Updated: Apr 12
Now is a great time to get into running, it's free, effective and can be fun when you get to know how it's done... Running techniques by Mark McIntyre of The Raw Gym Ballymena and Bootcamping Belfast... Running is the most accessible form of fitness available to most people, you can run for the bus or last orders, or even run for fun, run in the rain, in the daylight or at night, in short, you can run pretty much any time you like.
Jargon is kept to an absolute minimum in this blog, so, read on, enjoy and if you're local enough, come down to The Raw Gym in Ballymena, if not, then give me a buzz on Zoom and see how a refreshed approach might help you.
If just one of the lessons below helps you, then you've gained :)
Foot placement The way we plant our feet changes as we increase speed, or rather, the foot position should change... if we liken part of the feet as speed zones I can describe this really easily. 1. The Heel - First Gear Used for walking Aerobic The inbuilt braking mechanism in each step via heel striking. Maximum stability 2. The ball of the foot - Middle Gear Used when jogging (gently) Aerobic up to and including anaerobic threshold Foot placement plays a critical role - many people continue heel striking thus braking. Slightly less stable
3. Front of the foot - Top gear Used when sprinting Anaerobic Using the front of the foot provides spring into forwards momentum Least stable as you may have noticed, there is a direct correlation between ground contact and stability, the more ground contact the higher the resistance and slower the movement, but less contact leads to less stability and maximum efficiency... what this tells us is that to run efficiently you need less ground contact, but that's just the beginning.
Warming up Do not stretch before running! This is because stretching starts to fatigue the very muscles that you are about to use thus increasing the chances of injury... If you find yourself having to frantically stretch off prior to runs to stave off cramping then you need to go back to basics and build up again. Do look at the footwear pointers below, hydration and technique.
Anyway.. moving on... Your warm has to be running specific and done a way that when you come to run, it feels very easy! You must warm up your shoulders and your core... it's not all on the legs you know, just a few twisty sit-ups as a switch-on stimulus will do, a few press-ups and shoulder rotations, that's fine... Then the leg bit... this is easy and generally good fun. Start off walking, going forwards, backwards, twisting, turning, hopping, skipping and then repeating that at a slow jog... This tricks the body into a state over preparedness, it stimulates the joints, gets the muscle sensors fired up and start the adrenaline cycle too. After that, running forwards in a comparatively straight line is easy!
Breathing But not just any type of breathing... you must be able to breathe in synchronicity with the demands you're placing on your body, or rather your cardiovascular/aerobic system. You must be able to time your breathing to match the energy-specific demands of your body... At a comfortable rate of running, you are in an aerobic state that you could probably maintain for as long as you chose to... at your comfortable pace the demands placed on your body are barely more than walking at a quick pace... the real trick comes with the desire to run faster. As the pace becomes more demanding, challenging the aerobic system at a higher rate over a sustained period of time, you'll need to breathe differently to meet the demands. One method I use is the foot timing method... that being (up to a point) you time your breathing cycles with the number of strides you take...
A breathing cycle (BC) is inhalation - pause - expiration... keeping it as comfortable as possible...
How this works in practice for you is a matter of fine-tuning, you could go with, for example, every 6 x strides you do one BC (the number may be different) See how this effects at higher speeds The thing is, it really isn't a magic formula, it is, however, something that needs practice and working on in order to exploit your potential.
Mouth or nasal?
This is an area where you get the most conflicting information... there is no hard and fast rule as everyone breathes differently, but one thing to consider is this, if you need more oxygen intake can you widen your nostrils enough? The mouth is a huge air inlet, as your demand increases you need to use it... As and when you are better able to regulate your breathing so at a fast run you feel 'comfortable' then you will automatically default back to nasal breathing, and so the cycle can continue... (running faster again!) For a whole variety of reasons, when you're starting out, nasal breathing is rarely the positive way ahead, but you get magazine articles harping on about it being the only way... well it really isn't. If your Vo2 max isn't what it could be (the gaseous exchange in the capillaries and lungs) then nasal breathing can enhance that efficiency, as can tools such as the power-breathe or other brands of restrictive breathing devices...
A big hole in the front of your face sucks in more air and by default, more oxygen, a restricted intake maximises the bodies use of the oxygen provided.
Starting out When you're just getting into running start off with distances that you almost find laughable... but seriously... a huge part of the psychology of running is winning, I don't mean competing with others but I do mean in competing with yourself. Many would say to start with a walk, but that's not running, lets assumed you've done the walking bit already... what I'm banging on about now is the actual run bit... 100 meters at a time on day one
200 meters at a time on day two 400 meters at a time on day three 800 meters at a time on day four
At the end of your first week, you're running your first mile without stopping
At this stage some people get carried away, resist the urge !
Stay at about a mile for at least two weeks and over that distance practice your breathing and foot placement as well as running at varying speeds (We will get to that later). This is you laying down solid foundations of great technique which will then enable you to run at absolutely any distance you choose, in 'comfort'.
Remember, at this initial stage... Speed and distance are vanity, good technique is sanity Maintaining and building By now you've started to build a solid running foundation... even though you may feel the distance isn't too great, your technique will be vastly improved, and this is far more important. You will now be physically able to increase your distance, set realistic benchmarks and increase the running time knowing that you have trained your body to accept it, so now we have to look at maintaining and building performance.
So, set a benchmark... 1. Choose a location that is flat and always accessible 2. Choose a weather neutral day if possible 3. Measure the distance (Using permanent landmarks is best - keep this the same) 4. Make sure you're comfortable, fueled and hydrated properly 5. Don't panic... this is your first proper timed effort. Once you know how long it takes to run your fixed distance at your best effort then you have a benchmark and all future assessments are based on this run in order to measure your progress. You can now start the process of running further and faster. Try to stay in control of your progress as a sudden jump will compromise your achievements. Half a mile per week is the maximum increase for a beginner, this gives your body time to recover, learn and build while reducing the chance of injury to a negligible quantity.
