Crush your next race with better mechanics
February 13, 2017
February 13, 2017
Soon across the country running season will be upon us, or in here in the case of Florida, it is already here. The Nikes/NBs/Asics will be dusted off and people will go flying out the door. However, whether you are trying to complete your first mile without resting, hitting a PR in your weekend 5K or finishing your first marathon, there are some basic fundamentals of running mechanics that you should monitor to minimize the risk of injury and maximize performance. Once you identify one or two factors to work on in your own running,(don’t worry I’ll help you figure out where you are most inefficient) try to work on improving these specific patterns 1-2 days per week (yes, you will get some drills to do). Picking 1-2 that are vital to you is important because if we try to work on every single aspect at once, you will run the risk of overwhelming yourself and taking away from some of your natural tendencies, which isn’t necessarily what we want to do. It didn’t work for one of the greatest runners of all time, so I’m guessing it wouldn’t work for us normal folk.
The Rodgers Experiment was conducted by Peter Cavanaugh in the late 1970s on Bill Rodgers, the best marathon runner on the planet at that time. Cavanaugh measured Bill’s running economy, or how efficiently he was using oxygen during running, and proceeded to correct Roger’s form in an effort to make the best even better. If you have never seen the grainy video of old Boston Marathons, Bill had a unique characteristic to his running style, a clear across the body arm swing, which was considered a textbook flaw. Cavanaugh fixed this flaw in the great runners form and retested his running economy, expecting the numbers to be off the charts, but a funny thing happened. Rogers efficiency actually went down, a clear signal that fighting his natural tendency was hurting his running.
The point of telling you this story is that, while we can work to correct certain aspects of your natural running stride, changing how you inherently move isn’t the objective here. We just want to optimize what you already do. So let’s get to the good stuff.
Keep the eyes forward, trying not to get distracted and turning the head frequently. If you are running on trails or non-paved surfaces keep your gaze at about 10-12ft ahead, to be sure of your footing. Fight the urge to “lead with your head”. A tall head position is perfect.
**If you have pain in your neck or upper back and shoulders, you might be letting your head fall too far forward. Work on keeping your gaze on the horizon.
Arms should move smoothly and in a relaxed motion. They should be by the sides, but if they slide naturally inside this is fine, especially over longer distances. Only if there is large rotation of the arms that cross the centerline of the body should this be considered a problem, as this will direct your energy from side to side, instead of the desired forward movement. Hands should be relaxed, no clenched fists. Loose and tension free.
**If your hands are crossing the centerline of your body when you are running, do the drill below for 2-3 sets of 30sec during your warmups before running, and during training runs stay aware of the arms staying in the “slot” position.
***Arm Swing Drill-
Sitting on the ground with your legs together and straight, keep your torso tall and back flat. Keeping the arms bent at 45 degrees, swing the arms in alternating fashion, keeping them directly in the “slot” position on the sides, making sure the hands come to face height and go past your hip. Start slow, then pick up speed during the drill, focusing on perfect form.
The core must be strong and stable to maintain a tall position throughout your run. Core exercises such as planks and glute bridging are essential for keeping the torso strong.
For a complete core workout, check out this article from Elsbeth Vaino at Girlsgonestrong.com
Avoid over striding, which means your foot is striking well in front of your body. When you over stride you are essentially stopping yourself each time your foot strikes the ground, causing massive stress to the joints. Keep the feet underneath your body, avoid “reaching”.
** If you feel excessive pain in the ankle, knee and/or hips it is possible that you are over striding, or heel striking (coming up next)
*** Check for over striding by filming yourself (phone is fine) at your warmup pace, distance pace and sprinting pace. Be sure these are three different paces, as over striding tends to occur more often as a runner builds speed. If taken from the side, look for your feet reaching far in front of the body. If taken from head on, look for lots of space between the ground and your front foot. This is a key indicator that you are over striding.
*** If over striding is an issue for you, incorporate marching drills into your pre-running warmup routine.
Yes, they look simple and boring, but do them repeatedly and build speed ONLY when they can be executed perfectly. These will also help to improve foot striking.
Over striding and heel striking tend to go hand in hand (foot in foot?…..) Heel striking can cause significant stress in the joints and lead to lower back pain. The ideal foot strike is mid-foot, keeping the feet under the body and the weight centered, minimizing stress. Be mindful when running as to where your foot is striking the ground, and also check the wear pattern of your training shoes. If the heel is excessively worn down in comparison to the toe, we need to work on shortening your stride and optimizing foot placement.
**If you are experiencing pain in the joints or your lower back, check your form on video and wear patterns on your shoes for heel striking.
*** The same marching drills for stride length can be used to correct heel strike. Focus on hitting the ground with a midfoot strike. As you pick up speed in the drills, and if heel striking is a clear issue, execute the drill with just the toes striking the ground. When you return to normal running midfoot strikes will feel much less awkward.
Did you really think you were going to make it through an article of mine without talking about glutes? Too many runners simply throw their legs in front of their bodies, with no thought of using the powerful glutes to drive the legs. Unlock your power and speed during running by activating the glutes in your warm up and training runs. Having strong and active glutes can also help prevent many running injuries as Plantar Fasciitis and IT Band syndrome can stem from compensations due to weak glutes.
**Bridges, single leg bridges, band walking, and clam shells can all be utilized in your pre run warm up, while squats, deadlifts and lunges should be a staple of your strength training program.
And hills, run them.
If you need to know anything about glute training, you should go here.
https://bretcontreras.com/ he knows a thing or two on the subject.
One last point to make is very simple. Run relaxed. There should not be tension in the neck and shoulders, the hands and arms should flow loosely, and the mind clear. Enjoy the fresh air and being outside. Thrive in the face of a challenge and savor the victory when goals are reached.