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3 Ways to Optimise Your Running Experience
People often say it’s like marmite: you either love running, or you hate it.
Like you were predestined to either enjoy it or not enjoy it.
But that’s not true.
At least for the vast majority of people (and probably you too)
Everything you do, you do for a reason right?
Even if you aren’t 100% aware of what that reason is, if you looked deep enough, you find out why you dit it, wouldn’t you?
So if it was simple enough to just eliminate that reason for you not liking running, you’d like it, right?
And if you’re one of those smart-arses that said no to that, all I’d ask you is ‘why?’
Followed by ‘and what if we eliminated that reason?’
And so on and so forth, until we had eliminated all your reasons.
Granted, not all reasons are simply changeable or eliminateable (let’s just pretend that’s a word), but for those that are..eliminateable..we’re going to find a way to do that.
So, in this article, I’m going to take you through each of the main reasons why people dislike running, and eliminate them one by one.
And for those of you who DO love running already, you’ll also get some great content from this as I go through a few FAQs on the subject of optimisation.
Before I get started, it’s worth noting that not all of what I recommend here is suitable for everyone and, although I will try to clarify who it is and isn’t suitable for, you should ask a physiotherapist, running technique coach or movement coach before applying anything at all (not just stuff from this article).
It’s such an unappreciated thing in running; to actually practice the right mechanics for you. In almost every other area of your life (and in exercise) you take time to ensure you’re doing something properly and you take care about the effectiveness of your method; so why are we so anti-technique with altering the way we run?
We look for all the best shoes, gadgets, clothing, supplements, drinks and all sorts, but never at the variables that we are creating.
Almost every runner picks up an injury in their career, and the vast majority of those injuries could have been avoided had they just adopted the appropriate method for them.
That may seem like quite a bold statement, but when I found the data to confirm it, it didn’t surprise me!
Running creates forces of around 3x your bodyweight every time you land. Imagine that. Triple your bodyweight landing on one leg with poor technique… you’d be kicked out of a gym if someone saw you doing that on a strength exercise! So imagine doing that 140 times every minute (the average running tempo).
So here are some common errors I see in my running clients and the methods I take with adapting them:
1. Knee Valgus – that’s a very common term in the context of squatting, but far too often is it dismissed with runners. Knee Valgus is where you break the alignment of your ankle, knee and hip by letting your knee roll inward.
A good knee alignment is where you can draw a straight line from ankle to knee to hip. 9 times out of 10, when a runner first comes to me, I see their knee roll in, and it’s because of a lack of activation of the glutes (butt muscles). Here’s a simple trick to wake up your glutes before you head out for a run.
– Press hands against a wall (keeping arms straight)
– Bring one knee up to your chest (similar to a calf stretch)
– At full force, drive that foot down into the ground, tensing the butt cheek, and at the same time pulling the opposite knee up to your chest.
Cycle through that 10 times on each leg before you set out for a run and try to be aware of your knee position when you land in each step.
2. Hunched Back – pretty obvious one to spot and pretty obvious that it’s not helping with your run. You’re collapsing your chest cavity and compressing your lungs, putting more weight into the front of your stride (decelerating), taking impact onto an unprepared spine & hips, relaxing your core (making less muscles do more work). Posture is rarely as simple as repositioning your spine, hips and shoulders and often has its reasons for being a certain way. Regardless though, it is still worse than being in a ‘correct’ posture and however long the process takes is however you should stick at a carefully and intelligently formulated postural correction program for. Here’s a quick tip for putting your posture into better alignment for the short term.
Imagine that you are a puppet on strings, being constantly elevated up and therefore being in the most upright position possible. Simple.
3. Overreaching – As much as the other 2 make me cringe, they don’t compare to when I see someone sling their leg miles out in front, only to then crash all the weight onto it, in the opposite direction to which it’s currently going. It’s a biomechanical disaster and yet it’s so so common to see in sloggers and endurance runners. In short, if you’ve ever pulled a hamstring when running, this’ll be the cause. You’re extending your hamstrings to the peak of their reach and having no other choice put to pull that heel into the ground, back toward you, to pull you over it. If you still don’t quite understand what I mean, just take my word for it and then follow this easy rule. Cadence. It’s the most powerful tool in this instance and you must make sure that it’s at a minimum of 120bpm. You might argue and say ‘well what if someone goes really slow? Surely it’s better for them to drop their step speed?’ and my response to that is ‘well if they’re going that slow then they’re not running’. To make sure you step frequency is up to scratch, get a playlist or a metronome that has a beats per min of at least 120 and make sure your step pace is keeping up. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, the average person should be running at around n140bpm, but the shorter-legged individual should aim more toward 160-180bpm to keep up with those lanky fellows that seem to float their way past you with ease.
ROM is the abbreviation that is short for Range Of Movement, and basically means the amount of movement you have at a joint. The reason why we don’t just say flexibility, is because there may be other limiting factors to your ROM than simple the length of the muscle. In context of running, if you have a shorter range you will go faster but will tire out quicker (you’ve probably seen those people at the start line who think it’s a sprint and then a minute later you go past them?). This interrelates very closely with technique and neither should be addressed without first considering the other. If you were in front of me, asking if you had sufficient ROM to run effectively, I would take you through some mobility tests to see where you’re lacking and then progress to see what is required to alleviate it. But we don’t have the luxury right now. So here’s a basic look at joints that have the most impact on running technique and what methods should be implemented to improve them.
