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6 Ways To Make Sure You Hit Your Next Race PR

6 Ways To Make Sure You Hit Your Next Race PR

Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 4:31pm
6 Ways To Make Sure You Hit Your Next Race PR

Photo by Flickr user Chris Staley. License

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Whether you’ve hit a plateau as a runner, or you just want to your progress come faster, here are 6 strategies to help you break through to your next PR.

1. Get stronger:  A lot of endurance athletes wonder if strength training makes sense.  Is it worth the time, money or effort that could be going to doing more running instead?  Research shows that resistance training will help you reduce your time and your injuries.  If you are ramping up your mileage in preparation for an important race, then do strength work two days a week – not more, not less.  Less means you’ll make no progress and be sore every time you workout.  For more specifics about what to do with your strength training time look here and here.

Want proof? Check out these studies (1, 2, 3, 4) to learn more about strength training and its benefits for endurance athletes. 


2.  Stop getting hurt:  if you get hurt and can’t run for a month you don’t lose a month, you actually lose two months – you lose the month of training when you couldn’t run, and it will take you at least a month to get back to the point before you get hurt.  If only there was a research validated tool for accurately predicting your injury risk that would also help you pinpoint exactly what needs fixing in order to substantially reduce that risk?  The good news is that there is!

That tool is The Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  Getting someone qualified to screen you and help you fix the low or asymmetrical scores can reduce your risk of injury by 300%.  This isn’t something that you can really do on yourself, so having something with extensive training can help you a lot.  I get no money for the endorsement, and there are plenty of people besides me who can help you with this.

Here is some evidence (1, 2, 3, 4) that FMS works. 

3.  Do better core training:  hopefully nobody reading this website is still doing crunches, but it’s also important to remember that core training is not just planks.  (Speaking of planks, I don’t often see them done well, and here’s a video on getting them right.)  Two of the best core exercises that you’re probably not doing are ½ kneeling anti-rotation presses and loaded carries (or farmer’s walks).

½ Kneeling anti-rotation press:  these help your hips and core become more efficient – meaning you leak less energy on each stride and go forward faster.


  • Get as close to in-line (on a balance beam) as you can

  • Start and stay in a 90/90 position  (90° at each knee)

  • Be and stay tall – move your hands not your body

  • Do 3 sets of 10 reps each side


Loaded carries: these help improve your running posture, and integrate your feet and hips into your core work.  Offset varieties are like walking side planks.



  • There are lots of variations (as you can see in the video) – all are great.

  • Keys to focus on are:

    • Be as tall as you can at all times – push away from the ground

    • Control the weight at all times – doesn’t hit your leg, wobble or wing


4.  Fix your ankle mobility:  Besides the FMS, ankle mobility is a great tool for reducing injury risk.  To reduce your risk of injury and to improve your performance you need 6” of ankle mobility on both sides.   If your left ankle is more mobile than your right there’s going to be compensation, and this translates to a lot of wear and tear on your feet, knees and hips.  If you run 30 miles a week, this is 45,000 ground contacts per week, so a little bit of stiffness can really add up.

Here’s how to measure your ankle mobility – don’t cheat.



  • How:

    • Line your bit toe up with 6”, follow guidelines below, and push your knee forward with heel staying down and knee going forward not in.

    • If you touch the wall with your knee then you are good to go.

    • If you don’t touch the wall, then move forward to the 5” and repeat and keep repeating until you have your current baseline for each ankle.

  • Keys to focus on:

    • Do this in bare feet

    • Push your knee forward over your middle/little toes

    • Keep your heel pressed into the ground – like you have a $100 bill under it and you don’t want anyone to snatch it


Here’s how to fix it

  • Do soft tissue work on your lower legs and feet – wherever is the tightest for you.  Preferably get someone else to do it, but you can DIY with a foam roller, Tiger tail and a lacrosse ball.  3-5 minutes total, and spend more time on the stiff side.

  • Do ankle mobilizations.  Below is one of my favorites because it’s effective and people tend to do it right.  (There are plenty of others, but I find people often do them poorly which delivers no benefit.)

  • Keys to focus on:  

  • Keep your heel on the floor

  • Push your knee back so the cap stays inline with your little toes (never let it come in)

  • Push forward as far as you can doing it right

  • 10-20 reps per side, do more on the stiffer side

Warning: if during the measuring or the mobility work you feel a pinching or pain in the front of your ankle you need to seek the help of a good physical therapist because you’ve got some issues that you’re not going to be able to fix yourself.


5.  Develop smart power: strength is the foundation of power and power is translating your strength into speed.  When most people think of power they think of jumping and plyometrics.  These are bad ideas if you are a runner.  

Running is a high impact activity – each step delivers 3-5 times your bodyweight on a single leg over many 1,000’s of reps.   Your body already has all the impact (if not more then) it can handle.  The best exercises for power development in runners will be kettlebell or medicine ball based because these allow you to work the stretch-shortening cycle without impact.  Kettlebell swings are awesome, but only you do them right.


6.  Stop being a mouth breather:  your breathing can either help you or hurt you.  Breathing rapidly, especially in and out of your mouth takes a lot of energy that you could be using to run faster.  Rapid mouth breathing is typically shallow and keeps your from using much of your lung capacity.  Think about in through the nose and out through the mouth, and keep a slow and even pace.  This is can be pretty tough to do in the beginning, but over time this can give you an energy edge.

About the Author

Josef Brandenburg is a Washington D.C.-area fitness expert with 16 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started True 180 Fitness (formerly The Body You Want) personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the time you have available. Josef holds certifications from Precision Nutrition, American Council on Exercise, National Academy of Sports Medicine, Functional Movement Systems, Corrective High Performance Kinesiology, and the National College of Exercise Professionals. Learn more about Josef on his blog, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.