When it comes to getting fit, losing weight and achieving an athletic looking body, you need to work your whole body. That means training both your aerobic and your anaerobic systems. Training with resistance bands is the ideal way to work your anaerobic (or muscular) system. Combing the bands with running will allow you to also get in a great aerobic (or cardio). This is the first in a three-part series that will allow you to perfect your running technique – and even run your first 5K.
Learning How to Run
You learned to run when you were a toddler. You’ve been doing it ever since. When it comes to becoming a serious runner, however, it pays to pause and check that the way that you run is the right way for you. Running is a skill and learning the proper technique will allow you to do it more efficiently. That means that you’ll be exerting less energy when you run, making the whole process easier. Learning to run properly will also eliminate the risk of strain and injury.
Good runners run tall, that is they are in an upright rather than a stooped position when they run. They have a slight forward lean. Their arms are bent at 90 degrees and pump naturally as they run.
We can consider running as a cycle of actions. It has two main phases; floating and stance. Floating occurs when both feet are off the ground. The stance phase can be further divided into toe off, swing, strike and support phases. Let’s consider these phases one at a time:
To initiate movement, the knee of the leading leg drives forward, while the trailing foot leaves the ground. The power of this movement comes from the Achilles tendon and calf muscle. During this phase, new runners have a tendency to lean too far forward. This has a negative effect on their stride angle. By leaning from the ankle, rather than the hip, you will enable a wider stride angle when driving the knee at toe off.
This is the longest phase of the running motion. Your legs are moving forward through the air, swinging through in preparation for the next foot strike. The hip flexors pull the trailing leg through and the hamstrings slow the leading leg in anticipation of it striking the ground. Be sure to allow your trailing leg to cycle through naturally and that the arms are bent at right angles and rotating from the shoulders. This arm movement will help to set your running pace.
As it strikes the ground, the body absorbs several times its own weight. For proper absorption, the front foot should be slightly in front of the body. The landing foot should also be quite flat as it comes down.
There is much debate over what constitutes the ideal foot strike. Some runners prefer a mid-foot strike on the ball of the foot and heel simultaneously. This transmits the impact force evenly up the leg. Others go with a heel strike, landing first with the outside of the heel, then rolling inward to load the arch. A forefoot strike is typically used by speedrunners, with the landing taking place on the ball of the foot, on the outside edge. Whichever strike you go with, be sure to avoid a heavy landing.
This is the mid-stance, just after the strike. The leading leg is directly under the hips. The body is traveling forward, over the leg in preparation for the next toe-off. The leading foot arch flattens against the ground, as it stores energy in readiness for the next cycle to begin.
Running Technique Summary
- Run in an upright position with the angle originating from the ankle, not the hips
- Keep your head up
- Keep your core tight and your shoulders down
- Your midfoot should contact the ground first (the neutral strike
- Your arms should be moving freely at your sides
Breathing While Running
It’s important to maintain an efficient breathing pattern so as not to overwhelm your body with oxygen intake while running. On the other hand, you need to take in enough oxygen to be able to sustain your energy output. To achieve this, breathe as normally as you can, with deep breathes in and controlled breathes out. Stay upright so as not to constrict the lungs and stay relaxed.
There is no special requirement for what you need to wear when running. Just make sure that you wear clothing that allows for freedom of movement, that your skin can breathe in and that provides adequate protection against the sun.
Many runners can’t do without their portable music player. Studies have shown that those who run to music are able to sustain their running pace for longer. If you do choose to use one, make sure that it doesn’t constrict your running movement, especially the pumping of your arms.
Take your pulse once per week during your running program. This will allow you to monitor how much more cardiovascularly fit you are becoming. As you become fitter your heart will have the ability to pump more blood around your body with each heart-beat. This will result in a lower heart-beat.
Be sure to take your pulse at the same time of day and under the same conditions. A good idea is to check it on a Monday morning just after waking, but before you are out of bed. As the weeks pass, you will see a constant lowering of your pulse rate.
As a new runner, it is vital that you listen to your body. Stop your session when you experience pain or aggravation.
You may be tempted to just get up and run. However, that is not the smart way to go. There are three key reasons why you must warm up before hitting the pavement:
1. It protects you from injury
2. It prepares your whole body for the stresses about to be imposed upon it
3. It makes you a more functionally efficient runner
Your warm-up should begin with 2-3 minutes of power walking. From there step it up to a light jog for about 45 seconds. Once you have com0letely warmed up your aerobic system, it will be time to focus on your anaerobic system. We will do this with dynamic stretching.
Start off with simple shoulder rotations. Move your arms forward in large, windmill-like arm circles, keeping your elbows locked – 5 forward, 5 backward.
Next, warm up the chest and back muscles with flys. Begin with your arms extended in front of you with palms touching. Now, keeping the arms straight stretch them back until they are perpendicular to your torso – 10 reps.
Torso twists are a great warm-up for the muscles of your core. With your arms extended out in front of you, twist the body to the right as you bring your arms around to that side. Focus on the movement of the intercostals at the side of your waist. Do five twists on each side.
Pelvic circles will thoroughly engage the pelvic area. With hands on hips and feet shoulder-width apart, perform exaggerated circles with the hips, going in each direction 5 times. Keep your legs straight throughout this movement.
Perform 5 Deep Knee Squats for the quads and glutes. With your arms directly out in front of you and your back arched, lower yourself into a full squat. Look up throughout this movement.
You’re now fully warmed up and ready to begin your run.
Cooling down at the end of a run is just as necessary as warming up. Cooling down allows your body temperature, pulse rate, and blood pressure to come down you what they were pre-run. Cooling down also helps to recover quicker and to have less post-run soreness.
When your run is over, graduate your pace from a run to a jog and then finally, a walk. From there perform the following lower body dominant static stretches:
Stand up straight, keeping your left supporting leg slightly bent. Bend your right leg and, holding the front of your foot, pull your foot up towards your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
Stand with your right leg forward and your left foot a step width behind. With your toes pointing ahead, slightly bend your right knee, keeping your left knee straight and your heels on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
In a standing position, raise your right leg and place the heel on a rail or bench. Lean forward, keeping your back and legs straight and your shoulders and pelvis facing forward throughout. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
Standing Glute Stretch
Stand a foot away from a bench or wall. Holding the bench with your left hand, cross your right ankle over your left thigh and rest it against the bench. Making sure your back is straight, rest your right hand on your right thigh and hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
In the next article, we’ll provide you with a beginner’s running program that will allow you to tackle your first 5K in just 6 weeks.