How do you make sure you don’t go too far and ‘blow’ your quads completely? What kind of training can you do to make sure you condition the quads properly? One of our regular contributors, Mile27’s Andy DuBois explains further…
What are “blown quads?”
The quads have a big role to play in controlling the effects of gravity. When you run further than you have ever run before or run more downhill (where the effects of gravity are greater), you ask more of the quadriceps muscles. As fatigue mounts the muscles become more and more damaged until eventually they have insufficient strength to control your knee bending and you are reduced to a shuffle or walk.
Before this happens you will notice your stride length getting shorter and shorter because with a shorter stride the load on your quads is less.
The quadriceps have to work eccentrically with every landing. This means the muscle is working whilst it is lengthening as opposed to a concentric contraction which is when the muscles works as it shortens. Eccentric contractions do far more damage to muscles than concentric contractions.
How can this be prevented?
Exposure to repeated eccentric contractions will mean a muscle can better handle the same load next time. The key in training is to gradually increase the amount of eccentric work your legs experience so they get used to it.
There are a number of ways to do this
- High mileage
- Long run
- Downhill training
- Strength Training
- Course Specific Training
The problem with the high mileage is there isn’t too many of us that can handle 100-200km training weeks without becoming injured. Finding the time to do this amount of mileage is also difficult.
While the long run is an essential part of training, you can only increase the long run so much before the risk of injury overrides the training effect. The amount of time needed to recover from a long runs also important to consider. The longer the run, the more days off you need which could be spent doing other useful training.
This should be part of all ultra runners training program – whether it is a hilly course or not. Downhill running involves increased eccentric muscular contractions which your body will get used to. Whilst many runners include hilly runs in their training few include specific downhill sessions. These come with an increased risk of injury but if progressed slowly are an excellent way to prevent blown quads.
For more information on how to incorporate downhill training into you routine see here.
Very few runners incorporate a well designed strength training program in their routine. I managed to create a running specific routine that put my quads through a far greater load than any hilly 2-3 hour run could ever do. I have written about strength training programs for running here and here.
If you want to run strongly at the end of a marathon or ultra then incorporating both downhill running and strength training is essential.
Whilst running repeats of a hill or doing lots of lunges in a gym may not be as much fun as a few hours on your favourite trail, come race day your quads will thank you and nothing beats the feeling of finishing strongly at the end of a long race.
We hope that gives you a sense of how to prep and condition your quads a little better for your next race. But what do you think? Do you have any tips for keep your quads in bullet proof shape?