Over the past few weeks, I have been seeing many runners and endurance athletes across the spectrum wishing to improve their overall performance. Running or exercising with intention has everything to do with having a purpose; you want to ensure you are exercising with the goal of getting the most out of your workout. For example, you should strive for the intention to go "X" distance before taking a rest or going "X" number of pick-ups during my run in order to hit "Y" pace.
Understanding the purpose of every workout and the variability applied will not only keep things interesting but will continue to allow you to move steadily towards your desired result. And, as always, when doing your workouts, you want to ensure you are having some level of fun! (Otherwise, why would you want to do it??? - other than the cookies and the shiny metal given at the end of races).
Every run, whether a leisurely, slow recovery run or a fast, intense race-specific workout, should have a purpose. If it is to just have fun every now and then with some teammates, then so be it. That is still a purpose!
Many clients have asked me for advice on techniques to improve their running form. As an endurance athlete, I constantly ask myself this question as well. Lately, I have been making more of a conscious effort to enhance the efficiency of my own form as I look to get back into competing. Regardless of how good you get, there is always something you can improve upon.
Over the years, my personal running style has evolved, allowing me to run with greater efficiency and power. This is something I suggest for all my clients to implement as well. During the off-season, I encourage them to take the time to get to the deep root cause of why they did not perform as well as they had hoped (in additional to examining all of the AMAZING things they accomplished).
From there, try to figure out how you can improve for next year. Examples of such improvements can be taking a few seconds off your time, staying injury/pain free by getting your running form checked out by a professional, and/or looking at what lifestyle changes may be needed to make your training more consistent and effective.
Personally, this past season, I have been working on improving my baseline cardio by doing more long, slow runs while gradually improving my overall speed at the shorter distances (yes, both are possible at the same time - your focus must be on the right things). I am more conscious of my form during these slower runs and making sure to stay proficient throughout with each step. And most importantly, I have intention with each run, no matter if running solo or with a group.
For the upcoming season, I’ve been focusing more on improving the recovery phase (or the swing phase) of my running gait. What is the recovery phase? This important but often neglected part of the running can be a much-needed area of attention for getting "FREE speed." I will get into that a little later.
First, we need to define what the recovery phase means. This phase is anytime from the point that your foot leaves the ground to just before your foot hits the ground again. The chances someone can injure themselves or experience pain is least likely to happen during this phase. HOWEVER, this should be an area of attention for most runners as this is what I like to call the "set up phase” for this determines how and where your foot hits the ground and how forces interact with you throughout the rest of the body. This is where I find a majority of the top 5 common running errors get started.
Top 5 Common Runing Errors
We have heard this many, many times. STOP OVERSTRIDING!!! Right? I have encountered many people who think they don't overstride but when I record their running pattern and play it back for them in slow motion, they see that they are in fact overstriding. In essence, overstriding is where the initial contact of the foot with the ground (regardless of heel, mid, or forefoot contact) is anterior or in front of the center of the body's weight with or without a flexed knee.
Having a flexed knee is preferred to a extended one as it can bleed efficiency and create a loss of energy that could be used elsewhere for propulsion. Correcting this has something to do with the swing phase. If you can get this part right, you will have a better ability to get your foot underneath you and therefore greater level of force distribution throughout running. We will come back to this.
Also quite prevalent, this occurs when your foot makes contact with the ground while all of your weight is placed on the stance leg, thus getting a drop of your hip on the opposite side.
This happens due to a number of things, for example a runner may not be aware of this error, stability and control deficits (i.e. smaller joint stabilizer muscles “being lazy” combined with decreased awareness neurologically of how to control this specific motion at such a rate of speed), and lastly, although rare, neurological palsy or nerve compression.
The first step in correcting this issue is knowing it actually exists, followed by maintaining normal hip position during a slower run (or even when walking) and then incorporating an individualized strength and core training program based on your specific needs.
This occurs when there are transverse or excessive rotational movements due to decreased control at higher speeds or the events that occur between push off due to strength and/or mobility deficits, arm swing body crossing, and circumduction/circular shaped swing phase.
This deviation of running gait appears as if the person is running along a tight rope. Explained in a different way, if you watched them directly from the front that as their rear foot takes off and their front foot lands, they look like they are directly in line with each other. Correction of this deviation becomes more of a complex analysis and determination of movement dysfunction.
Excessive lateral movement
Essentially, this is too much side-to-side movement. As running is very much a forward motion, we should always be moving directly forward so better force can be applied. The more deviation you have in this plane of motion, the greater loss of efficiency present.
This can happen anywhere, whether it’s your arm swing crossing midline to the other side of the body, to your feet landing wider than your hips or keeping your arms held out away from your body. Correcting this one is relatively simpler than the others mentioned above. You just need to focus on how you are moving, making sure to direct almost every motion forward instead of elsewhere.
Being able to lean forward while running is vital as it allows you to get some free energy to "catch" yourself with every foot fall. The issue that may pop up though is from where that lean is coming. If stemming from a slouched posture or bend at the waist, this can actually hinder your run. A true forward lean should be coming from your ankle.
But why does this not happen naturally? Well, like some of the others above, it can be very individual. However, this is generally due to being unaware that you are doing it in the first place and weakness/tolerance to activity forces. Performing appropriate drills that involve this position as well as graded strengthening to your core will ensure effectiveness in this area.
Hopefully, bringing these running faults to light will help you question if you have been doing all you can to be the best you can be. Whether you are currently in pain, or you feel like you could improve your running performance, sit down and examine what could be going on and make adjustments accordingly. If you are not sure where to begin, workout with someone who is more experienced in the sport or speak with a professional who is trained in running like a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
My Own Personal Goals....
Let’s finish up on what I will be working on over the next season. Now, it may not seem like much to some of you but as I’ve been saying throughout, the changes do not need to be major (especially if you have been running for a long time).
Over the years, I have corrected myself in overstriding, pelvic drop, faulty forward lean, and extra lateral movement. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, I plan to focus on increasing knee drive and improving leg turnover. By doing both, I hope to have greater distance covered per stride while still maintaining the same level of cadence, hopefully giving me "FREE" speed.
The hardest part about doing this is that it does require greater strength and stability (both of which I learned quickly when testing out). On my first run, while trying this new change in my form for short durations, I noted greater strain on my hamstrings and soreness the next day (specifically on the left side as my left side does tend to be my weaker side). I had to remind myself, just as I encourage you, to be mindful that this may be a constant and tireless effort. While trying to be a little better every day, you may fall short some days. Though frustration does sometimes set in, this doesn't mean to give up but rather view it as a learning experience
And a major positive from doing this simple thing, I did learn that my speed immediately went from a 7:10/mi pace to 5:50 for the duration I performed without much perceived extra effort. My cardiovascular system was taxed more, but continuing to work at it will improve that as well.
I hope speaking about this topic was helpful for you. If you find that you are dealing with pain or are unhappy with your running progress, please feel free to reach out to us at Ascent Physical Therapy at (516) 387-4669 or click the link HERE to fill out a webform to learn more about how we can help you.