Fitness 101 with Nick Scott
Meet Nick Scott.
A Melbourne-based personal trainer of 15 years who’s completed two Ironman races, one in 2006 and another in 2013, Nick knows a thing or two about fitness.
His holistic approach to training his clients – who range from in their teens to in their 80s – takes postural imbalances and core strength into account, initially concentrating on the basics to avoid injury in the long term. That’s because he believes that most injuries are the result of running without the strength to support the body.
“There’s a bit of a fear around running,” says Nick. “A lot of people have been told by physios and specialists that they shouldn’t run, or they might think of running as something only athletes do. But anyone can put on the shoes and go for a run – it’s about being aware of what’s going on within your body.”
Those who sit at a desk are often the worst offenders, despite their bad habits being the result of good intentions. “Office workers have a tendency to lace up their trainers during lunch, despite spending hours stiff and stagnant in the lead up to a run,” Nick points out. “Sitting at a desk for an extended period of time causes your hip flexors to shorten and your back to tighten – hardly ideal running conditions.”
According to Nick, the better option is to seek professional guidance and run in a systematic manner from the start. “Stretches, mobilisation exercises and a thorough understanding of how the body works are the keys to success,” he says. “I’ll often test my clients by making sure they can stabilise their bodyweight on one leg – to see if their feet and knees are coping, and whether or not they can coordinate movement.”
“A lot of the time people run but they can’t actually stabilise on one leg,” explains Nick. “So when you’re running you might have four or five times your body weight crashing into the ground. In my experience you get strong doing corrective exercise to get the body working properly and then get people running.”
And while there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, there are ways you can properly prepare before hitting the track, as well as methods for staying motivated. Here are Nick’s top five.
1. IDENTIFY WEAKNESSES
For the majority of people, it’s posture. The body forgets how to work properly from bad habits or from sitting at desks. Sometimes the glutes and hamstrings forget how to work. Remember that muscles can get really lazy.
2. PRACTICE AWARENESS
Ever been for a run before and heard crashing behind you? It was probably someone who doesn’t run well slapping the pavement. When you’re running the right way, you should hardly hear your feet touch the ground. By being light like that, you absorb energy, but a lot of people just plug the headphones in and go for it! Yoga and pilates can be really good for practicing awareness because they teach you how to tune into your body.
3. MIX IT UP
If you’re someone who’s quite a heavy heel striker, running on a soft surface is going to be better for you, but try mixing it up as well. Go on trail runs, road runs, sand runs – I get some people doing deep-water running as well. It really depends on your goals, your strengths and your weaknesses. However, the softer approach is usually always the better approach.
4. SET AND STICK TO GOALS
In order to get out the door, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve. I always get people to lock into a race or a fun run – something that keeps them accountable. I’ve had people who started training for a baby triathlon then, after a few years, decided to tackle an Ironman. Training with friends or someone on the same page as you who’s going to ring you up if you cancel can also help. That’s why personal training works – you’ve made the appointment, you have to show up.
5. BUILD REAL CORE STRENGTH
People think core strength is doing crunches and other quite stationary, stagnate exercises, but since the body moves in such a complicated manner, they don’t always carry over to correcting performance issues. A plank can set a foundation for core strength, activating all the muscles around the torso and upper back. But when you go from a facedown position on your elbows and toes to standing up and running, your body is fighting gravity in a different way – and it needs to know how to withstand these forces. So rather than holding a plank for three minutes, do specific core exercises that resemble a similar posture to when you run.
Here are three core strength exercises to try at home.
The Hip Bridge
This one’s a personal favourite. More often than not, the hamstrings, glutes and lower back switch off through sedentary lifestyles. You’ve got to learn to reactivate them through specific exercises, like the supine hip bridge. Lie on your back with your arms by your side and pre-activate your glutes by squeezing your butt. Then as you push your butt upwards, extend your hips by pushing against the ground and lifting up, while making sure that your core is activated as well. If you don’t activate your core you’ll hyperextend through the lower back. A lot of people don’t turn on their glutes so they arch their back and don’t get the benefits from the exercise. You need to maintain a neutral spine. Lift up and down once or twice every second if strengthening for running.
You can also do a metric hold where you lift one leg off the ground and try and balance your hips. When you lift one leg up, your hip automatically wants to drop, so you have to stabilise through the core. You can do single leg bridges as well, where you have one leg up off the ground and then lower your hips down and drive them back up again.
I’m big on lateral exercises like this one because you want to strengthen the muscles on the inside and the outside of your hips that stabilise the forces of going forward. Runners tend to be really overworked in those forwards and backwards muscles but really weak in their lateral muscles. If you can imagine stepping out and lunging to the side, instead of straight in front or behind, while keeping your hips square with your feet facing forward, that’s how it’s done. It’s basically thinking more three-dimensionally instead of one-dimensionally because that’s how the body is. It’s best to alternate sides and come back to the centre, or you might balance on one leg and actually jump out to the right or the left, which makes it more dynamic and definitely more advanced.
Single Leg Squat
This exercise is fundamental to any movement. You have to activate the core while keeping the hips and knees aligned. If your knee drops in as you’re squatting down, you’re not strong enough to withstand your body weight. You’d be amazed at how many people can’t do a single leg squat but still run 60 kilometres a week. It makes sense that there are so many IT band issues! For a runner, it’s critical that you can do a single leg squat. I’ll often not let my clients run until they can. If you can’t withstand those forces when you’re not moving, you’re certainly not going to be able to withstand them when you are.
Here’s how they’re done. Keep your core activated and maintain a tall posture while really getting the butt back. That’s big – getting your hips back so that your weight’s sitting into your heels. Really thinking about pushing your hips up from the ground when you stand is a good cue, too. Most people get a lot of burn through the quads when they do this exercise, which indicates they’re not activating their glutes. I try to teach people to listen to their body as to where they feel it. So if they feel it in their quads, they are probably overusing them. I’d recommend attempting between six and 10 reps with really good form. Once you get to 12 reps, there are plenty of ways to make it a little more challenging, like adding a weight or a bit of a hop.
For more tips from Nick Scott, search for Performance 101 on Facebook.
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.