Have you ever wondered why you feel more like a lumbering rhinoceros when you run, rather than a gazelle? Have you ever watched the pro’s at the end of a race, finishing with a still smooth gait, while the mid- and end-of-pack often bumble and stumble over the finish line? If you have put time and effort into coaching, special lightweight sneakers, training on track, hills or treadmills, you will benefit from what I have to share with you. Efficient running will get you more speed, and result in fewer injuries when you run.
There are four fundamentals of efficient running:
• Reduced vertical displacement (less “bobbing” up and down)
• Reduced contact time with the ground
• Reduced impact force on landing
• 180-200 steps per minute (cadence)
What? What about the sneakers? What about forefoot/midfoot landing? What about barefoot running? You read that correctly. No mention of sneaker type or landing/take off patterns. Many of the top runners run with heel strike patterns, and still blow the pack away. The further back in the pack, the more heel striking there is, indicating some (small) relationship between speed and landing patterns, but a stronger relationship is between how efficient the faster runners are, and how common the above elements are present in the podium makers.
These 4 elements are inter-related. Lots of vertical height means bouncing as you run, and this increased “float” time means you are moving up and down rather than forward. Increased vertical displacement means you land harder and heavier, increasing demands on your musculoskeletal tissues to shock absorb. Less “bob” means less impact, more forward projection. A higher cadence makes you land with your foot less out in front of you, and more underneath your body, reducing the heel strike impact on landing, and reducing the contact time with the ground. This forces the body to increase shock absorption mechanisms using hip and knee movements, rather than absorbing through the soft tissues of the plantar fascia, hamstring, patellar tendon, Iliopsoas etc. Ever had an injury of these tissues? You might benefit from a review of your running!
Simply increasing the cadence from a plodding 150 per minute to in and around 180-190-200 strides per minute will increase efficiency. Building up over time to a higher turnover will reduce float time, reduce ground contact time and thus reduce impact forces. Better shock attenuation means more efficiency. Some apps (Metronome, Tap Tempo) can help you use your iPhone to get used to a higher cadence. A gait analysis review can help you learn skills to improve your form, and iron out inefficiencies in your stride. Keep these tips in mind for a minute or 2 each mile as you run, or on alternating laps on the track.
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