts of maximum velocity, acceleration and sprint mechanics while the second half details exercises that will help to improve these.

A variation to the one-legged squat was also detailed. Begin sitting in a chair (as I happened to be doing at that point) and raise yourself up out of it on only one leg. This allows you to go with a smaller range of motion plus the security of not falling backwards or collapsing on the floor. I gave it a try.

My right leg was just about strong enough to do five reps, it was a struggle but I got them done. The left leg was not so easy. Almost immediately on trying the hamstring muscles in the back of my thigh were crying out in pain with the difficulty. I could do it but it was on the edge of a strain. Fortunately I know my body well enough to know when to keep going and when to back off. I did the five reps and that was it.

In the following days, I continued to do five reps each leg, each day. The left leg still strained at the effort but subjectively I knew the pain was reducing, so the muscle must be getting stronger. Plus the exercise itself is also an improver for balance and coordination. It’s worth noting that for all the technology we have, there is nothing that could tell me I was improving beyond a subjective assessment.

By Saturday, after five days of this, I was feeling strong enough to do ten reps on each leg. The left leg was still a little grumbly about this, the right leg strong but actually not quite as good at balancing when up out of the chair.

On Sunday I went for my long run and with the combination of miles and a decent pace (rather than recovery) it’s the sort of run where any new form can begin to be ingrained. I didn’t particularly notice anything different with the left leg starting to strengthen up but in the last mile or so, I found my right shoulder dropped and began to swing a little easier. They may not seem connect but the arms and legs working in opposite pairings, so the right leg / left arm swing together in time as do the left leg / right arm.

Fixing form issues is quite often a case of looking at the whole body as a system, not simply focusing on the body part you thing is an issue. A good example of this is when you have a runner who heel strikes. The instinct is to get them to run on their toes more but quite often I find it is happening because their hips or glutes aren’t working properly. And I reckon this is what happened to me this past week. I got the left glute-hamstring area stronger, it worked better and consequently that led to the counterbalance from the right shoulder correcting itself.

I’ve continued with the one-legged chair squats this week and they are getting easier and easier. The reps of standing up onto the right leg are now beginning to feel as easy as it does when standing up as normal onto two feet. The left leg is still a tad weak but it will strengthen up. I’ve noticed the right shoulder seems to be dropping into place more often when running and during sprints my form felt great.

One of the surprises is that I need to do this strengthening work. While I do press-ups, corework and dumbbell curls to keep my upper body in shape, I had always considered running was enough for my lower body, particularly in recent months where I’ve been doing hills. Apparently it wasn’t and while it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a set of tests to identify any weakness; it certainly highlights the benefit of doing a range of activities outside of pure running.

Update on my 800m training – March 2021

Things are coming together at last. I’m in the final two weeks of the plan and tapering towards a couple of 800m time trials in April to see whether the training has paid off. I already know it has and it’ll be good to see it quantified in my time trial, but that’s for next month’s update!!

Although I began following Jack Daniels’ 800m training plan at the start of December, I actually consider training started back on 21st September when I went back to a steady diet of gentle runs at ten minute mile pace, subsequently introducing strides and a faster session midweek.

So really this has been six months of consistent training. I wanted to write “hard work” but apart from putting in big efforts during the twice weekly workouts, and a difficult spell around the start of February when my body was struggling to adapt, compounded by atrocious weather, I don’t believe it’s been hard work. I’ve looked forward to the training, enjoyed it and it’s not felt like a burden at all.

I realised over this past month my body has begun to feel fit and strong again. I hadn’t appreciated a lack of regular fast running over the past 3-4 years has allowed muscles to weaken. That translated in my day-to-day living as minor aches or pains walking up the stairs, or pushing with my hands to get up off the sofa. Nothing drastic, just minor little things that most people put down to the effects of ageing. In some ways they are the effects of ageing but not irreversibly as those people would have you believe. The takeaway is if you stop using it, you lose it. I actually now feel as strong and fit as I did ten years ago, and would like to believe I’m as fit as I was in my twenties although I know that’s not quantifiably true. My running still isn’t as fast it was when I started parkrunning at forty but I can see it’s getting back there and I believe it’s going to surpass that because of what I’ve learned since then.

March’s training has been focusing on what Jack calls T- and FR- pace running which stand for Tempo and Fast Rep. After adjusting for the expected improvement in fitness, these have been mile repeats at 7:12/mile and short intervals (200-600m) at 5:38/mile respectively. To put this into perspective when I began in December the Fast Reps were 44½ secs per 200m, now they’re at 42secs. Training has been going well enough that I’ve been overcooking these with some coming in at sub-40! I even managed a 37.45s effort (5:01/mile).

One of the problems I faced for T-paced sessions is ideally needing somewhere flat where I could keep pace and effort consistent. In other years, I would have gone to the beach or Poole Park, but with lockdown ongoing, as well as the possibility of sand on the prom or people out for a walk; I decided to look closer to home. The roads right outside my front door are fairly flat and quiet, but I’ve always resisted doing intervals on them for no explicable reason other than I always think of warm-up as taking me away from home. Circumstances led me to conclude this would be the best place for the training. Maximising the area available to me, I created a loop measuring 900m which had no sharp turns and only minor ups and downs. On some sessions, it meant I ended up doing a good 10+ laps of the same roads which, I suspect many people would find boring, but I hardly noticed as I was focused on my breathing, pace and sometimes trying to reach the end without completely falling apart! This ‘track’ worked well apart from, where I run in the road my early morning sessions brought me into conflict with people driving off to work.

Around mid-month, my legs began to feel strong and, the walking up the stairs with ease I talked about, came into my awareness. I could tell a step change in my fitness was about to come through and when it arrived my easy running pace improved by 20 secs/mile. It felt wonderful and that improvement then fed into the next session of T-pace running coming in at sub-7 min/mile rather than 7:10. In turn it made the fastest intervals feel a lot easier although not necessarily faster!

I’m not going to do my usual breakdown of successful / failed repeats until next month’s post but my attention was drawn to a bizarre set of times on last week’s 200s. I run these back and forth along a road which I’ve come to realise, has slight undulations to it, and these result in one direction being marginally faster than the other. The four efforts in the slower direction were 41.66 / 41.66 / 42.20 / 41.66 secs. I’m sure you can see the bizarreness of the fastest three being exactly the same time to one-hundredth of a second, it simply cannot be a coincidence. And if I then tell you the first effort on the previous session was … yes, you’ve guessed it … 41.66secs; there’s some kind of limitation going on somewhere in all of this! I’m not sure what it is, my legs were fatigued that day but in the other direction I ran 41.77 / 40.05 / 39.33 / 37.45 secs so it was possible to go faster under the right conditions. Bizarre numbers aside, it’s been a good month’s training.

I’ve got two more workouts to do in April, then the time trials begin. I’m only intending to do two mid-month but this will be weather dependent. If I feel I’ve underperformed I may slot in a third. Analysing my training times, I’m hopeful I can break 2min40 but I’ll report back whatever the fruits of my harvest are!