Running can be very technical. Experiment with the following things to improve your run. Even slight changes can be significantly helpful, so try some of the following…
First, try to run straight up with a slight forward lean. This will help prevent back strain as well as release tension from your hips. As runners fatigue this is a technique that often starts to slip. Work hard at keeping that back straight and if you feel yourself starting to stoop or carry your weight on your hips it may be a sign to take a quick break.
2. Don’t Leap
My second point is related somewhat to the first; try not to leap forward with each step. Rather, try taking smaller, quicker strides. If you combine not leaping forward with slightly leaning forward, this will reduce your stride length, which in this case will be a good thing. Lean so that you are on the brink of falling forward. This stance should keep your strides smaller and help you to run efficiently.
3. Toe Strike? Mid-Sole Strike? Heel Strike?
There’s a lot of debate regarding what part of your foot should strike the ground when you run. What is quite certain regarding the debate is that landing on your heels transfers much of the impact into your knees and lower back, which isn’t a good thing. My suggestion would be to try to run so that you land on your mid-sole rather than on your heels. Doing so will allow you a smoother transition between strides. This typically helps in preventing some of the chronic muscle issues often associated with frequent running.
Try adding some variation to your run. Instead of only running the same distance, try to mix in different distances. A good place to start with this is to dedicate one run a week to a slower paced, longer distanced run. Then, in order to improve your speed, try to also incorporate interval training into your run once or twice a week. An example of interval training is incorporating hills or sprint training. Here is a very simple formula for interval speed training:
- 200 meter sprints on/every 2 minutes (perform a total of 6-8 sprints)
I had to add this one simply because it’s the coolest name in running. Fartleks are a form of continuous running with intervals mixed right into the running session. They can help significantly to increase speed and endurance. You can do this over a short portion of a run or over the whole thing. Here are 3 examples of a fartleks:
- jog lightly for 1 block, sprint as fast as possible for 1 block (perform this for a certain amount of time or distance)
- if you can find 8-10 (or more) other people to run with, try running lined up in single file.The person at the front of the line sets pace while the person at the back of the line sprints to the front of the line to settle into the new pace.This repeats for a certain amount of time or distance.
- During a musical playlist, commit to jog lightly during the verses, sprint during the chorus, and find a third turbo-charged speed during any musical bridges that come along.
6. Mobilize Tight Muscles
Often runners become tight in the hip-flexors and the hamstrings. In order to increase mobility and flexibility in these tight muscles, simple activation exercises can be performed during a warm-up to get your body ready for movement. There is a difference between traditional static stretching at the end of a workout (which is also a great idea!), and performing these exercises before the workout.
At MyViva, we like the “Wide Squat to Stand”. To perform this mobilization exercise, stand with the feet wider than shoulder width and reach down to grab your toes. Then, squat down as low as you can, bringing your hips as near to the ground as possible, not letting go of the toes. Then, still not letting go of the toes, try to straighten your legs. You’ll feel a stretch in your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Hold straight for 2 seconds, and then repeat 6 more times.
In order to increase mobility and flexibility in the hip flexors, try developing a routine that includes various lunging. Lunging linearly can really help the hip flexors. It tends to create strength in the glutes too, which can become dormant during long runs. Include side lunges, and drop step lunges to activate the abductors and adductors.
7. Activate the Glutes
You really want your glutes to be doing their share of work during running. Without exception, activating and strengthening the glutes is a great way to improve your run. Your back will thank you, and your knees will thank you also.
Learning to perform various glute bridges is an excellent way to activate and strengthen the glutes. To perform “glute bridge repeats”, lie on your back, with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart, approximately 6-12 inches from you bum. Drive your heels into the floor, and contract the glutes excessively hard, as you fully extend the hips, lifting them off of the ground. There should be a straight line on the top of your body from your knees, through your hips, to the shoulders. Hold the contraction extra hard at the “top” of this movement for a full second before smoothly lowering to the floor. Focus very hard on contracting the glutes, almost mentally shutting off the hamstrings and the lower back.
Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions, resting 2 minutes between each set.
You can wisely add resistance to the movement, beginning with dumbbells placed on the hips, and eventually a barbell placed across the hips.
8. Gait analysis
This is where things get technical! A biomechanical gait analysis will help to identify efficiency your running motion. Typically, data is collected by a kinesiologist and various instrumentation and then a plan for improvement is put in place. Check out locations in your city where gait analysis is offered to improve your run.
9. Cross Train
Don’t underestimate the power of developing some power. Good, old-fashioned resistance training can really help to improve your run. Use some dumbells/barbells/TRX/kettlebells/medicine balls to squat, lunge, rotate, plank, bridge, push, pull, press, and curl.
10. Just Go!
Run! Just go! One of the best ways to not improve your run is to stay seated on the couch. Whether it’s a country trail, a city street, or a river valley path, find a setting you enjoy and get moving!