Think running is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other? Regularly moving at a pace faster than a walk is just the beginning to mastering a healthy running form.
Niggles in your feet or joints are often caused by the repeated unnatural impact of the foot with the ground. Running barefoot can elevate your awareness of how hard your heel is striking the ground. Try it on grass or carpet for 20 seconds or so at a time, to get a feel for your natural stride. Optimally, you’ll land on the ball of your foot, minimising impact and maximising forward propulsion as you push off. Get expert input on appropriate footwear to suit your natural gait.
Cross-training keeps things interesting. Be sure to include strength work. “When running, each of our legs alternates between stance and swing phase,” says physiotherapist John Silcock. “Stance phase is all about providing a stable base from which the opposite leg can be propelled forward. Improving balance, core muscle strength and endurance in single leg weight-bearing is important for runners seeking to cover more ground with less effort.”
Measure your cadence, or stride frequency, by counting your steps for 15 seconds then multiplying by four e.g. (45 steps in 15 seconds) x 4 = 170 strides per minute. Monitor your cadence, and notice where it drops, and why. An awareness of cadence will help you recognise if you are taking too long a stride or pushing yourself too far beyond your current level of fitness and conditioning. Try increasing your cadence to see if there is a corresponding efficacy of movement. You can gradually work towards a higher stride frequency.
Leaning forward is the best way to move forward, but that lean should start from your ankles, not your neck. Look ahead, with your ears in line with your relaxed shoulders. An open chest will allow you to breathe deeply and fully. If you feel your upper body tensing up during your run, loosen yourself up with a few shoulder rolls and some arm shaking. Run with your arms resting easily at a 90-degree angle, elbows close to your body, and open palms rather than fists. Pumping the arms can be useful for a spurt of speed or to power uphill. Try to keep your knees in line with your hips, and have your foot hit the ground directly under your knee. Utilise the basic mindfulness technique of the body scan, systematically looking at each area of your body, relaxing and adjusting your posture as you go.
If you are planning to run long distances, you need to train your body for endurance, conditioning your aerobic system in order to maintain pace for extended periods. Don’t overdo it to begin with: add half a dozen hill sprints to your weekly run routine, perform a few 100-metre accelerations from standing to full pelt on the local oval, or push yourself to a fast finish at the end of your long easy run.
Purchase an exercise roller, or use a full water bottle to work out post-run tightness in muscle areas such as calves or thighs. After your run is the best time to stretch too, and try Toega, or toe yoga – Google it, it’s a thing!
This article was originally published in Issue 13, Kindness Every Day