Becoming a more efficient runner is key if you want to keep advancing in the sport.
The teaching of running technique has become popular over the past few years. The top-selling running book of the last several years is Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer, which teaches a quasi-yoga-based style of running that is purported to reduce injury risk. Dreyer has made a thriving business of Chi Running, with videos, clinics, and even a certification program that trains new instructors in the technique.
The Chi Running method is very similar to the Pose running method, created by Nicholas Romanov, which has been around for many years but has really taken off only within the present decade, most recently in CrossFit Endurance training programs as taught by founder Brian MacKenzie.
Once all but ignored, running technique is now the topic of countless magazine and website articles, is taught by a growing number of running coaches, and is intensively discussed on Internet chat forums and actual training runs. Underlying all of this discussion is a gradually spreading consensus that running technique can in fact be effectively taught-that there is an identifiable correct way to run that every run can learn and use to run faster and with fewer injuries. This belief represents quite a departure from the old-school view of running technique from past decades, which held that good running technique was essentially something that you were either born with or not, and that the only way to improve running technique was to simply run and let the process happen naturally.
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There are some running experts who still believe that this is the case. Among these experts is Ross Tucker, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Tucker is not persuaded that there can be a single right way for every runner to run.
In an article on his website, Tucker explains, “My personal opinion is that if there was a way to run faster and with fewer injuries that was guaranteed to work in all people … then it would be discovered by default. It’s difficult to fathom that millions of people, with different body shapes and sizes and leg lengths and centres of gravity and joint angles could fit into one single pattern or technique. Rather, the passage of time would filter out any flaws for each person.”
Tucker believes that individual runners naturally develop the stride pattern that works best for them in the normal course of training, but that this pattern is not transferable-in other words, what works for me is unlikely to work for you.
Scientific research on the teaching of running technique tends to support Tucker’s view. For example, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences reported that the running economy of 16 high-level triathletes was actually reduced (meaning the athletes became less efficient) after 12 weeks of practicing the Pose running method. In fact, to my knowledge no study has ever demonstrated an improvement in running economy or performance resulting from technique training.
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While “global” running methods such as Chi Running and the Pose method might not help runners, there is reason to believe that runners can benefit from making narrow refinements and adjustments to their natural stride. First of all, although the training process itself is perhaps the surest path to improved running technique, not all training is equal. It stands to reason that some ways of training will improve running technique faster than others.
In addition, runners tend to run differently in shoes than they do barefoot, and it is apparent that the shod running style is less economical and more likely to cause injuries than the barefoot style. While actually running barefoot is not an option for most of us, any runner can learn to run in shoes more like he or she does without them and thereby become more efficient and less susceptible to injury.
Finally, as a consequence of all the time we spend sitting nowadays, our bodies have many muscle imbalances that negatively affect our running technique. Working to undue these imbalances will not automatically reverse their effects on your running, but it will make it a lot easier to reverse them through conscious control of your gait.
Let’s now get a little more specific. Here are some concrete tips to improve your running technique by the three means I’ve just described.