Let’s look closely at the components of getting good form. Most of you have seen plenty of non-examples such as the “plodder”- the person who almost cracks the earth upon landing, the salt shaker-arms flailing overhead, the weak leg syndrome where one leg flails out, and on it goes. Also, consider your age demographic. As we get older, our leg strength deteriorates quickly. Unless, the intervention of strength training occurs, the older person loses leg efficiency and cardio vascular ability quickly. In this discussion I would like to address the forty and above age group; currently the largest demographic of runners.
Five principles of running to help reach your highest potential both aerobically and biomechanically:
1. Get strong. The muscular infrastructure of the body for impact must support landing and leg efficiency. When we address leg pick up; we are talking quad and hamstring strength. When we address good posture, we are talking a strong hip flexors-core-abdominals plus back muscles. Lastly, when we address upper body; we want strong arms and shoulders to support forward movement.
2. To run fast, you must learn to slow down. Slow running; or jogging is sometimes forced upon runners who have a natural faster gait. However, the majority are not aerobically developed with lung capacity giving the runner a continual “out of breath” experience. Slow it down a bit, so that longer distance training can be accomplished. Go more for the mid-foot to toe and just like the shape of a snail, roll up to the toe box.
3. Speeding up. Again, the law of specificity comes into play. To run fast, you must practice faster workouts. To run faster, you must have leg turnover. To run faster and longer, you must have leg economy, leg strength, and a high amount of aerobic capacity. One usually begins track for all three of these outcomes. Track makes us aware of good form, brings upon faster leg turnover, and results in cardiovascular improvements. Good form and faster leg turnover result in more leg economy. Leg economy along with those factors mentioned, allows us to go longer distances. The foot strike, such as pushing off with your forefoot, together with a slight bend at the hips gives us propulsion. Together with foot and leg propulsion, we can gain even better distance economy when the arms are pumping parallel to our body vs. flailing left, right, or into the center.
4. Stretch the muscles. Women have a propensity to supinate or land outside of their shoes due to the hips. Unfortunately, this exaggerated hip landing can lead to future glute pain, IT Band problems, then knee problems, and down the leg it goes. Men have a history of the Achilles becoming painful due to the large gastrocnemius muscle attaching to one of our largest tendons, the Achilles. A tight calf pulls on the Achilles making it progressively sore which can eventually lead to a tear. The obvious solution is to stretch. Unfortunately as we age our muscles get tighter, synovial fluid lessens, arthritis pain increases, and on that process can go. A yoga or specific stretching program for runners does much to avoid these injuries; as does frequent use of the foam roller and monthly massage. Cross training does utilize different muscles, and can delay and lessen many running related injuries.
5. Relax while running. Much of this stems from improper form to match your biomechanics together with faster running then the lungs can handle. The one who runs continually fast probably have tight and tense upper body muscles. This runner must stretch and warm up the arms, the deltoids, and in general the shoulder area. Following a stretching routine, one should practice arm movement relative to their innate comfort level as a runner. The 90 degree angle is certainly useful for pumping up more speed; but the dropping down of the arms will definitely be more relaxing. The arms should gently rub almost next to each respective side of the body and to a certain degree; elbows should come back a bit to allow for forward motion. Keeping the speed easy with long slow distance running will add to a more even and stable flow of leg and arm movement; commiserate with their cardiovascular ability.
Working on each of these principles of training will be of benefit with most sports. Running is addressed specifically in this article but many of you can easily relate and apply the training components mentioned with your current athletic pursuits. Enjoy your quality of movement!