Running is a skill, so treat it that way!
It is actually one of the most complex natural movements that we learn as children. Running upright is also one of the things that defines us as humans. Growing up, we pass through what are called developmental motor milestones in specific stages. We learn to roll, crawl, creep, walk, and squat before we learn to run. The ability to run comes at a predictable time for most children, and it happens through motor learning via trial and error, repetition, and consistent exploratory practice. Running is a very natural human movement, but one we start to quickly lose when we stop using it. It appears when children first learn to control their bodies well enough to prevent ground reaction force and gravity from interfering with their ability to balance and stabilize. Running takes skill and practice to be highly efficient at. Efficiency means decreased injury risk, less wear and tear, and ultimately better performance. Running needs to be treated as more of a skill…and like any skill it requires consistent conscious practice and repetition to master.
Key points to improve running efficiency and skill:
- DON’T OVER-STRIDE: Shorten your strides up, it will make a huge difference if you are currently over-striding. The ankle shouldn’t land in front of the knee when you are taking a stride on the leg that is coming down. This is essentially like running with the parking brake constantly on, and sends a massive amount of impact up through the ankle, knee, hip and spine.
- HIGH STRIDE RATE: Related to the first point, shortening up your stride length means increasing your stride rate. This can feel somewhat foreign at first, but a high stride rate is the key to being efficient (when at jogging/running speeds, sprinting is a different story). Think short and springy.
- AIM FOR A FLATFOOT STRIKE: Avoid heel striking when you run. It is easy to get away with when you have ultra cushioned and supportive shoes, but it still sends huge impact forces up to other joints in the body. Aim to strike with your foot already in the process of moving backwards, with midfoot to forefoot contact (this depends on speed again, so slow-moderate speeds = more midfoot, higher speeds = more forefoot)
- POSTURE: Posture matters as a runner. This means having mobility in the right places and stability in the right places. Think of maintaining a good posture through the entire torso. Think about having a relaxed upper body. Relax the arms, shoulders, neck as you reciprocally swing the arms while running.
- RUN SOFT: Think about running quietly, softly, and smoothly. All too often people continuously slam away at the ground, creating huge inefficiencies and more impact through the body. Be mindful of your stride, how you land, and how soft you are being. Try running without shoes for even 20 feet, this will guide you on how soft you should be landing (even with shoes on).
Prioritize QUALITY over quantity.
Running often isn’t given the respect it deserves. Many people choose to jump into running right away and treat it as something that anyone can do to start shedding pounds or exercising. Here’s the thing…anyone can go out and run, but not many can go out and run with crisp technique and efficient bio-mechanics (no matter what distance is being run). All too often, quantity is prioritized over quality. Quality is what matters most. Quality equates to efficiency, decreased injury risk, and better overall performance. The skill of running is only improved with practice. Every time you go out running you have a chance to work on this skill and the quality of your running technique. Forget about the distance, and use quality to determine your distance when training. When quality starts to be compromised, your run should end. In addition, pure skill practice at much lower distances is a great way supplement to your training. Practicing in a park is a great way to perform sets, with each set trying to improve upon the mechanics of the last. Take those shoes off for additional skill practice, but make sure to start VERY slowly. Barefoot running even for very short distances can show you a lot about your mechanics and level of efficiency!
Future posts will get into more detail on the topic of running. For now, take this into consideration no matter what level of running you do. The injury risk for runners continues to climb, and this shouldn’t be the case. Do your part to make sure running is a safe and effective training tool or sport