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4 Fundamentals For Your Running Right Now

By Jeremy Lindquist on October 22nd 2013

By Jeremy Lindquist, NSCA Certified Trainer, Coach

A little while ago, Carrie wrote about why incorporating Yoga and Pilates classes into your endurance training is extremely valuable.  The benefits of improving strength, flexibility, balance and coordination, and mental focus are precisely translated into improved running performances.

Below are four fundamental practices that athletes at all levels will benefit from improving the quality of their training, as well as being proactive in injury prevention measures.

1. Dynamic Warm-Ups

It’s common to see many athletes, especially runners, still incorporating static stretching into their pre-workout routine.  The belief is that this warms-up the tissue, improves flexibility, and prevents injuries.

The truth is they don’t. Static stretching (the type where you hold a stretch in one spot without moving) doesn’t cause the muscle to contract or move barely at all, nor does it affect the joints attached at either end of the muscle.  It’s like pulling a bungee cord at both end and expecting it to be a little longer when you stop pulling.

Dynamic warm-ups are movements that mimic the motion of each joint and muscle group, of the lower limbs, during running.  These involve moving the limbs through motions that exhibit flexion and extension at each joint, causing each muscle group to stretch actively in it’s range of motion.

Also, because the muscles and tissues are moving and contracting, they are creating energy and actually warming up.  Plus, when given the time and complete, the extra work on the cardiovascular system is elevated thus causing a rise in core temperature.  So, you’ve addressed the range of motion of your joints, warmed up the tissues, and actively stretched and incorporated some light strength training into your warm-up phase.

Now, the legs are more responsive and your nervous system and mental focus are dialed in as a result.  You’re ready for a great run!

2. Foam-Rolling and Stretching

Foam rolling is a valuable practice that allows you to dissipate tightnesses in your muscles, improve flexibility of a muscle group, improve blood flow through the legs, and help flush out the waste produced by the muscles from a hard running session.

The process of foam rolling is based on a concept known as self-myofascial release therapy.  This practice is done by applying pressure on the tissue of the muscles and forcing it to stretch and release muscle relaxing hormones from inside the muscle fibers.  This process helps break up tough tissue substances like scar tissue or even small knots in the tissue.  Foam rolling can actually help with long-term tightnesses, improve blood flow through muscles, and help remove waste products from the muscles to be disposed of from your body.

Stretching is most beneficial to runners and triathletes in the form of yoga or pilates.  These classes are designed to enhance your awareness and identify areas of tightnesses or limited range of motion so you know where you would most benefit from more stretching.  Also, because these classes are using poses and movements with lots of familiarity and repetition, you can track your progress in flexibility over time with sticking to a weekly routine.

3. Strengthen/Stabilize Your Core

Improvements in your distance running result largely from improvements in the capability of maintaining a balanced posture and holding efficient form.

To maintain posture and improve force development through the dynamic movement of running, you need to improve the strength of your core stability.  This is focused on the deep-abdominal muscles, the hips, the lower back, the butt, the hip flexors, and the groin area.  By improving your core stability, you are able to generate more force through the leg muscles and still maintain an upright and proud posture.

This leads into protecting the spine from shearing and compressive forces which lead to fatigue and ultimately cause your posture and running form to deteriorate.  So if you think of the muscles that connect to each other in effort to hold an erect and tall posture, they protect the spine as if it was a steel beam, and thus allow forces to be dissipated acrossed more surface area in the body and less onto your pliable spine tissue and vertebrae.

Improving your core stability is the single most important factor to address for injury prevention and improving muscular force output.  Our group training classes are all designed to improve this component of strength because it improves performances in endurance events.

4. Speed Up Your Stride Rate

Runners who exhibit great form and typically have less or no injuries have a quick and responsive stride.

Laws of bio-mechanics suggests that maintaining a stride rate of 90 strides per minute, leads to the most efficient balance of reducing ground forces through the foot and leg, and maintaining the best possible pace in return.  Stride rate is defined as the number of steps one of your feet makes contact with the ground in one minute duration.

Runners with lower stride rates than 90, almost always exhibit a heel strike in their form, which causes a short braking force againsts the direction they are traveling, increases the reactive force from the ground through the joints and muscles of the foot/legs, and waste a lot of energy of the course of a few miles.  By keeping a quicker cadence, aka stide rate, you will minimize the forces put on the joints, improve your pace, and exhibit less work on the heart thus improving your efficiency.  So that translates into saving more energy for the later miles and avoiding the beating on your legs from excessive forces.

A tip to aim for that 90 strides per minute or find out where you run at:  while running, count the number of left foot-strikes you take in 20 seconds, and multiply that number by 3. If you fall short of 90, you would benefit from shortening your stride length and getting a higher turnover with the feet.  There doesn’t not appear to be a negative consequence of having a quicker stride rate except for losing some force output and pace. 

There you have it - four easily-incorporated lessons to improve your running form, pick up your speed and lessen your chances for injury.  If you'd like some help getting started, come to the training center for a consult, stride analysis and/or group classes!

 

Jeremy Lindquist - NCSA Certified Trainer, Coach

I've been heavily involved in sports all year round since I could run.  I made 3 MSHSL appearences in three sports and podiumed twice.  Since studying Kinesiology at the U of MN, I have competed in 20+ triathlons from sprints to Ironman, completed 5 trail ultramarathons (including three 100 mile ultramarathons), and many more cycling and running events.  This will be be my fourth year coaching youth triathlon teams in MN.

You can contact me at jeremy@trifitnesswbl.com.