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Skip your way to a faster run!

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

In our last blog, we discussed how using the treadmill and turbo could enhance your triathlon. Within our own coaching group, we have extended that to commercial swim benches, homemade remedies, and swim stretch cords. However, in a lot of European communities since the blog, home detention has now become the norm in controlling this particular virus. One area I didn't touch on, but I know through personal experimentation and use over many years and that might not be highlighted by the mainstream tri world, is the value in skipping.

Over the years, I have tried to introduce the teaching of skipping to my athletes. The goal to become competent at it, so if they did acquire a certain type of injury, such as hamstring strain, or a bike induced hip flexor strain, then skipping could be an outstanding alternative to still keep the feel of running. It might also enhance one's motor neuron facilitation ability because of the coordination it teaches between arms and legs.

I was not very successful in encouraging athletes to master this skill, as it was viewed as not necessary to have a skipping rope in their kit bag. However, when that type of injury arose, I would see athletes run to by a skipping rope, which then wasn't as effective because their skipping ability was near zero. Hence none of my 'new' athletes have experienced skipping programs.

It was my podcast interview with Greg Bennett this week that brought back memories of all the 1990s athletes, who saw me do extraordinary amounts of skipping at every squad turbo session. Being an ex-professional boxer, I can handle a rope and was encouraged to skip the same amount of time they did on the turbo. Back in those days, the turbo was something athletes outside of my group did not do as part of regular training. Yet in the early days we would do group turbo workouts a minimum of 4 times a week, and be on the turbo for a minimum of 1 hour 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours 30 minutes. Seeing me suffer along with the athletes seemed to quell the mutiny of 'coach why can't we ride on the road like the others' debate.

Why I mention this, is because at that time I would run squad athletes only 3 times a week - and I would join them. The run program was 2 x 7km runs a week where we would run easy to 3.5km then turn around and bolt for home. They would also do a 10km run one day a week before swim squad, while we waited for our 1-hour pool lane allocation.

I mention this as full disclosure for all that say you were running a lot more. I'm pointing it out as if I said I only skipped and did no running, no one would believe me, except for those in the squad that knew that's all I did. Yet I would beat the majority of them in the twice-weekly training runs, and as a non-runner do rather decent times when the squad would do a local run race.

The point I'm making is this - I did at times do running only blocks for experimental purposes, even up to 160km a week. But in all cases never ran as fast as when I skipped as the base training.

While this may be anecdotal evidence (n=1), I can say the one or two cases where athletes did skip, it improved their running. The more skill you have the more you can get out of it. However, I can assure people that have yet to try the rope, that if you are only half-competent, then 1 minute of skipping with varying rests done for 15 to 30 reps, will test the fittest of triathletes!

Doing 15 x 3 minutes with a 1-minute break is a workout that will have the fittest, after getting up off the floor, say 'that's one hell of a workout!'

If as a kid you skipped, it will take about 3 sessions to come back to you. So this tool can be an exceptional advantage if you by force of your government are locked up indoors. All you need is a rope (I suggest the plastic variety as then the cadence can be a lot faster), a space as little as 1 square metre, or a hall you can go up and back, and a wooden floor or a rubber mat. This is most important, as skipping on cement or a hard surface can induce shin splints. Done with music, it can be a very enjoyable workout.

Now before you say I can't skip, I'm hopeless, there is a second possibility, which I can again put a personal stamp of approval. That is running on the spot or pretensions to skip without a rope! Two of my boxing pre-fight training camps were done in a certain gym, where everybody in there was an expert skipper. The boss was insistent, even if you were being trained by another coach, we all did the gym warm-up together. The boss was the 'boss' in his house and he had about 170 fights himself. So respect was always given to such old warriors in these gyms. If you didn't show respect...then you got hammered. So we would do 5 x 3 minutes with 1 min rest running on the spot; in the warm-up! What was different than normal running on the spot was the goal had to be 300 steps in the 3 minutes. That was the lowest acceptable amount, and he would walk around with a stick, and actually counted if he thought you were under his lowest acceptable level. The best at it would pump out 400, coincidently or not, these were usually the quickest punchers in the gym without exception. I remember I could hardly walk for three days when I first entered that gym. I was fit but the tendons behind the knees would just seize up. There was no weight-bearing, but the speed of these little 4 cm steps would exert such force on you if you weren’t used to it just flat out killed the tendons. Now, I say this to warn people that these two innocuous exercises are tough if approached with no respect.

However, the moral of the story is you don't need to have a track or a trail to keep your running in good stead. Even without a treadmill in your home, if you go to the skipping or spot running, I can assure you with just a couple of runs outside when the menace has passed, you're going to be very very surprised by how well you can run after being indoors for a month. I'll bet on it! Just the way I see it.


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