When you run, you need to withstand greater than 2.5x your body on each leg with each stride. Your body not only needs to tolerate this load, but it also needs to get off the ground quickly.
Typically, a runner will only have each foot on the ground for less than 0.25 seconds; therefore, you need to have the ability to fire your muscles in synchrony and at the correct time to maximize your efficiency.
To be a better runner, should I just run more miles?
In order to become better at any skill or activity, you need repetition that is specific to that activity. Research supports the concept that running will improve your run performance better than that of performing cross training (such as biking or swimming). Therefore, yes, you need to build up a volume of running to get better at running. However, there is more to being a better runner than just getting in the miles.
Should I perform strength work to become a better runner?
Improving your muscle strength is integral to improving your muscle recruitment and assists in injury prevention. However, when trying to become a better runner, the concept of muscle activation is only a piece of the puzzle. As we run, we need nerves to activate the appropriate muscle fibers at the correct time and in a coordinated fashion. Even with this in mind, it would be very challenging for our body to tolerate >2.5x our body weight with every step. Therefore, there must be another element to assist you while running – this additional element is tendon.
What are the roles of tendons?
Tendons are structures at the end of each muscle belly that attach to bone. These are non-contractile structures that provide the transfer of energy from the muscle to the pivot point of the joint to which they are the closest in proximity. The storage and release of energy through tendons enable the “pop” off the ground that is necessary for running. As runners, we do not have the luxury of time; therefore, we need to optimize these structures for increased efficiency of movement.
How do I improve my running efficiency and coordination?
Running efficiency is known as running economy. Those who are more economic when they run are able to put forth less energy at a given speed. This comes from the ability of muscles to fire synchronously and tendons to transfer energy quickly. Think of your legs as a spring; if you have a spring the strength of a slinky – you will not be efficient as you run and you will not be able to get off the ground quickly. If you have a strong spring you will be able to hit the ground with the appropriate amount of force and will be able to get off the ground quicker. You can build up the strength of your spring via strength work and plyometrics.
What is the point of plyometrics?
The goal of plyometrics is to increase power through jumping activity. Higher degrees of power equates to the ability to exert an increased amount of force quickly. A more powerful runner is equivalent to a stronger spring. Jumping activities help you to improve the coordination of your muscle firing patterns and strengthen your tendons to store and release energy.
To improve your ability to withstand the demands of running you need to be a strong and efficient runner. Incorporating plyometric activity increases the ability of tendons to store and release energy, which enables you to cover more ground with each stride. Running is a complex activity that has many moving parts. Grasping the concept of power via plyometric work, is a piece to a large puzzle of becoming a better runner.
How to practice at home:
- Double leg hurdle hops
- Single leg hurdle hops
- A, B, C skips
- Dicharry, J. “Running Rewired: reinvent your run for stability, strength & speed.” Velopress. 2017.
- Foster, C., Hector, L.L., Welsh, R. et al. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. (1995) 70: 367. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00865035.