Monthly Archives: March 2010

Auditory Cues for Better Running

One of the tools I use for better running has nothing to do with my feet; it’s my ears!
Great running form is nearly soundless. Each footfall should land with barely any noise, signaling that there is no wasted energy directed into the ground and that as much energy as possible is driving the body forward. Also, it means that there is minimal shock transferred back up the leg and into the body.
Every time I run, I strive for soundless running. I try my best to train my legs to have light footfalls, even while they are cycling fast during sprinting.
Whenever I start to hear louder thumping, I know I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I’m getting tired, or getting lazy, and not concentrating on how I’m placing my foot down. Perhaps I’m moving too fast and I need more training for light footfalls at higher cycle rates. Or sometimes I hear a louder thump from one leg than the other; that means that one of my legs is not moving in the same way as the other – something that needs to be fixed!
Training for light footfalls can be difficult. I have to pick up my leg in order to run, but I don’t want to pick it up too much or else I raise the chance of thumping the leg on the ground. I try to glide my foot across the ground as low as possible, and the gently place it down on my forefoot as my body moves forward and this motion is repeated on the other side. Sometimes my legs are moving too fast, like during sprinting or tempo running, and I need to focus even harder on placing light footfalls.
As I glide my foot forward, I also strive to maintain an even head height and not let it bounce up and down. Bouncing means that I’m wasting energy moving my body up when it should all be directed towards moving my body forward. Inevitably, bouncing leads to louder running as the legs must absorb the energy of the body coming down on each step.
Hills can be challenge, with downhill being harder. I have to aim my foot at an angle down the slope of the hill, while leaning over the foot to keep them under me. The dropping away of a decline means that I need to compensate for that when my foot moves forward to take a step, but also down the slope of the hill.
Then, training for repeatability of light footfalls over time is next. Maintaining light footfalls may be OK for short runs, but training to maintain light footfalls over the length of a marathon means extending my neuromuscular training over time. When we get tired, the legs don’t respond as well and light footfalls may be the first thing to go.
Soundless running is really important to minimize the chance of injury. When you place each foot down with minimal sound, you are landing with minimal shock transmitted back up the leg and into the body. Over time, lots of shock transmitted up the leg will lead to all sorts of problems. Silent running will minimize that shock and allow you to run injury free.
Therefore, whenever I run, my ears are attuned to my footfalls and my goal is to run as silent as possible.

Form Training with the 4 S’s

In the last few months, I’ve been really into Total Immersion and their teaching method. Swimming is one of those activities which require mastery of so many little details that trying to learn swimming all at once is very very difficult. So they do a great job of breaking down technique with drills, and enforcing focus on only one thing at a time so that you can master that without getting confused by other things you’re trying to learn. Thus, I’ve spent the last many months, and plan on for the better part of this year, in breaking down exactly what is wrong with my stroke and working on each individual part one at a time.
This has led me to believe that its teaching concepts in the area of form training can be applied to any other physical activity, especially in the case of cycling and running for me. In thinking about this, I thought I could encapsulate it in the 4 S’s of form training:
1. SYSTEM: You must have a system for identifying problems, removing bad habits and imprinting new and correct habits. With TI, they’ve done all that for you. Running has some great methods now (ie. ChiRunning, Pose Method) that strive to break down running so that you can focus on parts of your form. I have not found that to be true yet of cycling and would love to be pointed to some that discuss cycling form.
Without a system, you will inevitably try to do too much at once and see little or no improvement as old habits remain ingrained, and you can’t imprint new correct ones. It also means that you are hampering your brain/body’s ability to imprint new habits; someone once told me that you have to do something about 45 days or so to imprint a new habit. This means that you have to perform the new habit in the new way that many times exactly!
2. SENSITIVITY: You need to develop and have a sensitivity to what you’re doing wrong and also what you’re doing right. When habits become ingrained, they become commonplace and we don’t even notice when we’re doing something. This is both good and bad. Correct habits ingrained means we’re unconsciously performing optimally and not exerting excess energy and brain power to maintain activity. But if we’ve ingrained a bad habit, we may actually not know we’re doing something wrong because we’ve been doing it that way for so long. So we need to develop the body awareness to know how are bodies are moving both when we’re moving slow and especially when we’re moving fast. Slow is much easier, but when we’re cycling our arms and legs fast this may become too much to easily discern how and where are body parts are moving. Once we can know when we’re doing something wrong, then we can take steps to fix that.
3. SUSTAINABILITY: Once we ingrain new habits, we must be able to sustain them over the course of training and during the long hours of a race. Thus, we must be constantly wary of falling into old bad habits especially when we get tired and/or we lose our mental focus. Training only good habits and extending them over time will ingrain good form that is sustainable over a long time, ensuring an efficient race (and probably also injury free).
4. SYMMETRY: One thing that gets sometimes overlooked is the importance of symmetry of habits on each side of your body. We humans are built with two halves, both mirror images of each other. But unfortunately, we often perform the same activity differently on each side of our body due to old habits, favoring our strong side, muscle inbalances, etc. So while our form may be great on one side, we may find that the other side is challenged. Therefore, training to make sure that we even out both sides to equal form is important or else bad form on one side can actually affect performance on the other side.
Going back to the first S which is SYSTEM, it may be hard to find a system for your activity. TI does a great job for swimming and there are some running ones, but for cycling it may be hard. But finding a great SYSTEM will enable SUSTAINABILITY and SYMMETRY more, and help you train your brain to be more SENSITIVE.