Train smart race well (Advice and exercises for preventing injuries & improving performance for Runners & Triathletes)

Runners & triathletes are always looking for a competitive edge and a desire to increase their knowledge for optimal performance. The tips and advice together with the exercise testing procedures mentioned in this information will provide an evaluation of an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation can then be used to design a training programme that is specific to the athlete. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or returning from injury you will find some of this information beneficial to your overall fitness capabilities.    

Tips for optimal running style

This is a hot topic amongst the experts and of course runners/triathletes themselves. What constitutes to correct technique vary enormously depending on the professional you talk to and their speciality, so rather than striving for the perfect running style it’s far better to aim for optimal running style that’s right for you and works with your natural physique. So how do you know your optimal style, below are some questions to ask yourself first.

  • Does it feel comfortable when you are out for an easy run?
  • Are you seeing positive rewards from your hard work?
  • Are you injury free and rarely pick up injuries especially when you increase your training.

If your answer to the questions is yes then you are on the right track, you still might want to re-evaluate your style frequently as most runners do become a little forgetful especially when they increase their training.  If the answer is no you may want to change things. There is some common ground that experts agree on in relation to good technique, please see below a few of their suggestions.

  • The head- your eyes should be looking ahead and at the ground between 10-30 meters in front of you. Looking straight down will throw your spine out of alignment.
  • The arms- imagine your arms as pistons and moving forwards & backwards. Keep them close to your sides and avoid excessive crossing over the centre of your torso. Arms should be bent close to 90 degrees.
  • The core- this is an area that a lot of runners/triathletes neglect. A weak core will cause many injuries that could have easily been avoided. Try running tall and don’t arch your back and avoid sticking your buttocks out. Imagine your pelvic area is a bucket of water. Your aim is to stop the water from tipping out, so you need to keep it as level as possible. To do this you need to engage your core and glute muscles, so pull in your bellybutton and squeeze your butt tight to keep the bucket level.
  • Overstriding- This is one of the most common injury-causing problems in running. Landing heel first with your foot well ahead of your body's center of gravity is the same as putting your brakes on in a car. Some runners assume that a longer stride will improve their speed or running efficiency, but that's not the case, it wastes vital energy needed for running economy. Make sure that you don't lunge forward with your feet. Focus on landing mid-sole, with your foot directly underneath your center of mass with every step. Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you're stepping on hot coals.
  • Breathing- proper breathing is just as important to your running economy as stride and posture. If you don’t take in enough oxygen, you will find it more difficult to keep a relaxed form and maintain your pace. Shallow breathing pattern will replace depleted oxygen, but one that is deep and rhythmic oxygenates your whole body and increases your endurance.


Assessing your core stability & balance. 

Below are two simple exercises you can do to test your core stability & balance.

Core stability test

Stand with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart. Lift one leg off the ground up to 90 degree angle without tipping or sliding sideways (relax and avoid tensing up). The more stable and upright you remain, the better your core stabilizers are working.


Single-leg reach

Place one cone (or similar object) about two feet in front of you, and stand on your left foot. Bending your knee, while keeping your core tight and your back straight, reach forward with your right arm to touch the cone (or come as close as possible). Stand up and repeat. Start with 8/10 reps, and work up to 30. As you become stronger, vary the cone positions—put one at 9 o'clock and one at 3 o'clock, for instance—and challenge yourself by going barefoot. "Make sure the whole foot stays in contact with the floor; don’t let it roll to the outside. Repeat for the right leg.   

Benefit: This exercise strengthens major leg muscles—glutes, quads and calves—but doesn't allow you to favor your strong side. It also teaches balance on one foot while your knee is bent, and strengthens the stabilizing muscles in the foot so that when you land on each foot your body is ready for impact.


The warm-up (Dynamic)

The warm-up is not only used to increase the body temperature & heart rate, a good dynamic warm-up is a complete total body workout for runners & triathletes. If performed correctly a dynamic warm-up can result in positive training adaptations to improve performance, help prevent injuries and prepare the body for competition. This is time to focus on improving strength, power, speed & agility and should last for 10-20mins. Dynamic warm-up sessions should focus on stretching muscles and movement patterns that require a combination of muscles & joints that are specific to your sport.

