Incorporating Ancillary Work in Distance Training

I would like to emphasize the importance of incorporating ancillary work in distance running, and share from personal experience what happens if you do and don’t complement running with ancillary work. This is a continuing conversation that I started with Operating at the Boundary of Health and Injury.

Let’s start with Coach Jay Johnson’s recommendation to perform ancillary work to increase the work capacity of a runner, which means a runner is able to sustain a higher training level (volume and intensity), everything else being constant, without undue risk to injury or illness.

Over the past two years, I haven’t increased my 13-year old son’s weekly mileage significantly (about 30 miles on 5 days running), although we’ve increased the intensity, which along with a growth spurt (6 inches in height in 6 months, and two full shoe sizes) has created a higher risk of overuse injuries, as well as illnesses due to weaker immune system, as his body adjusts and adapts. He’s experienced both iliotibial band and foot arch injuries. To compensate, we’ve added ancillary work to the basic routines. Because we didn’t increase mileage (so no net increase in running time per week), we are able to add ancillary work with modest amount of additional time spent per week. However, the increase in intensity has enabled him to improve as a runner, and with the ancillary work we’ve reduced the risk of injury (and unnecessary downtime from running). Keep in mind that consistency is key to long-term development.

Looking back a year before the increase in intensity and the growth spurt, my son would spend 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after a typical 6 mile training session (about 45 minutes) performing Phil Wharton’s Active Isolated Flexibility exercises. Before more intense workouts, we would add Coach Jay Johnson’s lunge matrix. Once a week (usually on Sunday, the day of our long run), we would add a core / strength session.

As part of the rehab from the two injuries mentioned above, we added Phil Wharton’s Strength Exercises (for IT band) and Foot Arch Exercises (e.g., towel pulls) and Jay Johnson’s lunge matrix every other day (15 minutes, or about 45 minutes per week) after our workout (Jay Johnson actually recommends the lunge matrix before every run).

My son had an excellent outdoor track season once he recovered from these injuries, and despite continued growth and now a slight mileage increase (over the summer), he’s been injury free for 6 months. And the additional benefit is that he appears stronger and faster in workouts from the improved strength and flexibility.

Below is a selection of Phil Wharton’s and Coach Jay Johnson’s videos. Wharton Health sells a 2-set DVD and stretching rope that is the best investment you’ll make in your running health.

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