Running Form

Yes….. It is important

As a coach I am always learning and researching better ways to guide my athletes to improved performance and more comfortable running and one of the facets I use is form conditioning. I don’t simply use form training to fix obvious visual issues but actually to fix the unseen imbalances that escape the untrained eye. Think of it this way, swim coaches do stroke correction, cricket players have batting and bowling coaches to improve their form, I scrutinise the running form and look for the delicate issues often hidden, an early footstrike, a slow swing phase. Why should runners ignore these things that could improve their efficiency? To be clear, the running stride itself is incredibly complicated and if it is not properly understood, trying force form change could be detrimental to the athlete. In saying that, improving form is not an overnight fix, it takes months and sometimes years and is NEVER forced. I don’t only focus on all the popular training techniques but also on the those principles that lie on the edge; the neglected kinds of training that if employed into your training plan could be those seconds you need to PB that race or that minute that gets you a better seeding for your ultra marathon. Form conditioning is just a small part of your training but it may make a big impact and it falls into the quality section of your training.

Running is a dynamic movement and there are active and passive movements happening during each phase of the running gait. Simply put:

  • Active means that the muscles are contracting, whether concentrically or eccentrically to initiate the movement.
  • Passive means that the movement is generated via, momentum, inertia, gravity or stretch reflex (Stretch Shortening Cycle – SSC)

Active and passive movements are not exclusive and work together – for instance an eccentrically contracting quad causes the SSC stretch reflex which flexes the thigh, bringing it through the swing phase of the running stride. So…. If these principles are not understood then doing any type of form conditioning could be dangerous and cause the athlete injury.

My form training method consists of two parts:

Drills

The whole running cycle is split up into different cycles but you cannot use drills to improve the different phases since the running cycle is completely dynamic and all the phases are part of each other. I do use drills to improve form, however these do not relate to the gait itself but rather to improving the efficiency of the muscles involved in the running cycle and creating new neural pathways, improving power output and the increase in the number of fast twitch fibres being recruited.

The drills my athletes perform are designed to improve the movements that are involved in running; these involve:

High Speed & Plyometric Drills:
-Increase fast twitch fibre recruitment which not only would improve running speed but muscle contraction speed as more fast twitch fibres are recruited.
– Nervous system improvements, explosive exercises increase power output and improve communication speed between the brain and involved motor units.
– Improved passive movements making for more efficient SSC.

Examples of these exercises – Strides, high skipping, bounding, Jump squats, jump lunges, burpees.

Specific strength conditioning Drills:
These exercises improve the efficiency of running specific movements and are done taking advantage of the part of the exercises that cause the training muscle to contract eccentrically.

Examples of these exercises – High bench step ups, split squats.

Core & Upper Body Strength Drills
An often forgotten part of form improvement is the core and upper body, Since the arms have an enormous part in driving the legs and core an equally large part in holding the body balanced and upright it stands to reason that is these drills should be held in as high regard as the rest.

Examples of these exercises – Beat the drums, lizard crawl, scorpion

Cues

The second part of my form conditioning method is creating cues. Drills alone are not going to help with improving form. Adding cues to your training is about teaching your brain to create a habits so that you, this is why form conditioning is not an overnight fix and yes it is known that is takes 21 days to create a habit it takes the body much more time to create new neural pathways and changes in muscle movements to improve form.

Cues can only be used with movement patterns, for instance, beating the drums is a movement you use in a drill to improve arm movements, therefore a cue can be created to beat the drums during a run. You cannot create a cue using a lunge since you don’t lunge during your runs.

Creating cues in your training is in a sense embedding what your brain has taken in during form drills, for instance running with longer strides and a higher stride rate. An example would be to cue a fast feet to long stride when you see a stop sign and to action the drill for about 100m or when I am on the track with the athletes to cue them to beat the drums or move their arms fast.

In conclusion, form conditioning is another one of those controversial subjects. Does it work? Of course it does, every single one of these exercises will have a part in improving your overall form. The key is really understanding exactly what you want to do and the effect you want from it and yes it is very complicated. What I have highlighted above is as simple as I can go. Don’t just wing it; if you want to improve your form the  consult a professional who can put together a form conditioning and specific strength and core program that will work for you.

As I have said above tampering with form without understanding kinematics could be detrimental to your training.

This is a slightly technical article so if you want more info or guidance please don’t hesitate to contact me and even set up a consultation.

clint@racepace.co.za

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