In my last post I mentioned that we have yet to figure out all the tweaks to women’s training methods to make them great, but that doesn’t mean we are in the stone ages. If women have so much potential then how should they train in order to unlock it? Principles are principles and in running the basics should not be ignored, however women are not men and their training should reflect that uniqueness. While there are many secrets yet to be discovered lets take a look at some female runner specific training philosophies from two pioneers currently shaping this side of or sport.

Adam’s state coach Damon Martin offers an interesting idea in his approach to training his female runners in an attempt to adjust for their unique body types. Female bodies have an inherently natural ability to gain and store weight that is different from their male counterparts. A woman’s metabolism is designed to create storages of condensed caloric energy which means their muscles tend more geared towards healthy longevity rather than being more lean for efficiency in short term quick use. This is why Coach Martin believes that weight training is slightly more important for women so that they can counteract that natural process in order to keep those muscles lean and sharp. The goal of strength training/weight lifting in a woman’s training regiment is to create a more efficient balance of lean body mass. This process doesn’t aim to alter the mass of a female runner but instead merely restructure it in order to be more efficient at using the energy in the muscle. The mass will then be less stagnant and more geared towards running faster. It’s a dynamic of creating the proper strength to mass ratio in proportion to the female athlete’s body structure. Done effectively the process can yield results such as a longer stride and a greater ability to use fast twitch muscle fibers in leg speed turnover.

Diving in further into women’s training philosophy we can take some lessons on biomechanics and body chemistry from Florida State coach Karen Harvey. She also emphasizes the need for “supplemental training”, such as lifting, plyometrics and circuits in order to properly balance the muscles of a female runner’s system. For women improving biomechanics through such activities can make a huge difference in utilizing the ability they already have. By observing the body from a purely anatomical stance we can see how at the core of physiology women have a uniquely different biomechanical structure to use while running and thus should address their training accordingly to these unique attributes. To illustrate the importance of this distinction lets think of a male runner’s structure, naturally broad shoulders mean an arm hang that falls beside the torso which makes it easier to fluently move in a forward/backwards motion. On the female side the shoulders tend to be closer to the body, which may lead to a natural arm motion that inefficiently moves across the body instead of beside it. Another area of biomechanics for women to focus on is their leg mechanics from the hips down. When one examines the anatomy of a male runner’s legs they have a system where their leg muscles extend up to the pelvis/hips region and then on through the back without interuption, they have the luxury of a system that is simple and straight forward. A woman’s system is much more complex and interconnected, their anatomy includes a plethora of additional differences in how their muscles, ligaments and organs are connected to their biomechanical system to account for. This makes the runner more vulnerable to injuries if something is weak which would put strain on the entire leg system making flexibility and strength vitally important to maintaining health and efficiency. What this means is that supplemental training work such as lifting and plyometric circuits are far more important in a woman’s training plan in order to properly strengthen all of the little muscles and ligaments which can make or break a female runner’s biomechanical form. Biomechanics seems to be a reoccurring theme and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, women have bodies capable of accomplishing great running feats, therefore the stressing the importance of having the biomechanics to unlock that potential is essential. An athlete can be fit, fast and capable but without the proper form and biomechanics she may struggle to even utilize half of that ability.

Health and Nutrition is also particularly uniquely important in a female runner’s regiment so a specialized knowledge in understanding of this topic can be the difference in training like a girl! Due to issues in hormonal chemistry related to bone density female runners are at a higher risk of stress fractures. Many coaches like Karen Harvey recommend their athletes ingest Vitamin D, iron and a calcium supplement like Calcium Citrate in order to maintain healthy chemistry and bone density. The trick to the matter is knowing how much of what your body needs because runners burn through nutrients at a much higher rate than the average person and so what may be a “healthy” level for a normal person may in fact be dangerously low for a high endurance athlete. The female hormonal system is not a handicap but is a dynamic system that should be considered due to its impact on bone strength. Estrogen and progesterone are two vital hormones in the female runner’s body chemistry due to their role in building the cortex of the bone, not the outer layers but the inner layers, which are important in bone strength health. Low levels of important hormones such as estrogen can be cause for alarm as the runner’s health may start to deteriorate if not promptly treated. When detected steps need to be taken in analyzing the nutrition, calorie intake as well as making sure there are enough natural fats in their diet which are often neglected, in some extreme cases hormonal therapy may be required as an option to not only salvage a running career but also a healthy life.

These thoughts are by no means an extensive guide to women’s training but I do feel that examining just two of the many pioneers of this field gives us a good starting point to explore the topic further. Sprinters don’t train like marathoners, middle distance runners don’t train like long distance runners and female runners shouldn’t train exactly like male runners. Yes, there are will be many similarities because basic principle are the foundation of any runner’s regiment but adjustments to unique attributes are often the key to success in runners and women are full of them. What are some other female specific training philosophies you have heard of? I welcome you to share your thoughts because this is certainly a topic worth exploring in order to move the sport forward. So for now, at least in the mean time until we get there, be smart, work hard, and run like a girl!

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