Kick it up without killing yourself

Adding two training approaches to my running program cut my mile time from 7:30’s to 6:40’s for a 10K and put me ahead of the pack to pull out wins in triathlon. Stair repeats and a bounding sequence. Quick, fun, and challenging, both can dramatically enhance your speed, power, and overall strength and endurance.

Trust me on this one as a triathlon competitor who would hit transition from the water and be virtually the last cyclist out the door. Even as I fast cyclist I relied on my running skills to pull me through to a first-place or at least podium finish.


  1. Stair workout (a great alternative to hill repeats)

A stair workout is an incredibly effective way to improve fitness and overall health. One study found that simply walking up 200 steps twice a day, five days a week for eight weeks can cause a 17% increase in VO2 max, a common way of measuring aerobic fitness.

Running up stairs brings even more benefits. Because the body is constantly being lifted upward with each step, stair running engages more leg muscles than running on the flats. It improves vertical jump, and vertical jump distance is an indicator or running speed.

According to Adam Bean’s “Runner’s World Best: Run Faster,” the impact of stair running on your joints is even less than hill running. Compared to running on flat land, a Nike study revealed that hill running imposes only 85 percent of the shock, according to Edwards. Both types of workouts will reduce the pounding your joints take on a flat run.

Make your first session about ten minutes and increase by at most 10% weekly. Run repeats of 15-90 seconds (depending on your level) until you reach 25-30 minutes total.


Good knee lift

Powerful arm swing

Focus on the steps

Maintain good form

Keep a constant cadence

Quick pushoff

You typically have to use a shortened stride so you don’t overstep the stair’s platform. To counter this problem, you have two choices. Either focus on speeding up leg turnover or use bounding strides, such as skipping every other step. By shortening your stride, you can focus on boosting the power of each step.

For agility & lateral, hit 3 steps, then quick right-left foot wide on the next step: repeat up). Recover on the way down or longer, if needed: recover fully for high-quality repeats.

I see people run stair repeats sideways or backwards or with ankle weights. This defeats the purpose of quick feet and power and also causes a safety risk. Keep your workout simple but effective. Mimic straight-line running as much as possible

To get quicker over time increase the intensity by increasing repetitions or changing movements, such as doing two-leg or one-leg hops up the incline.


  1. Bounding: walk or run with leaping strides.

The more power you have to sprint, the faster you can run any race. Distance runners must also hone their speed as working on base speed translates to long runs. In addition to doing shorter intervals, another way to increase your power and speed is performing plyometric exercises (literally translated, ‘measurable increases’.)

Bounding in particular is “the most specific kind of ‘weight training’ that a runner can do,” according to professional runner Renee Baillie. “Done properly, bounding develops power output in a running-specific way, allowing runners to increase their efficiency and top-end speed.”

These high-intensity, explosive exercises fall in line with a sprinter’s mindset, meaning distance runners need to shift their typical way of thinking. Less is more, longer recovery is critical and quality over quantity isn’t just recommended—it’s of prime importance.

Bounding does is tap into both the physical and neuromuscular patterns necessary to increase turnover. The physical power explains itself, but the neuromuscular aspect should be thought of like laying the groundwork. Before your feet can explode up and off the ground quicker, the nerve passageways have to be built. Bounding literally helps teach your foot how to respond when your brain tells it to go faster.

By incorporating these short bursts of ‘max power output’ on the easy day before a hard workout, you can prep your body for the demand that is coming the following day. You set yourself up for success. Remember to take a recovery between each repetition and set. The goal is simply to engage and invigorate the neuromuscular system, and save the hard effort for the next day.

I use the workout below, provided by Peak Performance. It seems wieldy initially, but once you have it down it is a breath of fresh air to know you are improving without killing yourself. (a fun look at stair running)


Short and Sweet Workouts for Kids and Parents That Require No Special Equipment

Spent the last part of spring grabbing workouts randomly while getting the kid(s) scheduled into summer activities? Then the dreaded day dawned and schools relinquished care of those lovely children to you for the next few months. Now what?



You have less time for yourself and may have a kid or two who needs more than a day camp with lanyards but a fitness program to stay in shape for fall sports and activities. Feel lost in all the different drills and workouts and handouts coaches or PE teachers have thrown out?

I have the answer.

In twenty years of coaching and developing tailored training programs for athletes of all ages, I have found a winning plan to set up any player for pre-season (aka summer). As a bonus you could do the workouts with the kids and be a fabulous fitness specimen by the fall! A specific weekly fitness program can make everybody feel good, and kids are often comforted by it. I know I am.

Here is do-it-yourself guide to plan summer fitness and skills.  It provides flexibility to work around all your other summer activities and requires an hour or less for each workout. You can combine workouts into one day vs. two and then have time to jump in the pool, which is a great fitness activity for virtually any sport.

