How do you improve your running style? According to Peter Lee, running trainer, slow down to a walk, working on your posture. Then re-introduce running; little, slowly and often. Listen to your body and push your boundaries gently.
I’m not sure that Pete, who usually trains semi professional runners and ultra-runners, knows what he’s let himself in for when agreeing to dissect my running style. I’m not unfit but I don’t run regularly enough and I (thankfully) have no idea what I look like when I’m running. But after an hour of Pete’s patient and entertaining help I’ve had my running style revised, received great advice and been inspired to get out there more often.
We start with a test. I walk away from him then jog towards him. I jog away from him then run towards him. In a nutshell I’m not moving my arms from the shoulder, and my left arm is doing more than my right, so I’m not symmetrical. My leg kick is too high behind me, wasting energy in a movement that isn’t propelling me along. I need to focus on pulling my sternum up, my stomach muscles in. I need to think symmetry with my arms, pull them further back and move them from the shoulder. I need to calm my kick. And I need to relax.
Back to basics. First thing I teach people is how to walk. We were originally designed to be high mobility low intensity. As civilization has gone on we’ve become low mobility low intensity. But for a few of us we’re low mobility high intensity, which is where injuries start. Bad shoes, hard surfaces, sitting in chairs – our lifestyles aren’t allowing us to develop the proper biomechanical techniques.
Work on your posture. When you walk or run properly, there is less impact on your joints, which means less chance of injury. So when walking, practice sucking in your stomach, keeping your sternum up and your shoulder blades together, and swinging your arms from the shoulder joints like a pendulum. Land heel-toe, pushing off using your glutes.
When easing into a run allow gravity to do the work. Lean forward according to your speed but still keep your sternum up, your shoulders back. Land on the ball of your foot, allow your arms to bend at 90 degrees and move properly. Stay relaxed and slow.
Practice regularly. It’s not just about going to the gym or for a run – when you’re walking, walk intentionally. Every time you take a step it can be exercise. When you’re walking home in your normal clothes no one knows that actually in your own mind you are working on your posture; it’s fitness on the sly.
Try to run five times a week to build up muscle memory and a good foundation. You get far more benefit with small (as little as ten minutes for example), frequent runs. There’s no need to be Mo Farah immediately, you’ll get hurt and discouraged. Remember: high mobility, low intensity.
Start off small. Set realistic expectations. Take the pressure out and put the fun in. Don’t set massive targets. The toughest exercise is getting over the front door step, or in Hong Kong, walking past happy hour. I like to set low bars then if you go above them you’ve done well. Think as little as five minutes. And once you’ve done that five minutes you’ll probably do more.
Start off slow. Walk to get your heart rate going, oxygen pumping to your muscles. Walk-run-walk. Gradually work on being out there for longer, rather than pushing short and fast. Keep it simple and get the basics right.
Focus on 75%. 75% of perceived exertion is where you get the most bang for your buck. The simple target heart rate formula is 220 minus your age, then 75% of that figure. That’s your training mode. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, apply the talk test. If you can have a conversation while you’re running, you’re in a nice cardiovascular zone.
Push your boundaries gently. When you’re ready, run a little further or faster so when you return to your usual distance and speed it feels easy. Recover with an easy run. Then push again. Vary the route and distance too – you stagnate if you do the same thing over and over.
Listen to your body. Know what you can or can’t do. People are like cars: some are Ferraris, some are Golfs, I’m a souped-up Ford Cortina. 75% of your DNA can’t be changed but you still have 25% to play with. If you’re a Golf (and most people are) you can add go-faster bits and become a Golf GTI. But you are still a Golf, so don’t rush out to beat a Ferrari.
- in celebration of earth day