“Fundamentals are the building blocks of fun!” This is a great quote I first heard from Dakota Fanning in the movie Uptown Girls. However, Google tells me it’s originally from Mikhail Baryshnikov, so I will give them dual credit.
In my experience thus far, I’ve observed an alarming amount of people attempting high-level exercise/activity with obvious faults in fundamental movement patterns. Why does this matter? Not mastering the fundamentals can lead to injury and poor performance and create challenges when progressing a training program.
The so-called fundamentals I’m speaking of relate to movement (mobility, stability, strength, and power), prep and recovery routines, running technique, nutrition, and sleep. Not mastering these first is comparable to attempting an ultramarathon before you’ve ever run a 5k. I can pretty much guarantee it’s not going to work out in your favor. And if you manage to survive, there likely will not have been a lot of “fun” involved.
How can we put the fun back into running? Start with the fundamentals, of course!
1. Master Movement Patterns
These are primary moves such as the squat, lunge, hip-hinge, push-up, etc, as they make up the foundation of most other movements. If you can’t distinguish optimal from sub-optimal movement, seek out an expert who can. Physical therapists and strength and conditioning specialists should be the starting point because they can assess your baseline movement and create a program to improve it. Another set of eyes is invaluable since most of us think we move way better than we do. The truth hurts sometimes, but it’s better to have your ego hurt than your muscles or joints from poor technique. Check out our blog on Regional Interdependence because seemingly unrelated movement faults can cause a chain reaction resulting in pain, injury, or poor performance.
2. Master Running Technique
In theory, running is a simple movement. However, running and running WELL are two very different things. Mastering running technique drills such as skips, arm swings, hip drive, and trunk stability is vital to improving your efficiency and will help progress a training program. Again, if you don’t know what optimal running technique looks and feels like, seek out an expert. That’s what we’re here for!
3. Master Prep and Recovery Routines
This is a simple but essential addition to a runner’s routine, yet many skip it. Everyone can benefit from as little as 5-10 minutes of prep and recovery work, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of running done in a training session. Take a look at our Prep for Tomorrow so all your hard work in training isn’t wasted.
4. Master Nutrition
Nutrition is fuel for the body, just like gasoline is fuel for a car. If the tank isn’t full, there’s going to be a lot of walking during that road trip. A simple start is writing down everything you eat and drink daily. Do this for two or three days, and it will give a snapshot of what you’re putting into your body. Like movement, most of us think we eat and drink way better than we do. Broken record in the house: if you don’t know what optimal nutrition is, seek out an expert who will get you on the right path. Teamwork makes the dream work!
5. Master Sleep
Sleep is one of the most overlooked and underutilized aspects of recovery, not just in running but also in life. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a decrease in cognitive and motor performance, reaction time, mood state, and emotional stability. The general recommendation for athletes is 7-9 hours per night, but this is specific to each individual, so it’s important to find what works best for you and allows you to function at your best. Developing a consistent nighttime routine and modifying it when life gets chaotic will keep you on track with your training and the rest of your life’s responsibilities.
As you can see, I haven’t mentioned anything about the actual running program. This isn’t because an athlete should only be working on the fundamentals and not running, but rather working on the fundamentals just as much, IF NOT MORE than running, especially new or chronically injured runners. Want to roll all the fundamental movements into one? Start working on your Turkish get-ups and see those PRs stack up!
Dr. Ivy L. Jordan, PT, DPT, CSCS
Performance Physical Therapist / Running Performance Specialist
Dr. Jordan received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her Bachelor’s in Exercise Science from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. She competed for four years in cross-country and track and field while attending UMary with areas of specialty in the 1500/1600m, 3000m, 5000m, and 3000m steeplechase. She continues to be an avid runner who has a strong interest in working with the running population, whether it’s achieving a personal record or taking the first step towards joining the running community. Dr. Jordan is also a high school cross-country and track and field coach specializing in distance events.