“You suck at running, so let ME show you how to do it better.”
Granted I buttered this up, but this is the general gist and message of many run coaches out there.
Here’s the truth – You don’t suck at running. Granted, maybe you don’t practice very often and when you do you feel clumsy as all get out. It probably hurts. Maybe somebody somewhere has told you that you suck at it. It’s no wonder people get up-tight when it comes time to hit the road.
Sucking at running is a loaded term. The word “suck” suggests you’re you’re doing something wrong, and what’s worse, that you really should know better. You should know what good looks like. So, either you willfully and obstinately ignore it, or you are too lazy to care. Either way a judgement is passed. So let’s not go there. Let’s recognize the common running attitude for what it is, and then work to improve that a little bit more.
Maybe you hate running, so let me show you how to hate running less.
1. You don’t know what “strong” is.
Running technique is a tough nut to crack. There’s a lot of variables to look at, and when you geek out, it’s just as complex as your one rep max snatch. So let’s start with the most universal cue across virtually all sports: good posture.
We can go very deep into the intricacies of proper alignment and positioning, or we can just say for now to “stand up straight, squeeze your belly and butt”. Et voila, you’re already vastly improved from your shoulder slumped self.
What does it mean to be strong as a runner? It means being able to finish your run the way it started, i.e. with good posture. And you better believe this applies to all running, whether it’s a marathon, your first or fiftieth 5km, or the final mile of the infamous CrossFit workout Murph.
As we fatigue, we lose connection and stability in our spine as well as the fine motor control to keep our body moving like the precision tuned race car we want it to be. Our shoulder round forward and our elbows flare out affecting our arm swing and our landing. Our feet land heavy, our breathing is off. Basically everything falls apart. Then someone else says we suck at running. And there we go, back to square run.
How best to turn this ugly running ship around? We need some focus and attention on a few key things with your running technique and with your running mindset. Enter running tips 2 through 5.
2. Your arm swing
Ok this is one thing that we can say most likely does suck, but it sucks because we don’t understand it or we try to make it too perfect. Our arms play a huge role in counterbalancing and resisting the crazy amounts of rotation created in the hips and the legs. The faster we run, the bigger the stride, the greater the rotation our arms have to resist, and the bigger the arm swing as a result.
But while this willfully exaggerated arm swing works great for sprinting, it doesn’t give us that more relaxed and nuanced endurance gear. Focus on keeping your elbows bent approximately 90 degrees. Standing tall with good posture will make it easier for you shoulders to relax and for you to very lightly drive your elbow behind you with each quick easy stride.
But once again, as you fatigue, your shoulders stiffen up and your arm swing goes away as does the rest of your running. The best way to beat this? Focusing on your cadence and rhythm! Enter tip 3.
3. Your cadence is low
A key component of running speed is not just your stride length but your stride rate. Yes, for you POSE-ers out there, “degree of fall from the hips” increases, but what do you think happens to that stride length via greater hip extension?
While there isn’t one magic cadence number to shoot for, there certainly is a range that most good runners find themselves in, which is usually somewhere between 90 and 100 steps per minute on one leg (read 180 t0 200 total steps if you want to count both feet).
Most of us fall woefully short of this mark. What’s more, for those of us who start with good cadence, it starts to drop as we fatigue. It usually drops because as we lose our posture, we lose our ability to stay relaxed in the right places, which in turn stiffens up our shoulders and arm swing. Remember, our arms help counterbalance our legs. So if our shoulders are stiff as all get out, then our cadence is going to suck.
If our cadence sucks chances are we’ve entered into the fun world of over striding, heavy landings, beat up knees, and poor performance. Download a free metronome app, invest in a physical metronome that audibly “beeps” at your to maintain a certain rhythm, and change your running experience for the good.
4. Your breathing is off.
Ever had to stop on a run with a painful side-stich before? It’s often a result of your powerful diaphragm going into spasm and cramping up. This happens because as a society we undervalue the truly potent stress relieving performance enhancing benefits of proper deeper belly breathing. Breathing really does tie our running and (insert any human endeavor together).
Further, pulling that sweet oxygenated air deeper into our lungs with every breath give us more gas in the tank with each stride. And not only do we not burn out and fade away, we’re engaging the deeper abdominals that play a crucial role in stabilizing our hips. Read less wobbliness and greater, easier hip extension for faster easier running.
It all starts with simple breathing awareness and with connecting your breath with your movement. In this case, your breathing can and should rhythmically match your cadence.
Remember: if Indian yogis, Tibetan monks, and Bruce Lee all use breath to get that much closer to some form of enlightenment, maybe we should do the same!
5. You don’t love it.
There I said it. If running remains this painful thing that people tell you you suck at and you always hate, you will always hate it. And you will never get better at it. And you will never get better at it because you never give yourself the opportunity.
We’ve seen this truth in every athletic endeavor. What do I mean? Show up every day, listen to your CrossFit coach, work hard, high five your friends, repeat. Granted not every workout’s “fun” but you keep coming back because doing stupid hard with friends always beats doing them alone. Guess what happens after a while? A couple months later you’re magically stronger, more mobile, and moving more gracefully. Yes your coach plays a big role here, but even more so do those high fives after class.
You attained all of these incredible things because without realizing it you committed to the process. In fact you loved the process of showing up every day and enjoying what you did, and chipping away in the process.
Running is no different. All the running tips and running knowledge in the world will not be able to overcome you not practicing said running tips and knowledge. But as soon as you start showing up every day, working hard, and high-fiving your friends after, some magical things start to happen.
You might even start to love running. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.