Training for a goal race is a time commitment. Between mileage, work, family, and friends, not many hours remain in the day for anything else. But experts believe adding just one other step to your daily routine—taking just an additional 10 minutes—can lead to healthier and more successful training.

“Nobody likes to be injured, so there are a few things you can do to help prevent that from happening,” says Colleen Quigley, a 2016 Olympic steeplechaser. “Anything you can do to balance out the pounding of the kilometres you’re putting in will give you the most bang for your buck.”

Here are four suggestions:

Create mobility
Michael Smith, director of track and field and cross country at Northern Arizona University, suggests active isolated stretching (AIS) for 10 minutes every day is a good starting place. It’s not static stretching—it’s a dynamic form of flexibility that focuses on a single muscle group at a time, contracting the muscles opposite of those that are being stretched.

A quick yoga routine that focuses on opening up the hips and ankles is also beneficial. Other forms of mobility Smith likes include short warm-up routines with sprint drills before a run—skips, leg swings, and walking lunges. All of these things help important joints continue to move correctly when you're running, which helps prevent injury.

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“As soon as you have restriction in your joints, you’re loading your muscles ineffectively. If you’re taking 200,000 running steps with joints that are not moving correctly, you get hurt,” Smith says. “You get in 60 minutes of yoga or AIS over the course of each week, you’ll start running at the same pace or faster with less cost. It’ll feel easier.”

Don't skimp on the cooldown
It’s the part of the workout that most often is cut short—after a tough run, most of us half-heartedly jog a mile and call it a day. Steve Magness, head cross country coach at the University of Houston, says completing a cooldown is an easy way to get performance gains.

“We are in a pre-fatigued state, so any work we do gets almost supercharged,” he says.

Cooldowns come in several varieties, and not all of them include slogging through another four kilometres of running. Magness says a 10-minute strength or mobility circuit or even adding in some quick strides (short accelerations) are productive.

“On the other hand, to come down off our stress faster, take 15 minutes after you complete your workout and socialise or do something enjoyable,” Magness says. “Talking with friends allows us to switch out of stress mode and into recovery mode quicker, which then allows you to get back to work sooner.”

Hit a circuit
Quigley creates short strength circuits that hit specific muscle groups one at a time, which she shares through her newsletter. If you have only 10 minutes a day, try focusing on glutes one day, abs the next, arms another day, and so on. If you perform 10 minutes of intensity (alternating 10 squats, 10 lunges, 10 burpees for 10 minutes, for example) with little rest between exercises, you’ll get a big boost. 

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Strengthening the quads, hamstrings, and core leads to faster, more explosive running with less effort. It can also help you sustain your pace through the finish, Quigley says.

“A circuit is a quick hit without a ton of recovery,” she says. “Each day you’re working on strengthening all the small muscles in your lower legs, back, and core that help maintain good posture while running.”

Do difficult things
That’s right—even just focusing on making hard choices outside of running can lead to better performance. Magness says that racing is really just making the decision to stay on pace despite increasing fatigue and discomfort. You decide to push on anyway. Make that kind of mental process a habit.

“Research shows that even making simple choices like choosing vegetables over lollies can improve self-control and, in turn, improve performance,” Magness says.

So, deciding to finish 15 kilometres instead of bagging a run at 14.5 kilometres—or finishing the 15-minute cool-down instead of quitting after five minutes—can eventually lead to making the harder choices during races.

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“We refer to this as living the lifestyle,” Magness says. “If we accept that running is hard and we have to live a certain way, it becomes less about sacrificing and more about accepting that we have to do difficult things.”

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