The exercises:

  •  Toe & heel walking- for strength/stability and help reduce the likelihood of shin splints.
  • Knee to chest walking- balance & postural control & stretching gluets.
  • Walking quad stretch- flexibility in quads/hip flexors, also improving leg balance.
  • Stork walk- balance & multi-limb coordination & hamstring strength.
  • Hamstring walks (inchworm) - develops range of motion in hamstring & lower back, also good for core.
  • Toy soldier’s march- develops hamstring & lower back flexibility- progress with a skip.
  • Lunge walking with arms- range of motion in the hip flexors, strengthens quads, glutes & core.
  • Counter-movement-jump (CMJ)- explosive power throughout the entire body.
  • High knee running- improves the forward drive when running.
  • Heel flick running- improves the recovery phase when running.
  • Backpedal – strengthening quads & hamstrings and for balance also helps with range of motion through hips. This is a good exercise to do before a speed session. 

Exercise testing.

Why test?  The aim is to develop knowledge and understanding of exercise capabilities of the athlete. A practical outcome of the testing is enhanced performance of the athlete being tested. Testing should be an integral part of an athlete’s training program and should be conducted regularly and frequently.


The Tests

Agility Shuttle Run Test (10m shuttle)

Taken from 

  • purpose:this is a test of speed and agility, which is important in many sports.
  • Equipment required:wooden blocks, marker cones, measurement tape, stopwatch, non-slip surface.
  • Procedure:This test requires the person to run back and forth between two parallel lines as fast as possible. Set up two lines of cones 10 meters apart or use line markings, and place two blocks of wood or a similar object behind one of the lines. Starting at the line opposite the blocks, on the signal "Ready? Go!" the participant runs to the other line, picks up a block and returns to place it behind the starting line, then returns to pick up the second block, then runs with it back across the line.
  • Scoring:Two or more trails may be performed, and the quickest time is recorded. Results are recorded to the nearest tenth of a second.
  • Variations / modifications:The test procedure can be varied by changing the number of shuttles performed, the distance between turns and by removing the need for the person pick up and return objects from the turning points.
  • Advantages:this test can be conducted on large groups relatively quickly with minimal equipment required.
  • Comments:the blocks should be placed at the line, not thrown across them. Also make sure the participants run through the finish line to maximize their score.


20m Multistage Fitness Test (Beep Test)

Instructions,Taken from 

The 20m multistage fitness test is a commonly used maximal running aerobic fitness test. It is also known as the 20 meter shuttle run test, beep or bleep test among others. 

  • Equipment required:Flat, non-slip surface, marking cones, 20m measuring tape, beep test cd, cd player, recording sheets.
  • Procedure:This test involves continuous running between two lines 20m apart in time to recorded beeps. For this reason the test if also often called the 'beep' or 'bleep' test. The test subjects stand behind one of the lines facing the second line, and begin running when instructed by the cd or tape. The speed at the start is quite slow. The subject continues running between the two lines, turning when signaled by the recorded beeps. After about one minute, a sound indicates an increase in speed, and the beeps will be closer together. This continues each minute (level). If the line is not reached in time for each beep, the subject must run to the line turn and try to catch up with the pace within 2 more ‘beeps’. Also, if the line is reached before the beep sounds, the subject must wait until the beep sounds. The test is stopped if the subject fails to reach the line (within 2 meters) for two consecutive ends. There are several versions of the test, but one commonly used version has an initial running velocity of 8.5 km/hr, which increases by 0.5 km/hr each minute. Another version starts at 8.0 km/hr, then up to 9.0 km/hr for level 2 and then increases by 0.5 km/hr.
  • Scoring:The athlete's score is the level and number of shuttles (20m) reached before they were unable to keep up with the recording. Record the last level completed (not necessarily the level stopped at). This norms table below is based on personal experience, and gives you a very rough idea of what level score would be expected for adults, using the standard Australian beep test version.




> 13

> 12

very good

11 - 13

10 - 12


9 - 11

8 - 10


7 - 9

6 - 8


5 - 7

4 - 6

  • Target population:this test is suitable for sports teams and school groups, but not for populations in which a maximal exercise test would be contraindicated.
  • Validity:The correlation to actual VO2max scores is high. There are published VO2max score equivalents for each level reached.


VO2 max Norms

VO2max is a measure of a person's aerobic fitness. The table below categorizes VO2max scores for adult men and women of various ages. These are relative VO2max scores, in the units of mls of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute ( Source: these norms have been derived from several and now unknown sources).

Maximal oxygen uptake norms for men  

Age (years)









> 60

> 56

> 51

> 45

> 41

> 37








above average














below average














very poor

< 30

< 30

< 26

< 25

< 22

< 20

Maximal oxygen uptake norms for woman  

Age (years)









> 56

> 52

> 45

> 40

> 37

> 32








above average














below average














  • Reliability:The reliability of the beep test would depend on how strictly the test is run and the practice allowed for the subjects.
  • Advantages:Large groups can perform this test all at once for minimal costs. Also, the test continues to maximum effort unlike many other tests of endurance capacity.
  • Disadvantages:Practice and motivation levels can influence the score attained, and the scoring can be subjective. As the test is often conducted outside, the environmental conditions can affect the results.

