Friday, January 11, 2008

Run Faster with Less Effort

Sounds too good to be true?  You bet!  However, that is what has been happening to me.  How? You ask.  


I've been using this off season to work on my base and core strength.  I had lower back strains a couple of times last season, so I though I should do some exercises to strengthen my back.  In the process of doing so, I thought that I should be more balanced and also work on my abdomen, chest, and shoulders.  Runners have a tendency to be overly weak in the upper body.  Body imbalance just leads to more potential for injuries.  What I discovered in this process has unlocked the speed that was already in me.

Let's start with the physics of running.  I've always thought that the lighter you are the faster you will go; because there is less weight you have to push.  As a novice, this made a lot of sense to me; as a result, I went to near starvation for many days to loose body weight so I can be faster.  Does this sound familiar to you?  I think this is a common novice mistake.  In fact, what I did when I starved myself was to lose the precious running muscles I worked so hard to build up.  Building a higher power to weight ratio is what makes you faster, not just having a lower weight.  If you lowered your weight, but also lost muscle, then you have made no improvements in your power to weight ratio at all.

I also thought that taller people can run faster because their stride is longer.  This is another novice mistake.  If this were true, then Yao Ming, the NBA basketball center, can run much faster than most of us.  Being shorter, I tried to stretch out my stride as much as I could; but I was actually running slower and working harder.  In stretching out my stride, my legs spent more time off the ground, thus not accelerating; and I was pushing harder with my legs in my foot strikes to launch my body forward.  Runners accelerate when their feet contact the ground.  As soon as the foot leaves the ground, the body stops accelerating and decelerates due to inertia (body mass), and air resistance.  But, as fast as you can whip your other foot forward for a foot strike, you will accelerate again.  Taller runner will naturally have a longer stride, but shorter runners will naturally have a higher stride rate.  I think that there is an optimum stride length at which a runner is most efficient.  At this stride length, you will be comfortable and feel like you can run forever.  When a runner begins running faster, the stride length will naturally increase due to increased momentum.  Don't purposely shorten your stride either, as this would be like driving your car with the brakes always on.  Let your speed carry you.  Concentrate on whipping your legs forward as fast as you can to get ready for the next foot strike.  For whatever sized runner, settle into your optimal or most efficient stride length; and then increasing your stride rate will make you faster.  

The physics behind what made me faster hopefully made sense to you.  For me, my weaker core and shoulders were slowing me down.  My quads and hamstrings were plenty strong enough to provide powerful push offs, but I was slow in returning my legs to the front.  I did those core exercises to alleviate my lower back strains, but I got noticeably faster because my stronger back, waist, and abdomens were whipping my legs forward with much increased efficiency.  Also, my stronger arm swings from strengthened shoulders helped to drive more power into the core.  As soon as your foot strikes ground, swing forward the opposite arm, which should be back, and then the shoulder will follow, driving a twisting power into the back, down to the waist, then the hip, and whips the leg forward.  I did gain about 5-6 pounds from the increase muscle mass, but I look and feel leaner and I am running faster with less effort.  I have increased my power to weight ratio. Lighter is not always faster.  

This is the daily exercise regiment I followed:  do 15 push ups then roll over and do 15 V crunches; rest to catch the breath, then repeat two more times.  To do the V crunches: lay flat on your back, cross your arms in front of your chest, then lift your head, shoulders, and back off the ground while simultaneous lifting your legs.  Keep the legs straight and knees locked.   Just by doing these two simple exercises, you will benefit much if you have a weak core like I had. 

13 comments:

sachiko said...

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience, Ted. Yes, I know you've gotten so much faster lately and actually noticed that your cadence has increased. I tried to keep up with your cadence the other morning...well, for a very short while anyway. You just got smaller and smaller away from me :(
I cannot, for the life of me, do push-ups. My arms are just too damn wimpy. I'm starting to wonder if I'm missing a fundamentally simple technique to do them or something. Any advise??

Ted said...

Sachiko,

Try to do push-ups with your knees on the ground.

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