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Most of us don’t have a coach constantly reminding us of the basics; telling us to warm up properly, plan recovery runs into our schedule and take an ice bath after a long workout. We might know these things, we might not, but either way we’re probably not doing them all!

Which is why, as part of our ongoing coach of the month series, we asked coach and athlete Greg Merlin to provide a welcome reminder of the basics. Greg has a degree in sports science and teaches physical education at a school in Paris, while also running and coaching with the Stamina Running Club, a group he co-founded. There’s nothing like school children and a busy lifestyle to make you realize how important it is just to stick to the basics!

Scroll down to the bottom to find a French version of this post and to read the rest of Greg’s tips on everything from cross training to running up hills. That’s enough from us – over to Greg!

Warm up

A warm-up is obligatory, to get the muscles ready to work and to limit the risk of injuries. For a run it should be short, but for a specific session (track splits, fartlek, hill work, etc) it should be more substantial. Do a light run of 15-20 minutes then some active stretching followed by a few short sprints, or strides. 

What about standard stretching? Personally, I think it’s of no use at the start of a session, as an elongated muscle loses its elasticity. But after a run, some minutes of gentle stretching can be done, and don’t forget to hydrate! However, I would definitely advise not to stretch after a difficult session with a lot of speed or hill work, because the stretching will only increase the trauma on the broken muscle fibers. After a hard session, I advise showering each leg with cold water for at least three minutes. The stretching then comes 48 hours later – after the inflammation period. You can also use a foam roller to massage and relax the muscle deeply.

VO2 Max 

Before a training program, I always advise an outdoor test to determine your VO2 Max pace. A VO2 Max pace test helps you determine your fitness level, and thus will allow you to plan a suitable program for your goals. On a 400m track, simply warm up and then run for six minutes; at the end divide the total distance you ran by 100 and you will have an approximate figure, which you can then refine as your training progresses.

Maximum heart rate

 This is more difficult to ascertain, but in certain circumstances will be more useful. To get a rough estimate go to a 400m track, warm up for 20 minutes and then run for four minutes, or 1000m, accelerating every 100m or 30s: this will give you a maximum heart rate which you can then use to determine your workout zones either on your heart-rate monitor or simply by calculating as a percentage of your max. For example, 85% of a max heart rate of 180 is 153bpm.

  • Base endurance (running) will be between 70 and 75% of your max.
  • Between 85 and 90% of your max is your anaerobic threshold (a pace you can hold for an hour)
  • Between 95 and 100% is your VO2 Max pace

The advantage of training with your max heart rate is that you can take account of your actual condition on the day. And as you get more experienced, you’ll learn to recognize the feeling of the effort required working in each zone. To run fast, first, you must run slowly – a paradox that’s as true for champions as for beginners.

Endurance training

This is training done at 65-70% of your max heart rate and forms the base of any training plan. At this pace, you should be breathing easily and producing very little lactic acid. Base endurance training is beneficial because:

  • It promotes the growth of the vascular network (circulatory network), sending more oxygen to the muscles and thus producing more energy
  • The body consumes mainly fat as its energy source
  • Cardiac load increases, which leads to a lower heart rate

Endurance training helps you run not only longer, but faster too. Following intense sessions, such as intervals, runs at an easy recovery pace help eliminate lactic acid build up.

Recovery

Recovery is paramount, both to avoid injuries and speed up progress, and it should not be neglected. It allows the body to repair on a cellular level and to become stronger in future sessions. Recovery really is key to progress! A balanced diet and good hydration, particularly after training, and a good restorative sleep should make up the majority of your recovery techniques. I am also totally convinced by cryotherapy (ice bath treatment), having tested it as a complement to training, as well as to treat injuries.

All these ideas could have been developed at length, but this article is intended just as a short reminder of some basic principles. Stack all the chips on your side, and take pleasure in what you do! What are your tips?

French version

Follow Greg and check out his other posts below in both French and English.

A Method That Works: Cross Training
A Quick Circuit Routine
Training on Hills