One way to ensure that all athletes push themselves in the test is for them to wear a heart rate monitor. You can then compare their maximum heart rate during the test to their predicted or measured maximum to determine if they have 'maxed out'.


Heart Rate Zones

Taken from

In order to structure training more accurately and to analyze sessions effectively, Heart Rate zones have been developed. The table below shows the 1-6 HR zones used by British Cycling (BC is one of the most highly regarded models for HR zones). There are alternative models that use more or less HR zones and arguably the three broad zones of basic, intensive and maximal would be sufficient for most ages up to regional level competition.

Table: Training Intensity Zones (Adapted from British Cycling Level 3 Coaching Handbook: Coaching for performance) This table also represents the relationship between %max heart-rate & %VO2max. thus, one only needs to monitor heart-rate to estimate the relative exercise domain or %VO2max.

Training Zone


% VO2 Max

RPE- rate of perceived effort.




1 – Very light


Zone 1



2 – Light

Zone 2



3 – Moderate


Zone 3



5 – Heavy

Zone 4



6 – Heavy


Zone 5



7-9 Very Heavy

Zone 6



10 – Extremely heavy

The Zones

Recovery Zone – Purpose: Recovery

Adaptation: Increase blood flow to muscles to flush out waste products

Zone 1 – Purpose: Base endurance

Adaptation: Increase in cycling/running economy, improves fat metabolism i.e. fat is the main energy source.

Zone 2 – Purpose: Improve efficiency

Adaptation: Mainly fat burning, significant cardiovascular overload, improvements in biomechanical and physiological efficiency.

Zone 3 – Purpose: Improve aerobic power and endurance

Adaptation: Improves carbohydrate metabolism, some fast-twitch fibres change to slow-twitch fibres, increased cardiovascular efficiency.

Zone 4 – Purpose: Raise lactate threshold

Adaptation: Improves carbohydrate metabolism, develops lactate threshold, some fast-twitch fibres change to slow-twitch fibres.

Zone 5 – Purpose: Sustained maximal aerobic power

Adaptation: Develops cardiovascular system & VO2 max, improves anaerobic energy production and tolerance/removal of end products i.e. lactate shuttle.

Zone 6 – Purpose: Increase maximum muscle power

Adaptation: Increases maximum muscle power & resistance to fatigue, develops cardiovascular system & VO2 max. Note: Should only be undertaken when fully recovered from previous sessions. Taking fluid/fuel between efforts helps avoid premature fatigue.


Aerobic capacity

Aerobic capacity improves if exercise intensity regularly maintains heart rate between 55 and 70 % of maximum. Clearly, achieving positive training adaptations does not require strenuous exercise. An exercise heart-rate of 70% maximum represents moderate exercise with no discomfort.

An alternative and equally effective method to establish your training zones is the karvonen method, Kavonen method takes into account your resting heart rate. For more details on this method see or

NOTE: You can also go onto topendsports website and calculate you actual Vo2max scores from the bleep test. Look under fitness testing calculators.


Rate of perceived effort (R.P.E.)

R.P.E = Rate of perceived effort: this R.P.E is based on a similar scale to the British cycling scale and the Borg scale. You can make up your own scale as long as it relates to your training zones. When training you should always refer to your perceived effort in addition to your heart rate monitor for feedback. Heart rate monitors are a guide only and do have a degree of error in predicting you HR.

R.P.E.  Is an effective way of measuring your effort levels and correlates highly with VO2max, HRmax and your training zones.

 These are the level of effort you need to put into your sessions in relation to R.P.E.

  • L1- very light with no effort, this is for recovery to bring heart rate back to normal.
  • L 2-4 very easy gentle pace with little effort.
  • L 5-6, is coming out of comfort zone but still able to hold a conversation with someone.
  •  L 6-7 getting out of breath, can only speak two/three words before needing to take a breath.
  •   L8 race pace, can’t talk & hard.
  • L9-10 maximum effort, anaerobic energy system, example sprinting.

I hope you have found some of this information useful, all of the information above has come from reliable and valid data bases that are backed by scientific research. Remember that it is best to take a holistic approach to your training and listen to what your body is telling you. That balance, agility, strength and speed are all vital components of most sports including running, cycling and triathlons. Regular testing and assessment of your fitness is a vital component to stay injury free and maintain optimal performance, happy training.