Ahhh running.... A word that is often very intimidating for people.
I hear it all the time, "I can't run", or "I'm a really bad runner". The thing is.. just like weight lifting, swimming, or any sport for that matter, running requires technique, skill and training. People often find running hard because they don't actually practice. They chuck on a pair of shoes after not running for months, and try to smash out a 5km run. Chances are, they pull up so sore that they don't run again for another 6 months! For me, running is something I have always loved. I grew up doing little athletics, cross country, and netball; so the skill has come quite naturally to me since being practiced from such a young age. I've never competed in professional running, however I've improved my running over the years through experience, consistency, and education. My goal this year was to improve my fitness and become a better runner (improve pace over distance). We're only 4 months in to the year, and already my running has improved dramatically! So, I've put together 10 of my top tips to improve your running! These are methods and techniques which have helped with my training success over the past 5 years (not 6 months)..
1. General Strength Training - Strength training helps correct muscle imbalances in the body. It's not uncommon for runners to acquire muscle imbalances which means that the body has to work harder (inefficient). A common muscle imbalance is the gluteus medius, which can be caused through prolonged sitting (desk jobs). Prolonged sitting can cause the glutes to become weak or switch off. This weakness hinders your running and can cause running mechanics problems and injuries. So, strengthen your butt!
2. Gradually build up your km's - Ensure you start with short distances and gradually increase your distance with time. Doing too much too soon can cause injury (I've been there). You can put yourself at risk of tendonitis, shin splints, muscle tears, knee pain and stress fractures. So, start off small, and work your way up! Give your body time to adapt.
3. Incorporate different running workouts - Give yourself variety! Don't go on the same route, same distance, and same pace every time you run (base run). Incorporate different running workouts such as hill sprints, intervals, long runs, fartlek, progression run, tempo run. If you don't challenge your body and add a new stimulus, you will not progress!
4. Correct posture - Run tall, relax your shoulders, keep your chest open and slightly lean forward. Keep your head up, and focus on looking a few steps ahead. Don't look straight down - When the head drops, the body follows.
5. Breathing - A common reason for stitches to occur mid run, is because our breathing is not under control. Incorporate different breathing techniques in to your runs to improve your lung capacity. The first focus is to become a belly breather, that is, learn to breath from your diaphragm. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downwards, while muscles in your chest contract to expand your rib cage, which increases the volume in your chest cavity and draws air in to your lungs. By working your diaphragm, it allows the lungs to expand to their greatest volume and fill with the largest amount of air! We need this for running!
6. Change your running surface/ environment - Don't just run on the same surface all the time - Incorporate tracks, trails, roads, grass, treadmill etc.. Every surface is different which adds a different stimulus to the body. Run when its cold, hot, raining, windy! Get the body used to all environments and weather conditions. Again..variety!
7. Accelerations/ Deceleration - Change up your regular routine and incorporate short sprints in to your endurance training on a regular basis. You won't make performance gains if you're always running at the same speed. Your body needs a different stimulus to be able to run faster next time.
Accelerations - slowly but steadily increase your running speed from a recovery pace (conversation pace) to a sprint pace over a distance of 100m..
Deceleration begins with a sprint, and gradually slows down to a jog pace.
8. Land on your forefoot instead of your heels - Avoid striking on your heels first - Landing on your heels stops your forward momentum, and causes excessive stress on the knees. You can't change your foot strike overnight, but you can work up to gradually landing mid-sole (just behind the ball of the foot). This way you can land much more lightly and bounce of each stride, rather than pound the ground.
9. Run for time - Try to improve covering the same distance in less time. For example, set your workout to run for 30 minutes, and see how much distance you cover in that time, rather than just running 5km as hard as you can. As you progress, you will either cover the same distance with more ease, or maintain the same intensity and cover more distance.
10. Dont wear OVER supportive shoes - Sounds crazy, but invest in less supportive shoes - If we rely heavily on support from an external source, then our muscles designed to support the framework of the foot (arches) will eventually fail to do their job, making the foot weaker and prone to injury. Don't throw out your sneakers straight away! Gradually build this up by running short distance with less support.