Hamstrings – these are the big muscles at the back of your upper leg and are responsible for making your knee joint bend and bring your heel toward your bum. Based on that description, you can probably appreciate how involved these muscles are in the mechanics of running, especially if you’re a ‘heel striker’. If this muscle is short, you have two problems coming at you. Number 1 is that you can’t fully extend your leg and therefore have to shorten your stride, and number 2 is that you have far less tolerance to heavy impacts in the extension of the leg (i.e. heel striking).
To dramatically increase your hamstring mobility, use a little trick called MFR (or myofascial release) where you apply pressure into the thickest muscle fibres in the hamstrings, and then bend and extend on the knee joint. If you get this right, you’ll feel an uncomfortable (and yet somewhat satisfying) pull down the length of the muscle as you reach each either end of the movement. Do this for 30 seconds and then drop into an assisted deep squat (hold a solid surface and sitting onto your heels).
Calfs – Like the hamstring, the calf muscle (real name is gastrocnemius) is a very big and dense muscle in the back of the leg, but this muscle is located in the lower part of the leg. Its job is to help you point your toes downward (plantar flexion). This action happens every time you step, whether you’re walking, running or sprinting. It’s used significantly more by forefoot strikers, but is still a very important muscle in the heel striking technique, and you’ll definitely notice the difference between running with short and long calfs.
Just like with the hamstrings, the calfs can be release via MFR. To do this on the calf, go into a seated position on the floor with the chosen leg extended and the other bent in. Lay the lower part of your chosen calf onto a rounded surface (rolling pin, snooker ball, foam roller) and perform circular rotations on the ankle. Do 5 each way before proceeding higher up the calf and performing the same routine.
Hip Flexors – If you sit a lot (more than 6 hours per day), I’d be amazed if you didn’t have short hip flexors. The hip flexors are found at the front of the upper thigh, where the leg inserts into the hips, and it is responsible for closing the gap at the front between your thigh and your torso (i.e. flexing the hip). When running, this is the muscle that will pull your trailing leg through and in front, ready for the next stride. Although it doesn’t necessarily affect the pull of the leg forward having short hip flexors, it affects the extension of the leg and therefore the position of your pelvis. Having a poor core alignment and lack of range for each stride will shorten your gait and make running a very damaging activity for your spine.
To release the hip flexor in the same way as the calf and hamstring, lay on your front with the chosen leg’s hip flexors (slightly to the outside of the front of the hip joint) onto your cylindrical object and then bend and extend on the knee joint. This is probably the least comfortable of the three, but it’s equally as important as the previous two (so suck it up). Do this for 30 seconds and, just like with the hamstrings, drop into a full depth squat, with a support to hold onto to stabilise you.
In the post I put up on facebook for deciding what subjects to cover with today’s article, I got a response from someone asking about pre and post run nutrition; a very complex subject. But not to worry, I’m only going to cover the basics and then have you on your way, performing better than ever before!
Here are some simple things that everyone should be aware of before they set out for a run:
a) hydration – if you’re not fully hydrated then your body won’t let you exert yourself to the same level or burn through your fuel stores as effectively. Daily, you should be having at least 1.5 litres of water, but I would argue that this should be more like 2.5 litres for optimisation. Out of the 2.5 (it’s not as hard as you’re making it out to be), take 500ml in an hour before, and another 250ml half an hour before. Post workout, you should at least get through one pint (of water!), unless of course you didn’t work hard enough to sweat (in which case, back out there you go!).
b) vegetables – I know that most of the advice you get with nutrition is regarding calories, carbs, fats and proteins, but guess what has dramatic effects on your ability to absorb and utilise those nutrients? Vitamins and Minerals! And where do vitamins and minerals come from? Fruit and Vegetables! Now I could include fruit into this, but I don’t think it’s as important (or neglected as much) as veg. You can look at guidelines and superfoods and specific nutrients that are needed most, but it’s a waste of time that could be spent preparing and eating vegetables! Just eat the stuff! All the time! In large quantities! It will lower your calorie intake, improve your metabolic function (I can provide studies on request), and just optimise everything in general. I’m not going to recommend a certain quantity or type of veg, just get in as much as possible, in as much variety as possible, as often as possible. No excuses! Even at breakfast.
c) protein – do you need me to go on about the role and importance of protein? Just believe me when I say IT’S IMPORTANT. Hopefully, you won’t get to a stage where you use it as fuel (it’s the backup of the backup of the backup), so obviously make sure you are consuming sufficient amounts of carbs and fats throughout the day (just your regular amount), and then let’s look at protein. Practically every protein supplement company wants you to believe that protein timing is essential and you MUST get a big dose of protein in instantly after a workout, but they’re playing on words there. Yes, your body needs protein the most straight after a heavy effort, BUT (and this is the most important part), it makes no difference whether that protein has just entered your system or is already cycling round. Just by ensuring you get the right amount of protein day in and day out, will give you enough stores to utilise at the recovery stage.
So there you go, 3 ways to optimise your running experience and some examples on how to execute each.
Like I said, this isn’t concise and doesn’t cover every facet of the issues, but it goes you some tools to implement and hopefully gets you to see the value in doing things properly.
If you want to seriously start looking into the problems with your technique and what might be causing them, make sure you come see me for a Running Technique Analysis and I’ll give you all the information you need to start strengthening your weaknesses and optimising your strengths. No more injuries, just lots of PBs! Click here to find out more
And seems we covered nutrition, it’s worth mentioning that I offer nutrition coaching sessions where we can breakdown your diet and find easy ways to improve on what you’ve got, and design a development program that will allow you to en joy and sustain the best diet for you. Click here for more on that
Thanks for reading and if you want any more advice or have any requests for what I write about next, just pop it down in the comment box below.