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Running Machines Part 3 – Training for distance

In Part 1 and Part 2  we explored the mechanics behind proper running form and ran through some basic checklists to ensure we can run correctly.  Now we’re into the fun part: Training.

Building endurance in small steps

According to the American Council on Exercise performance athletes spend the majority of their training time at a comfortable level. This comfortable level is defined as “below the first ventilatory threshold (VT1).”  This may sound fancy but it’s actually quite simple. You can measure the point of your VT1 by engaging in the “talk-test.” The talk-test demonstrates that you have reached VT1 when it becomes difficult to speak… Simple as that.

You may think that to get better at running you need to run to your limits every single day. Don’t do that, I’ve known people that did this and they HATE running.

Instead we’re only going to plan for 3 running sessions in a given week, for arguments sake let’s say Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On the weekdays we want to run/walk for a given amount of time (start with 20 minutes). The idea here is to ensure that we are staying in that comfortable range (below VT1). On Saturday we’re going to run a specified distance without time constraints, still staying below VT1.

Over time you want to work to increase the distance ran on Saturday. On the weekdays we initially want to increase the amount of time spent running until we are more comfortable on longer runs, then we may begin to designate specific distances on those days. It is important to keep in mind that these distances should not exceed 50% off e distance ran on Saturday.

Check out the Mayo Clinic’s recommended 5k training regimen for beginners for a great example of this running program.

Increasing your engine power

Now that we have a method to get your machine running we naturally are going to want to do what most Americans want out of their vehicle: a more powerful engine.

To get more power out of our running we need to look to weightlifting, specifically: loaded squats. The squat has been called “the King of all exercises” but is also the disdain of bro-lifters everywhere. Working squats into your routine (1-2 sessions per week) will add that power to your legs necessary for quick bursts of energy.

When I say “loaded” I am referring to the use of extra weight, while air squats are great they simply aren’t going to get the same result as loaded squats. It doesn’t have to be all that much but the more squats are integrated into your training the better your running performance will be.

Conclusion

Great running programs are not defined by constantly running to your limit. You should be running at a comfortable race and only demanding a specific distance be covered in one session per week. Once you are beginning to cultivate endurance you can focus on adding power to your running form, namely through squatting.

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Running Machines Part 2: Passing Emissions

In part 1 of Running Machines we briefly discussed the adaptations of the human body in regards to running, gave a simple method for correcting foot position and related many parts of the human anatomy to mechanical components.  To continue my car/machine analogy: if your automobile must pass through a checklist of requirements to drive on the road then here is my checklist of things your running machine should be accomplish before you put it on the road.   Please keep in mind, this is a minimalist checklist.  These are the most basic attributes you need to possess to run effectively, in my opinion anyway.

Walking in a stable position

This may sound overly simple but hear me out. You need to be able to walk properly, that means keeping your toes pointed forward, not swinging your legs out to the sides and keeping your spine straight.  We already touched on keeping your toes pointed forward and not swinging your legs out in Part 1.  So I will not beat you over the head with it, but the last point is worth elaborating on: keeping your spine straight.

Think of a man, an out of shape 50-something year old walking home after he was just fired from his job… Hold that image…

I’m willing to bet that the man you imagined is walking with his shoulders rolled forward, looking down and no stiffness in his core.  This is the picturesque image of a person that has been absolutely defeated.  It’s also a great display of walking without a straightened spine.  If you find yourself walking in a similar position (likely not as exaggerated) you should stop and go through a simple bracing sequence:

Simple Bracing Sequence

  • Place feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointing forward
  • Let your arms hang by your side
  • Squeeze your butt
  • Allow your arms to turn outward at your shoulders (undoing that forward roll)
  • Contract your core

By engaging in this simple bracing sequence you are straightening your spine and creating a stable support system for your midsection (think of how weightlifters use those thick belts).  By repeatedly bracing your spine throughout the day you are training your body to a new norm and before long you will not have to be as mentally engaged to maintain a solid braced position.

*Keep in mind this is a very simplified bracing sequence and is great for walking but as we progress we may have to get more technical.

Squat to jump, Squat to land

Once we have mastered the age-old art of walking we’re ready to progress to the next step of running.  When you break running strides down you have a series of one legged jumping and landing (it’s no wonder why people think running is hard on knees) so you had better be able to jump and land with two feet.  Here’s what I want you to do:

  • Engage the bracing sequence from above
  • Squat down as if you’re going to launch into space
  • Note whether your knees move outwards or inwards

If your knees moved outwards chances are they went over your toes and thanks to years of high school coaches many of us think that’s terrible.  If you squat down and your knees go over your toes, that’s completely fine.  If your knees bent inwards then we have an issue: Valgus Knee.  Valgus knee is a movement fault that becomes especially apparent when squat, if our knees want to move inward this can create some semblance of stability but it’s at the cost of the integrity of the cruciate ligaments of the knee.  If your knees bend inwards then the main focus should be entering a squat position and moving your knees outwards instead of inwards.

If you can successfully sink into squat position in preparation for a jump then the next thing I want you to do is: JUMP! After you jump focus on your landing, your landing position should mirror the position you squatted down into. You don’t have to jump especially high, just enough to test the positions and be sure you are maintaining a braced position throughout jumping and landing.

Jog barefoot

Not far, just 20 meters or so and yes you should be barefoot or in barefoot shoes.  Jog the 20 meters at a comfortable pace and pay attention to what parrt of your foot is striking the ground.  Are you putting the ball of the foot forward or firmly striking the ground with your heel?

Let’s start with the worse case scenario: Heel Striking.  If you’re leading wth your heels you are going to be the first to develop knee problems, striking with your heel takes the natural springs (the arch of your foot) out of the equation and send that force directly to your knee via conduction through your bones… Ouch!  If this is you then repeat the test a few times, you’ll find that after a few sessions of heel striking barefoot your foot will naturally start to lead with the midfoot and this is where we want our feet to connect.

If you’re leading with the balls of your feet then I’m guessing you used to play soccer  or did a lot of sprinting.  While this is good for short bursts of power the balls of the feet can also quickly become worn out.

From my own personal experience I’ve found the sweet spot being somewhere between the midfoot and the ball of the foot (years of soccer).  Finding the ideal spot is a matter of self-experimentation but I’m relatively certain that it’s not going to be the heel for any of us.  This test is not something you have to do regularly and you don’t have to be able to run a 5k barefoot, you just need to run in such a way that you can run barefoot wtihout pain.

Wrapping it up

The three things you absolutely, positively, no-way-around MUST be able to do to run effectively are: walk in a braced position, squat/jump/land in a braced position with knees moving outward during squat/landing and you should run in such a way that you could do it barefoot. These pillars will later translate into running with a braced position, landing in a stable manner and protecting our feet/knees from injury.