Tips & Techniques

Supporting Your Cross Country Runner

Denise Smith 
August 30, 2021

The official cross country season has begun! This is always my favorite part of fall sports because there is great anticipation about what lies ahead for these runners. Thankfully, in McHenry County, we have amazing programs run by some highly experienced and motivated coaches that absolutely LOVE what they do! But as a parent, there are so many things you can be doing to help your young runner. Here are our top 3 recommendations:

  1. Provide healthy meals end encourage timely eating
  2. Support strength training
  3. Film your runner during meets

Providing Healthy Meals and Encourage Timely Eating:

This may be easy to assume that you are doing and in the next few weeks, we will post another blog with our local dietitian and nutritionist, Rachael from Fox Valley Nutrition Consulting. There is often a lot of confusion as to WHAT should be on a plate and WHEN it should be eaten. Most cross country meets are either on a Saturday morning or after school. Saturday morning meets require that the athlete wakes up around 5:30 and heads to the bus. After school meets require getting ready to compete after sitting all day in school with a lunch that was around 11:00am. Either scenario requires meal prep and assistance on your part with encouraging when the food should be consumed. Knowing what to eat and when to eat it is the key to fueling the tank to ensure performance and making sure key nutrients support the tissues of the body to prevent injuries.

Support Strength Training

Thought there is debate in sports medicine research about the amount of load and volume for high school runners, there is NO debate about the benefits of strength training. Strength training is a key element to helping runners be faster and be able to run longer distances. A good general rule for your runner is at least moving their bodyweight. This can be done with some simple exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, planks and single leg balance. Equipment does not have to be expensive but can be something simple like resistance bands, free weights or milk cartons filled with water or sand, a couch cushion, and your stairs. Keep an eye out for our blog next week with our favorite body weight strength training drills for cross country runners. When we run, our body must support 2 to 3 times our body weight due to natural forces that work on our body. Muscles provide an important role in supporting that body weight and must be strong enough to maintain and withstand those forces acting on our body. This is especially true in females due to the hormone levels that increase during adolescence. Strength training 2-3 times/week, even if it is for only 20 minutes, goes a long way to preventing an injury and has an added bonus to improve speed and distance.

Filming Your Runner During Meets

Hopefully parents will be allowed to attend outdoor meets this fall, presenting great opportunities to video your runner in action. These snapshots allow for the runner (also their coaches and any running technique specialists that you may be working with) to go back and view what the runners are doing during competition. An upcoming blog will show you two general things to look at when your athlete makes contact with the ground to help with efficiency and injury prevention. Filming does not need to be complicated: simply hold your camera horizontally, turn on the video, and watch them run past you. (No need to scan or follow them.) This 2-4 second clip offers so much insight! So many other sports used film reviews to grade and discuss performance… Cross country is no different!

As a parent, we want to support our athletes without interfering with the coach. These three tips are a quick and easy way to provide that support.

Thankfully many of the coaches in the area partner with us to ensure the safety of their athletes and we are grateful for those partnerships! We are here if you have any questions!  (Even if your athlete is not in McHenry County, it doesn’t hurt to have one of our Running Technique specialists chat with you run virtually about some key elements to improve performance!)

Meet the Author
Denise Smith graduated from Marquette University in 2002 with a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy and has been a certified running technique specialist since 2014. She is a consultant for multiple local middle and high schools and instructs courses in Kinesiology at McHenry County College. Denise also travels the country as part of the Pose Method education team with a lecture series on injury prevention and treatment along with the running technique certification course.
You were made to move!