With the London Marathon coming up this month and Edinburgh next month we can see that many people run as a means of keeping fit. Whist many choose to run as a means of keeping fit many do not run well and little thought is given to improving running technique but lots of thought is given to which shoe to buy. In a lot of the chat about running a large portion often seems to be given over to which shoes to choose, minimalist/light weight vs motion control or somewhere inbetween. Much less seems to be given over to the improvement of ones running technique or the need to be strong enough to withstand the rigors of running.
Now given that there has been a large increase in the numbers of people taking part in marathons and other races over the years we have seen a drop in the median time for marathons between 1980 and 2005. In the USA the median point, 50% below 50% above, has dropped from 3:32:17 to 4:20:29 and whilst a lot of this can be accounted for in terms of increased participation by recreational athletes who are only ever going to run one marathon there has been a drop from 53,700 to 34,639 men breaking 3:32:17. I suspect that those running in 1980 were pretty serious about their running and spent time working on technique that many outside of the serious runner don’t do currently.
Improving your running technique is probably the quickest and definitely the cheapest way to improve your performance. Areas to consider when thinking of technique are your posture, the cadence you run at, relaxing when you run so that you feel your arms are hanging softly at your sides. Your posture when you are running can be thought of as trying to make yourself taller so that you are carrying your hips/pelvis tucked underneath the torso. As well as the conscious effort of thinking about how you hold yourself the next thing to do is to make yourself stronger in the musculature that will allow you to maintain this even without thinking about it.
With cadence we are talking about the number of strides you take per minute. Over striding is an issue for many runners and has the effect of creating a braking force as you run and therefore slowing you down, increasing the cadence at which you run at will help reduce this. By increasing the cadence you run at you start to bring your foot closer to landing under your hips and as such reduce the braking force you are applying with each stride. In terms of what cadence you want to be thinking of it is often suggested that you want to be aiming for 180 strides per minute but this may be 30-50 spm higher than what you run at currently. To make the shift to a higher cadence it would be wiser to take small 10 spm jumps over a period of time, increasing when you’ve adjusted to the new rate and thus reducing the chance of injuring yourself.
The third area to consider would be to ensure that you try to keep the shoulder girdle nice and relaxed as you run. Relaxing the shoulder girdle has the effect of allowing a better carrying position for the arms and removes some of the load on the muscles that we use for breathing during higher levels of effort. One place to start with aiding achieving a more relaxed shoulder girdle is to now make a fist when your run. Keeping a soft open hand reduces the tension transferred up the arm, I also find thinking of the elbows pointing towards the ground can help to as in a relaxed mid position that is where they will be.
To maintain the technique developed with the specific drills we need to be strong not just in the lower body but throughout the whole body in order to maintain a good posture that allows for efficient running. Now we’re not talking about entering the World’s Strongest Man competition but neglecting the benefits of being strong enough are likely to equate to reduced performance.
So what constitutes strong enough? If we take Mo Farah as an example, I realise that using elite athletes as examples isn’t always a good idea but we can regress the weights a bit. Mo uses around 200lbs in the squat and deadlift year round which is approaching double body weight and is pretty impressive for a guy that is an out and out endurance athlete. So for the average club athlete or recreational runner what are we talking about. The ability to do repetitions with your body weight in the squat, deadlift, a few chins and maybe 0.5/0.75 of BW in the bench press would be good markers to reach and would show the development of a reasonable level of strength in the upper and lower body.
Now you don’t need to use these exercises exclusively or at all and I am really just using them as recognisable examples. Exercises such as lunges, glute bridges and press ups amongst others are good choices and you don’t even need to go to the gym to do them. Buy a set of adjustable dumbbells or a couple of kettlebells and a suspension trainer, you can pick up a 2nd hand TRX on ebay for less than half the price of a new one ( I picked up a barely used one for less than £50) and you can do all your strength work at home for the price of a couple of months gym membership. If you aren’t currently doing any strength training then try introducing it during a period where you don’t have any races planned and ease back a little on the effort in the running as you adjust.
Hopefully you found this helpful and I would recommend checking out James Dunne site Kinetic Revolution for more information on how to improve your running technique.