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Running

7 basic strength exercises for canicross athletes

A strong body is essential when doing canicross at any level to avoid pain or injuries. Our dogs are always pulling our core away from the position we would normally run in. 

Willian Oliveira from Brasil is a canicross athlete and physical educator (CREF 014891 G/RJ). He is working with athletes across the globe to enhance their performance when running with dogs. He has set up a canicross specific training program for you and the athletes in the Non-stop dogwear International CaniX team. This is the first step of the program.

Basics first

- As I learned at the university of physical education: No matter what you are training, start from the beginning.

 The human being has been losing healthy living standards. The simple fact that we sit for several hours makes us lose two main vital patterns for our species: Breathing and walking in a correct and balanced way. 

- We start with seven basic exercises, then walk together in the progression of each one. More complex exercises will emerge from these until we arrive at more specific exercises. What good would it do for me to present complex and extraordinary exercises if we don't have the basis to perform them?

Exercise 1 - Diaphragmatic breathing

- The first exercise is to start strengthening a muscle that I think is very important for endurance sports; the diaphragm. This is a muscle we depend on a lot for our breathing. When doing a good job, this muscle helps us stabilize our body in both basic and complex movements. Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the things that we lose throughout our lives by acquiring bad habits like sitting incorrectly. 

In this video, multiple World champion Tessa Philippaerts shows how to start training to improve your breathing pattern.

- You should lie flat with your knees at 90 degrees. Your hip and thigh should also be at 90 degrees. The torso has to be straight. Try to have no space between the lumbar (back) and the ground. Push your back on the ground and keep your head aligned with the spine.

You should place one hand on the chest and the other on the belly. Your second hand is the most important as it will improve your connection with the diaphragm. 

- Being in this position the exercise will be easy: Inhale deeply without moving your chest. Push all the air into your belly, then apply pressure with your lower back to the floor. Make the air push towards your hips while the belly must push your hand upwards. To exhale, release the air from between your teeth by applying pressure and breathe out firmly. This will help the diaphragm to become stronger after doing this exercise frequently. 

Do this for 1 minute and repeat twice.

Exercise 2 - Mobility

The next exercise involves several joints of our body. 

- It is not the best, but it is a very complete exercise. 

Start in a standing position. Try to put your hands on the ground, then go forward, walking with your hands until your body is fully extended in line with your legs. 

- Your hands should be on the ground in the same line as your shoulders. The right foot will be placed next to your right hand. At that moment, take the right hand off the ground and with your arm fully extended, turn and try to look at the sky or go as far as possible. Then return to the previous position. Place your foot back beside the other and walk back to the starting position with your hands. Try to keep your knees straight. 

Willian recommends you start with a series of eight reps for each side.

Exercise 3 - Core strength

- This exercise has an interesting importance for canicrossers. In addition to strengthening the core, it will prepare the muscles for your dog's pulling power, especially at the start where they are full of energy.

Lie down on your stomach. Do your best to get as much of your body off the ground as possible, and move your arms in an I-Y-W-T movement. 

- You can touch your arm at its side to help count the number of repetitions. We can start with two sets of 15 repetitions. Don't forget your breathing!

Exercise 4 - Coordination

The fourth exercise is to start improving our movement and coordination patterns. 

- In kneeling position, you will inhale (using the breathing technique from the first exercise) and step forward with the right side. Use your left arm to copy the running movement. At that moment, you will exhale. 

Do two sets of 15 reps of this exercise. 

- There are three important points on our feet that should always have contact with the ground, as Tessa shows before starting the exercise. 

Exercise 5 - Core, hamstrings, torso

This exercise strengthens our core, hamstrings and helps stabilize our torso. 

Lie down on your back with your hands at your side. Place both feet on top of the ball with hips elevated. It is important is that the hips remain at the same height all the time during this exercise. 

- Pull the ball towards you by flexing your knees (exhale) and then push the ball away again by extending your knees (inhale). 

You can also do this exercise with a towel sliding on the floor. In the video, you will see both forms. The second way is more challenging.

- When using a towel it is a progression of the same exercise with the ball. Be careful with your hips; they should always be at the same height. 

Do two sets of 15 reps of this exercise.

Exercise 6 - Lateral stabilization

This exercise serves to strengthen the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. They help with lateral stabilization of the hip when you are running. Remember to use the breathing technique. 

- Inhale when making the movement by opening your legs. Exhale when your leg is going back to starting position. The challenge of this exercise is to hold the pelvis still. If you can't do it with an elastic band, you can do it without, but remember that the movement doesn't have to be significant. Move one leg away from the other, about 40 centimeters. 

Do two sets of 15 reps.

Exercise 7 - Feet

The final exercise will strengthen your feet. 

Use a towel and try to pull it up using only your toes. 

Do two sets of 15 reps.

- Did you know that your feet suffer a lot with our modern habits? With daily use of running shoes and normal shoes for several hours, we are weakening the muscles of our feet. Because of that, we are losing good cushioning/suspension by the impact of every step. Can the risk of injuries in the knees, hips and even joints higher up in our body be related to our feet and ankles? 

Stay tuned for the full training program for canicross athletes! 

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