You might have friends who go on and on about the fact that after 2 weeks they are running 10 miles, well good for them... in a few weeks guess who will be complaining about yet another injury...
Safe progressive training is everything
Now that you're comfortable with your running, set your benchmark and adding distance each week you will be ready to force a shock in your body to cover your distances with more grace and speed, as a consequence, you will continue to enjoy or at least, begin to genuinely enjoy your running. Interval running is a predictable form of speed play.
Walk, jog, run, sprint... so you might do this on a sliding scale. To begin with, this allows some recovery time.
Walk 1 minute Jog 45 seconds Run 30 seconds Sprint 15 Seconds
You would continue that cycle over a fixed distance of a mile for example.
Dependent on how you feel after each cycle (That 1 mile) you can change the times, the better one to change is the walk time, so gradually decrease that by 5-10 seconds at a time.
The overall effect of this is that you train your body to accept a higher average workload, the net effect being running slightly faster with slightly less perceived effort...
Fartlek training Similar to interval training in the way that you adopting that speed play approach to running again, however, Fartlek is for many people, far more interesting and fun, not to mention challenging! This is a much more randomized system of running training, so you still cover the 4 basics. 1. Walking 2. Jogging 3. Running 4. Sprinting But this time instead of going off predictable times you could sprint on each event, i.e., 1. See a red car then you sprint. 2. Hear or see a dog you jog 3. A cyclist goes by then you run 4. See another jogger then you walk. The time for each activity can be decided in advance or you can even randomize that too (Starting with 10 seconds is fair enough though then defaulting back to a jog each time) Plyometrics This puts the spring into your step, a style of exercise that aids those more who are currently running, either competitively or just for fun.
Plyometric exercise is based on fast-moving impact, exploiting the elasticity and shock-absorbing properties of your muscles, then harnessing stored energy to complete a follow on movement.. think jumping on the spot and getting higher and higher as you go.
In essence, you are re-training your body to use that stored energy which is otherwise wasted.
Plyometric exercise over-stimulates the body and can be argued that in doing so enhances your bodies ability to accept shock, i.e., your body copes better with changing surfaces and the demands of hills, not always running up them because you have total control there, but running downhill... think about all the shock as you have to control your speed, loads of wasted energy going on there... likewise, having the ability to bound up hills can be a real energy saver too...
If you're in a running club and you're not doing this, then make sure it gets on the program, it is an essential technique that gives back more than you might think. When to stretch 1. Only ever stretch after your runs and make the stretches worthwhile. 2. Hold each stretch for at east l30 seconds (bare minimum) 3. Avoid ballistic stretching - your muscles are already fatigued and ballistic stretching could cause injury.
Areas to focus on 1. Shoulders, obliques and the tummy have had a lot of work - it isn't just the legs 2. Then hamstrings, quads (Vastus group), calfs. 3. The ankle, evert in invert, dorsa and plantar stretch movements of the foot. 4. I.T band and Abductors (Includes the Glutes) 5. Adductors aka magnus group (Inner thigh) If you have a Personal Trainer or you have complete confidence in a running club member to assist then some assisted stretch would be handy too. Hydration Sports drinks are kinda pointless if you're running for less than an hour (Unless your running very early in the morning and you haven't been able to fuel up properly - but that's a whole new tangent), any more than 60 mins of running then get them down your neck. Water is perfectly fine. Before going for a run though it is always best to be well hydrated and if you feel at all thirsty before you set off then your performance is likely limited. So keep yourself topped up, this is an ongoing thing, hydration states fluctuate at the best of times, optimal hydration states can take days to achieve where the best performance is concerned.
There is the rule of thumb of 2 litres of water per day, bear in mind that this includes moisture from foods, obviously weather plays a part, if your running in very hot weather then this is a good time to adopt an electrolyte drink, but more importantly stay topped up... If you're peeing clear, then you're hydrated.
After a run, there's nothing better than milk! (or a boiled egg, or a whey protein maybe). the perfect recovery drink, if you have an intolerance to milk then try soy or almond milk, you can always fall back on a good sports drink though, basically something quick to get in and packed with nutrients. Your run isn't over until you've recovery fed.
Badly fitted, old or well-worn footwear is the cause of more running injuries than any other single factor, a shame as it's so preventable... Your trainers will only be good for about 200 - 300 miles or 6 months... that is it, after this, they could be worn for sports but not running specific. The reason for this is that the arch support, cushioning, heel support and overall integrity of the shoe degrades over time. Once your feet no longer get the support they may require then this impacts on your gait which affects posture, which effects technique which makes running feel tougher... basically you end up feeling like you hit runners wall when in fact you just need some new trainers! Expensive trainers are not an absolute guarantee of better performance, the amount of people who spend over £100 on a pair of running shoes who then realise that a £40 pair they previously owned gave better support is astonishing... Buy the footwear because they offer support and are comfortable. One of the main impacting factors on choosing the right shoe for you is the composition of your feet, more to the point the arches, your gender makes a difference too! This relates to how your foot interacts with the ground.
Factors determining your choice of shoe...
1. Your foot is overly supinated or pronated - look for arch support 2. the foot is inversed or eversed (as per 1) 3. you wear heels (Make sure your trainer has a step) 4. you wear flats (buy flat trainers or even barefoot runners) Remember that your footwear is as important to you as a tyre is to a car. I hope you enjoyed reading this and wish you the best of luck with your running.
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