  1. What are the major skills of the fall sport(s)?

School and rec sports require kids running so assess the essential running mechanics of each kid. Coaches for my company Excel Fitness go into this a bit more in depth (evaluating and suggesting drills to perfect or correct) but here is an easy three-step visual approach you can use to checking form. Have the student run an easy 100y or so and look for the following:

  • Body relaxed (fingers, jaw, hands) and arms bent in right angles that swing smoothly and symmetrically at sides (you run ON your legs but WITH your arms)
  • Head still and eyes look forward a bit: pick a spot and drive it forward (will create a slight forward lean for momentum: lean from the ankles vs. bending at the waist)
  • Push off the balls of your feet (the meaty part) and keep a quick, rhythmic cadence (foot turnover—the golden thread)

One trick is to have your child count footstrikes for 30 seconds: 90 is ideal for optimum form. Try this yourself!

  1. What is the average distance that will be run in a play?

Practice the way you play: perfect practice makes perfect

For example in baseball it is usually 40 yards and under. Practice sprints at that distance. Think about speed and explosion. Warm up with dynamic moves like leg swings and walking lunges. Then do 4-8 sprints at 40-50 yards, 2x/week.

Another example is soccer is usually a total of 3-6 miles/game, but that breaks out in change of speed and direction every 5-6 seconds. So do 4-8 sprints lasting about 5-6 seconds. Also do some change-of-direction drills. You can use cones and ladders, or just pick out marked spots (use coins) and run to one, stay low and quickly change direction back to the first spot. Soccer players may need some distance running, and even 2 miles can be effective.

If you don’t have access to a track run anywhere it is safe. Have your child walk off 25 giant steps, which will be about 20 yards. Time his or her initial 40y run (called baseline) so you have a measure for progress. If you are running at a track, mix in stadium stair runs for a bonus workout. In fact wherever you can find a set of stairs, consider it a playground for a workout.


Take your sprints to the beach and run in the sand. Do them up hills or at the park!

Other samples of sprint workouts

Focus on explosive first steps (see explosion below) and rest fully in between efforts for quality (recover about 2-3x the time it takes to sprint)

Day 1

  • 3 x 10y sprints (full recovery always)
  • 2 x 30y sprints
  • 1 x 60y sprint
  • 1 x 80y sprint

Day 2

  • 3 x 40y sprints
  • 3 x 60y sprints
  • 2 x 80y sprints


Day 1

  • 4 x 10y sprints
  • 2 x 30y sprints
  • 1 x 60y sprint
  • 1 x 80y sprint

Day 2

  • 5 x 20y sprints
  • 5 x 30y sprints
  • 4 x 40y sprints with ball (straight-line dribble)
  1. All sports requires acceleration and agility

Acceleration is the capacity to gain speed within a short time and agility is the power of moving quickly and easily. A great tool for training both is an agility ladder, or just pretend you are working on a ladder.

Do each of these drills 4x, and recover in between efforts. Establish a good rhythm, keep eyes somewhat forward, think FORM v. speed initially, stay ‘tall,’ stay on balls of feet, use arms for balance (close to body)


Sample ladder workout:

  • One Foot In—run forward through ladder placing one foot in each square
  • Two Feet In (jump forward)
  • In’s and Out’s (jump forward and then outside, alternating)
  • Sideways (lateral)
  • Icky Shuffle (Two in, one out while moving forward each square—‘dance’)
  • You can find any of these online, and I will soon have them all up on my website,
  1. All sports require a good base of strength

It’s summer, a good time to get out of the gym. Find a park and try this park bench routine with bodyweight exercises:


Sprint to a bench (or use walking lunges) and then perform

  • 15 push-ups off bench
  • 15 triceps dips off bench
  • 15 squats to bench
  • 15 step-ups to bench
  • 15 split squats (lunges, keep back foot on bench)
  • 15 crunches with legs on bench
  • 30 second plank arms on bench

Sprint or lunge to next bench and repeat.

If you have a stretchy band you can wrap around anywhere (from a fence to a tree) try these band moves–5-8 reps should be great for now.

  • Biceps curls
  • Triceps kickbacks
  • Rotator cuff (elbow flexed, arm against side, rotate lower arm out with rotator cuff muscles until perpendicular to body)
  • Back (‘row’ by pulling shoulder blades together)
  • Overhead shoulder press-up
  • Do some push-ups and abdominals (bicycle and plank)

Strength work can be done 2x/week, and you can combine it after sprints to decrease your training days if needed.

  1. What about power?

Power is integral to most sports and running hills and steps are great to build power and push-off (which will equate to speed). A recent University of Nebraska study found a significant correlation between vertical jumping ability (coined as ‘plyometrics’) and 10-K time in a comparison of 36 runners.


This study and others have shown that plyometric training improves power, running economy, and lower-body flexibility, in addition to strengthening all lower-body muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Think hop, skip, and jump. Initially make only 100-150 footstrikes as it is best to have some base of strength before beginning a program. Stay with low-impact move

  • 2-foot vertical jump—bend knees, hands on hips, and jump as high as you can (soft knees on landing)
  • Ankle hops forward for 10 yards
  • 2-foot hops forward over cones (or pretend)
  • 2-foot hops laterally over a line
  • Jump to a stair (and step back down)

Keep your program simple. You could do sprints on Monday, a strength workout on Wednesday, and hill repeats and plyometrics on Friday. Remember to integrate some fun summer activities. Run in the sand, jump rope, or throw in some fast swimming with the dives and games of sharks and minnows. How long has it been since you parents have jumped off a diving board? STAY CONSISTENT and fall will be a smooth and strong transition to sport and life.




