Running Style: Dance! Dance! Dance!

Running training isn’t just about going further and faster. It’s also about becoming smoother and more efficient through improved running style. 

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Sadly, most runners don’t give this a passing thought, even though it can play a massive role in making our running more enjoyable, more aesthetically pleasing (we’ve all checked ourselves out in the reflection of shop windows!), and less prone to injury. And although we are all born with the rough basic mechanics for efficient running, there are still plenty of positive tweaks that should be made.

It’s for this reason that I like to compare running to dancing.

When we pop out of Mum’s tummy it doesn’t take us long to learn to dance. We just do it. However, to join the Royal Ballet or even to conquer some simple salsa steps, it takes a good combo of tuition, mental application, and practise.

Treat your running like you would a dance.

Myself and a handful of other Auckland running coaches provide hands on tuition in running form, but I’ve also put together a little mental checklist below that you can put into practise yourself during your training this week.

Write these four words on your hand next time you strap on your trainers:

1) Relaxed: Why do elite runners look like they run effortlessly? Because they are relaxed. Their hands are held in a light fist (fingers lightly pressed to palms), their shoulders are relaxed back and down, and their breathing is rhythmical and controlled. This reduces tension in their muscles and frees up their body to be focused on forward momentum.

2) Arms: Although your arms don’t directly contribute to driving you forward, they do play a role like a jockey on a horse where almost every movement they make dictates some corresponding movement below the waist. The back-and-forth swing of each arm interplays with the back-and-forth motion of the opposite leg, so the harder you drive your arms, the more your legs will drive.

Similarly, any lateral (side-to-side) motion in the arms, which is often associated with a rotation of the upper torso, can also carry down to alignment issues in the legs. When you’re creating too much of this lateral motion (with arms crossing across the middle of your body), you’re expelling valuable energy that should be used to drive you forward.

3) Posture: A building has its foundations underneath it, whereas a runner has his or her foundations on top. A stable and balanced upper body provides the perfect platform from which your legs can work and in which your lungs and heart can operate. Run with a tall posture (pelvis neutral, shoulders back and down, chin tucked in with an elongated spine) and lean slightly forward from the ankles (think a moderate version Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” lean).

4) Feet: The current hot topic in running is about forefoot vs. heel striking. I believe this debate misses the point. Your foot strike pattern will vary based on terrain, running speed and your own particularly make up, but the important thing is that you land with light feet.

A light step will help to reduce any braking forces that often occur with a heavy, straight-kneed foot strike and it will also help to lower the impact forces that can damage knees and hips. Run with a light step by taking around 180 steps per minute (use music at 180bpm to get in time), practise fast leg drills, and perhaps by shortening your stride so that your foot lands with a bent knee under your centre of gravity (as opposed to in front of it).

Treat your running like you would a dance. Enjoy the feeling of your body making efficient, controlled and relaxed movements, and use this focus on running style to be another distraction from the inner nagging voice telling you to quit.

Happy running.

This is an entry from Hayden’s weekly blog at Stuff.co.nz. Check it out! 

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