Another guest post from John Wood who coaches for Tri-Coaching, a Bristol-based coaching company that specialises in technique and training plans for athletes of all abilities from beginner to international – and all levels in between!
No one teaches you how to run. It’s just something we all do, right? So how come some people just float while others seem to get injured all the time?
Depending on how crunched for time you are, working on your technique and making subtle alterations could make changes to your speed. If time is your friend, and you have a good solid period before you think about racing, this could be something to look at. Equally, if you find yourself chronically injury prone, then this might be something to work on to minimise the impact on your body.
This isn’t to say that there is one rule for everyone, and that we should all be identical of course – just watch the Olympics, any running event and compare all the runners. Yes there are similarities, but there are also differences between each individual – and potentially with one athlete running different length events! All we are looking at here are little cues to focus on to move a little easier and a little faster!
Running ability and technique is potentially limited by various different factors – but they all interlink and have a combined effect on running as a whole.
Some runners for instance, might find that they can get a full range of movement through the hips, knees and ankles, but may be lacking in strength and control. Whereas others might find plenty of strength in calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes – but are limited by minimal flexibility of the hip girdle and lower spine. A good warm up for hard sessions is necessary to loosen up the body – the harder the session is going to be (for instance like the speed intervals mentioned last week!) the longer and more comprehensive the warm up should be.
Running speed is dictated by the following equation: Speed (or economy) = Frequency (cadence) x Stride Length
So to improve our running speed and economy (i.e. get faster or go easier) we need to work out how to preferably increase both in some way shape or form.
Stride length is governed by the distance between foot strike and toe off. However a longer stride does not mean necessarily pushing out further in front of you – in fact quite the opposite. The further in front of your body that your foot hits the ground, the more shock will go back through your knee, hip and lower back. This also acts as a kind of braking force, slowing you down as well. The closer you can land to under your hips, the less force you put your body under; also the more stable you are. Obviously both of these factors will help minimise injury. From here you can push out behind you to drive off.
To change cadence, first of all find out what you normally run at. Count your steps for a minute. The number bandied around as the ideal is 90 – but that’s a little too general – depending on pace, strength, mobility etc, a good number would be between 85-95 (or 170-190 for both feet together). Before I started looking at my technique, I was around 72-74 strides per minute! The first thing to think about with cadence is standing up nice and tall. Pull your core in and lift the hips up and forward. Might sound odd but try it jogging for 20seconds – it should help shorten contact time on the floor and minimise the chance of your feet stretching out in front. If you do any running on a treadmill, do spells where you count your strides for minutes at a time, looking to increase your cadence incrementally.
You can do drills like fast feet and heel flick drills with high turnover – essentially working the front end or the back end of the running stride at speed, the heel flicks help activate a knee bend which is very useful in getting your foot forward nice and quickly. By using your hamstrings to bend your knee once you have pushed off the ground, you have a far shorter lever to lift forward (from the hip; see YouTube video for more information).
Many runners don’t pay enough attention to the action of their upper body. They allow the upper body to remain passive and if anything overly rotate through the torso. We need upper body rotation, not only to counter the desired rotation of the pelvis and lower body as we run, but also to help engage the core properly. However many runners display excess rotation, making life harder for themselves. With the rotation should obviously come the arm drive from the elbows. The quicker you go, the bigger the movement of the arms should be – just compare Usain Bolt’s arm action to Mo Farah (and not just in their celebrations!). The 2 similarities between them are that the elbow moves forward and back (not round the sides) and that it moves in time with their opposite foot – helping with that upper body rotation and spring loading. This is something that you can use as a cue for when you tire; as you start to struggle, think about driving the elbows back with force.
At no point have I mentioned how your feet should hit the ground (heel/midfoot/forefoot) – this is intentional! It is far more important WHERE your foot lands rather than HOW. One of the main issues we see in runners is the tendency to over stride, landing the foot (regardless of contact pattern) significantly ahead of the centre of gravity. This increases the braking forces experienced upon initial contact, as well as increasing contact time/soft tissue stress. Usually the over striding athlete will display a significant heel strike, loading the heel upon contact. By thinking about landing under the hips rather than out in front, by increasing cadence, and by lifting the hips up and forward, it doesn’t matter whether you land on your toes, on your midfoot or on your heel; either way, the landing should be relatively light, controlled and less shocking to your body.
As I mentioned, there isn’t one perfect way to run – we’re all too unique as humans. However there are some standard practises which are useful to work towards to make ourselves as efficient and stable as possible.
Thanks John for some excellent pearls of wisdom!