A twist on stretching and its effect on faster running and better lifting

I made an assumption, and we know where that gets us. I thought everyone knows that static stretching is no longer a component of a lifter’s or runner’s warm-up routine.   Everyone knows dynamic warm-up is the way to go, right? Well not quite.


Some people don’t know what dynamic warm-up or static stretching means. Wait, you all watch at least one sport, right? How do the coaches warm up their teams? Oh, so not everybody watches sports. Good point.

I was taking roll in by PE class (sub teacher—always the kiss of death) when I brought up the stretching issue. The kids weren’t sure. An emergency sub teacher (one of the school’s Spanish teachers—called the ‘emergency sub’ and now I know why) walks into the PE class and says, ‘Okay let’s all stretch.’ She proceeded to do some horrible static stretches like toe touches and butterflies and cross-legged toe touches. Consider these students that just got out of a class where they were inert: they have simply changed clothes and are sitting on the ground. It is like taking a rubber band out of the freezer and expecting it not to break when stretched. Not a chance.

I contained myself from lunging at and throttling this sub, and figured a blog would be a good alternative to getting arrested.

When to stretch and how to stretch

To clarify, static stretching are stretches that are held for lengthy periods, and ballistic stretches are where stretchers employ a variety of bungee-link bouncing movements. Neither is an effective way to get warm, which is the goal. Your goal is to warm up the core and extremities to prepare for the specific movement(s) you will be doing.


Scientific research currently contraindicates static stretching immediately before a running workout or race. Two significant studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research show that runners who stretch before workouts run slower than when they perform the same workouts with no prior stretching. Static stretching, if performed after or totally separate from a running workout, is fine.

Static stretching does not enhance flexibility or muscle elasticity. For example most runners consider stretching simply twisting the torso a few times and touching the toes, when the reality is that the need to stretch before running is a myth. It’s like the myth that leaning forward will help you run faster when forward lean is the consequence but not the cause of acceleration.

When looking to increase blood flow, most runners can achieve the same result of 20 minutes of vigorous stretching by jogging for 10 minutes.  Or perhaps even caffeine, which increases perceived time to exhaustion.  This buys us time!


For running, think about the movement patterns. Do some skips, lunges, leg swings, hops, carioca (hip flexibility), football patter feet, bounding, backward run. Running backward will strengthen the opposing muscle groups that you normally work when running forward. Forward running puts a lot of pressure on the hamstrings and knees. Backward running will strengthen your calves, quads and shins to balance your muscular strength.

Take a look at these 7 benefits of Backward Running

  • You can still run while you are injured There is nothing worse than knowing you can’t (or shouldn’t) run because of pain in an area of your body. But backward running can be done whether you have a groin, hamstring, knee, Achilles’ tendon, or ankle injury. You can also continue to run if you have back pain or shin splints.
  • You will improve your muscular balance Running backward will strengthen the opposing muscle groups that you normally work when running forward. Forward running puts a lot of pressure on the hamstrings and knees. Backward running will strengthen your calves, quads and shins to balance your muscular strength.
  • You burn more calories It has been said that taking 100 steps backward is the same as taking 1,000 steps forward, and that going backward burns a fifth more calories than running forward. Not only is this great to enhance weight loss, but for those who are busy, going backward burns more calories in a shorter period of time. This gives everyone the chance to work out, no matter how hectic your schedule.
  • Improved leg speed and better performance Running backward requires more effort in terms of movement because it is more difficult to move from one point to another. This effort also results in greater cardiovascular efficiency and increased stamina. Because of this, running backward may help improve your times when you’re running forward.
  • You posture will improve: many runners will slouch, drop their head, and lean too far forward. This is especially true when runners are tired, and often results in lower back pain. But with backward running, you will naturally keep your back straight as you move. The added benefit to running with straighter posture? You will work your core abdominal muscles as well.
  • Your senses will be heightened Since you can’t see what is in front of you, it is important to use your other senses to help navigate. By running backward, your sense of hearing and your peripheral vision will become more acute.
  • You will have fun You might get some strange looks, but mixing up your running will add

So How Will This Help Strength Training?

My Olympic-trained powerlifting coach was a proponent of not stretching before or during our workouts. This approach helped us all avoid injuries. Why?

The tech side involves nervous tissue called proprioceptors and the stretch reflex, or contract/relax. The ‘idiot’s guide’ explanation is that the message from our brain to our muscles is ‘relax, lengthen, and don’t contract.’ Why would we want to send that message before beginning and strength training session, a nice run, or even a race? These muscle contractions could affect improvements in our strength, power, and endurance. A triple whammy!

Your approach is to mimic the moves you will be using in your activity. So for preparing for lifting heavy bench we would do some incline push-ups (the easy ones) on a bench. To prepare for heavy squats we would do some leg swings and walking lunges. We might do 5 minutes easy on a cardio machine for blood flow.dusty_powerlifting

These may be new ideas and information to you, but if you are open to the tips you may find benefits that will take you to the next level and help avoid injury.