MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 01: Cooper Hamilton runs a 2km time trial at the Draft Combine in Bendigo on October 01, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos)

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John Quinn, a high-performance coach and clinical exercise physiologist, has worked in the AFL since 1998, spending a decade at Essendon and has since been a training guru for the  GWSGiants. Quinn also works with the NRL's Penrith Panthers, has coached Olympic athletes and has consulted with the Socceroos and the Indian Cricket League, as well as track and tennis competitors.

Now passing on his knowledge of elite high performance, nutrition and exercise physiology, Quinn has detailed the fundamentals for an everyday athlete or trainer's hopes of improving their running fitness.

Quinn said the best development for an athlete is focusing on three separate areas; physical, mental and spiritual.

"Getting the most out of your athletes has three sides to it. The first one, the most obvious one, is physical. I don't think it's really rocket science to get a player to run fast or an athlete to run fast or to lift more. That's the easy part of coaching," Quinn tells Zero Hanger.

"How do you get them to mentally be tough enough to keep backing up? We talk about resilience a lot, that's important. If you've got physical coming along, on the mental side they get more confident as they start to see the body put on a bit of size or they lose a bit of weight, they move a bit faster, they do a skill or a drill that they hadn't been able to do before. Mentally they've become more confident and that exponentially grows. So physical and mental hook in.

High Performance and Exercise Physiologist expert John Quinn

"The third one is the most important, it underpins physical and mental, and that's the spirit of the person and that's understanding what drives a person. What motivates them to get the most out of themselves? Knowing that and bringing those three aspects together, brings elite performance out of the athlete. 

“It's mental, physical and spiritual."

The importance of posture and having the right footwear

Seen as a "launching pad" for athletes, a person's posture is critical in reaching their potential as a long or short-distance runner.

Quinn believes using the right footwear from an early age will strongly influence the biomechanics of an athlete, with the best running shoes available being a "significant" determinant in development.

"When I get an athlete come to me for the first time the one thing I go to is posture. So I look at the posture of the individual, it's like a launch pad for a rocket ship. You're going to limit the altitude you can go to if the launch pad is not right. So the number one thing, the easiest thing for me to do is look at their posture and correct that," he said.

"If you're talking about things like clothes and the like, they're nice to have, but they're not necessarily going to be the determinants of whether you can go to the ultimate level. But when you talk about footwear, however, it starts to become a little bit more significant.

"If you've got footwear that's not good for your biomechanics, your foot type, your size, your weight, the type of running that you do that changes your posture, and as soon as your posture is gone, it changes your launch pad.

"So it's very important to make sure that you identify which shoes are best for you. It's not necessarily the ones that the guy beside you or the girl beside you is running in. It's the ones that suit your foot, it's about what's right for your mechanics and the structure of your foot. A lot of that can also be influenced by your own development as a youngster and the type of footwear that you chose as a youngster.

"A lot of people think you don't really need to buy good shoes for kids, that they're only 12 or so, but I beg to differ. That's when they're growing, and that's probably the time they need them the most. So you buy them the best shoes that you can afford because that gives them the launch pad for movement for life. That's even bigger than a launch pad for elite performers."

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A loading tip for beginners

Quinn stressed the need for gradual increases in the level of intensity for a new running program, stating beginner runners can't expect to see strong results from the offset.  

"If you haven't run very much at all, or you've had a long break, just start at the very beginning," he said. 

"You might start with what we'd call a walk-jog program. Start with a four-minute jog and a one-minute walk. But if you don't think you're at that level, there's nothing wrong with having a one-minute jog and a four-minute walk, and do that four or five times.

"Once you've done that for a week, and I would say do a day on and a day off, so a day of loading and then a day off your legs or recovery. So you do that for one week, and then the second week, repeated for the third week, repeat it the fourth week, and then maybe go from two minutes of a jog to then up to a two-and-a-half-minute jog and a two-and-a-half-minute walk.

High Performance and Exercise Physiologist expert John Quinn

"You just structure it on how you're coping and how you're recovering. If you're having aches and pains then address those. Have a look at the footwear that you're wearing, have a look at the surfaces that you're running on, and have a look at how intense it is, and adjust those accordingly.

"So just be gradual, it takes around six weeks for the body to adapt to a stimulus."

The role hydration plays in building your fitness 

Hydration plays a critical role in nurturing one's development as a runner, with most everyday athletes struggling to understand the best time and methods to use hydration to their benefit.

Quinn believes proper hydration is often missed among even top-level athletes, detailing the issues dehydration can lead to in the body. 

"You look at the individual needs of that person, not just in the position they play in terms of impact, but also the energy demands of that role. iI does certainly change, not just the amount of food they have, but also the type of foods that they have," Quinn said.

"You'd also factor into what they should have in terms of their recovery after a game or after a hard training session.

"I think one of the key things that we miss with nutrition for our elite athletes, but also with the average Joe Blow, is hydration.

"If you're dehydrated - and most people are dehydrated and they don't know it - not only does it decrease the size of the cells, it decreases what we call the permeability of the cell, which means you might be desperate for carbohydrates for your run, but if you're dehydrated because the cells are smaller, the carbohydrate can't get into the cell. It's not permeable.

"So hydration is such an important thing even before nutrition. It's part of nutrition, but you've actually got to hydrate yourself first. So make sure that you focus on hydration.

"A lot of people think the healthiest thing to get hydrated on or with is water. I don't necessarily disagree with that, but understand that when you just drink water, it actually stimulates the kidneys to flush the system and you lose electrolytes and salts and all those things that you need for muscle function. I'd be saying to probably stick to water, but put a squeeze of lemon juice into that water. When we talk about the acid and alkalinity of cells, lemon juice in there helps that balance and helps you to retain the fluid. So that's maybe a little training tip in terms of hydration nutrition for runners."

The type of foods to avoid

After battling and surviving limbic encephalitis, an autoimmune disease, following a year in hospital, Quinn studied nutrition at Deakin University to learn of the anti-inflammatory properties of foods to aid his recovery.

The postgraduate course opened Quinn to understanding the benefits and obstacles different foods can have on one's health, both physical and mental.

Quinn found the significant negative effect refined foods such as sugar can have on athletes. 

"I got very, very interested in nutrition for my own future, so I did a post-grad in nutrition and the number one thing that I would say now, based on my own experiences - as much as possible, avoid refined foods," he said. 

"The more refined the food is, then the less benefit that's going to have for you. The most refined product possible that we have is sugar. The implications of eating too much sugar are quite significant from a health perspective, not just on body weight, but even on organ function.

"We've got to educate people in terms of what's appropriate for lifestyle going forward."

The biggest fitness misconception 

Often coming across queries on how to fast-track fitness programs to reach end goals sooner, Quinn has been met with many misconceptions over his years as a performance and fitness expert. 

He said the most common misunderstanding was that endurance athletes don't believe strength will benefit their abilities, with strength training and body balance critical for all performers. 

"The number one (misconception), particularly for endurance athletes, is that you don't need to be strong and that you get strong from running. The body adapts, so if you can develop your strength, and you don't have to put on muscle mass to be strong, but you address your weaknesses,"

"If you're getting injuries it's not bad luck, it is poor management and the inability to listen to your body. Your body communicates very, very effectively. Unfortunately, we don't have the ability to listen to what our body is saying.

"So the number one thing that I see with people is, one, they do too much too soon, two, they don't understand the importance of strength training and body balance, and three, they don't recover properly from a training session and they think they can just keep pushing up.”

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