Welcome to the latest edition of “Workout Wednesday” when each week I share a new running workout or strength training for runners exercises. Today we are discussing an often overlooked, yet essential part of running: skill development.
Running is a low barrier to entry exercise—All you need is a body and a pair of shoes, and you’re on your way to becoming a great runner. While this is true, do not overlook proper running form and skill.
Repeat after me: running is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Even if, especially if, you’ve been running for a long time.
New runners have an advantage when they learn to run correctly in the beginning. Experienced runners often have to do the hard work of undoing years of incorrect movement patterns.
If you run with poor mechanics, your body will adapt to those movement patterns. The body will usually work out a way to keep moving forward, even if it is in a less than ideal way. It can lead to muscle compensations, which means the correct muscles are not doing their job, or the muscles are not working together as intended. It can result in a slower pace, muscle imbalances, alignment issues, and ultimately, injuries.
If you’ve ever seen an elderly person walking with an exaggerated hunch back, this is likely an example of muscle compensations. When the body was not able to move with an ideal posture, it made compensations that resulted in a hunched back. It’s not ideal, but the body will usually find a way, however inefficient, to keep moving.
One of the reasons injuries are common among runners is that most runners keep adding miles without adding skill development.
If you zone-out on the run and your form deteriorates, your shoulders may roll forward; you’ll look at the ground, and have inefficient arm movement, all without realizing that every step with poor form increases your risk of aches and pains, injury, and slows your potential pace.
If your knees or hips hurt before, during, or after running, chances are poor running mechanics, and weak or underused muscles are to blame.
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To improve your running mechanics and form, you have to be willing to take a few steps back. If you’re married to the idea of a six-mile training run every other day, or if you’re in the middle of a race training cycle it will be challenging to ingrain new habits, because when your mind wanders, you’ll go on autopilot right back to your old ways.
Practice with just two or three quarter-mile repeats with rest between to reset form each time. Once you can complete a quarter mile workout with perfect form, you can increase the distance slowly over time, just like you did when you first started running. Slow progression in mileage yields the best results. You must be willing to take two steps backward to improve ultimately.
Mindful running is essential while you improve your form and technique. When retraining the body and mind, every step must be purposeful. Stay focused. Every step made with improper form or technique reinforces old bad habits. Every proper supports more efficient running. The more you practice correctly, the sooner you’ll progress, but be aware, it can be a long process to retrain the body and mind after years of bad habits. You can’t expect to undo five years of improper movements with one week of retraining.
FIVE FORM CORRECTIONS TO IMPROVE RUNNING
When I observe other runners at a race or see someone running through my neighborhood I often notice the same form deviations. Here are five form corrections most runners can make to instantly improve their running performance:
Always look ahead, not down at the ground. If your shoes come into your field of vision, you’re looking the wrong way!
Keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle and only allow them to move forward and backward, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Do not let your arms to cross over the front of your body or flare out to the sides. (In other words: don’t run like Phoebe Buffay)
Lead with your hips, keeping your shoulders and hips aligned.
Keep your shoulders down and back, away from your ears.
Land your foot under your hips, not out in front.
I’ve been learning the Pose Method of Running. The best way to learn something is to teach others, so I’ll tell you about what I have been learning so far.
In the Pose Method, the gait cycle moves through three actions.
Balancing on one leg, with your foot flat and your weight on the ball of your foot, lift your ankle in line with your knee--this is the pose position.
The fall uses gravity to move forward with minimum exertion. Starting in the pose position, fall forward with your shoulders aligned over your hips, using gravity to move forward.
As your front foot makes contact with the ground landing under your hips, pull your back foot to break contact with the ground and return to the pose position on the other leg.
Sounds easy? It’s not. It takes focused practice. Is there more to it than that? Yes. I recommend this book to learn more and for additional drills and exercises.
When you’re running, it’s often difficult to perceive your form. Am I doing it correctly? Probably not at first.
I discovered that even when I thought my form and technique were correct, I learned by filming that I was making mistakes I couldn’t observe in my run.
I sent up a mini tripod at the track and practiced running 50 meters past the camera. I reviewed the footage in slow motion, found the mistakes in my form, and practiced improvements. Again, this takes time away from running, but it’s worth the effort. Your training focus must temporarily shift away from how many miles you can run during a session.
Film, review, make corrections, practice, rinse, and repeat.
One of my favorite ways to practice this new skill is with a resistance band around the hips (aka the poor man’s treadmill - haha). I have found the fall is the most challenging concept of the Pose method. The band looped around the hips and secured to a sturdy object allows you to practice the fall without fear of falling flat on your face.
TRY A TABATA- STYLE SKILL PRACTICE
You can download a free Tabata app on your phone to help time the intervals.
20 seconds of running in place with a resistance band around your waist secured to an object behind you.
10 seconds of rest to reset form
repeat for four minutes
Are you willing to set your ego aside and practice a skill?
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Questions? I’d love to help.