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The idea that technique is essential for the simple act of running is finally starting to catch on. By maintaining a balanced center of gravity and maintaining a strong foot, you generate maximum propulsive force and minimize impact trauma with each stride. This allows you to transform from a rookie sloppy jogger to someone who looks and feels like an athlete. In this article, we dive into why we pay attention to running technique, with videos on how to improve running form with a few simple drills.
Runners and joggers of all ability levels jumped into the conversion around a post I wrote about proper running technique. I noticed quite a few comments and questions on the video along these lines:
- Is trying to run like a deer — springing along with active feet — necessary and appropriate for a jogger?
- Are these technique tips just the domain of sprinters?
- Will I get “tired” trying to maintain the correct form as described for an entire marathon? Or should I just shuffle along to save energy?
Here is the deal. Executing proper technique is critical at all speeds and durations, for a two main reasons. First, you minimize impact trauma and obtain the best return on investment for whatever energy you muster to make forward progress. This applies whether you are running a marathon in two hours (like the superhuman Eulid Kipchoge), or four hours, or jog/walk for six hours.
Second, if you activate strong feet, you maximize the spring-like potential of the Achilles tendon, making that 26.2 mile journey much less arduous and far more enjoyable. Same for a 100-mile journey! Watch how Zach Bitter’s feet remain active and snappy for nearly 12 hours at his American record track run. Granted, the visual is completely different depending on how much impact force you generate with each stride.
Another example is Usain Bolt, who was discovered to generate over 1,000 pounds at impact, while a casual jogger might impact the ground at forces of only 1.5-3x bodyweight. The jogger’s stride pattern will be a scaled down version of Bolt’s powerful stride down the track lane, where he covered nine feet, eight inches (2.95 meters) per stride!
We have a natural inclination to try and advance the body forward while running. However, correct technique entails applying force directly into the ground upon each stride, allowing the spring-like effect of a proper landing to propel us forward naturally. This is akin to the high jumper’s challenge: instead of following the natural inclination to try and jump right over the bar and into the pit, correct technique entails jumping straight up into the air and allowing the angular momentum from the curved approach to catapult the jumper up and over the bar. That’s how you jump two feet over your own head like the legendary Stefan Holm.
How to Improve Running Form: 3 Steps to Untraining Bad Habits and Retraining Proper Form
Christopher Smith is the greatest Speedgolfer of all-time, renowned PGA teaching professional, and an expert in advanced motor learning methods for athletic performance. He asserts that the following three elements give you the best chance of unwinding, modifying, and improving dysfunctional habit patterns and ingraining new ones:
- Slow Down: Execute the desired technique corrections at a slower speed and/or less load than normal. Your mind/body system will be better able to feel the modifications at a lesser speed, creating your own personal internal model.
- Eliminate pressure, anxiety, and stress (and the accompanying expectations), so you can practice new motions without fear of failure.
- Cognitive engagement and brain assimilation: This is where drills are so valuable. Drills help hard-wire good technique into your central nervous system. The technical term for this is “myelinate”—encasing your nerve endings in a protective coating so they become adept at firing in the correct pattern repeatedly. Sloppy, repetitive training of old habits will simply reinforce the old habits.
Improved Running Form is Yours to Keep
What’s difficult for many runners is to reprogram the neural patterns that you are familiar with for something new. Retraining new movements feels awkward and unnatural at first, until your body realizes that the new way is much more safe and efficient.
For these reasons, I emphasized the point on the video that there is no turning back once you learn good technique. Even when you are innocently jogging for warm up, you need to maintain that strong foot so your brain will remember when it’s time to speed up. So when you are out there running, turn down the earbuds and concentrate on new movement patterns until they become automatic.
Perform drills as often as possible—at least a few of them every time you run. The following drills require you to exaggerate various elements of good technique so that they flow beautifully when you put everything together and start running. These are very challenging moves that our master filmmaker Brian McAndrew and I have segmented into an “Intermediate” video and “Advanced” video. That’s right, there are no easy drills! These running drills are especially valuable if you’re a beginner – you’ll train proper form from the get-go, before you’ve taken on habits that don’t do you any favors.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity for Effective Running Drills
It’s of paramount importance that you execute the drills perfectly from start to finish. If you experience even the slightest bit of fatigue causing your form to waver, stop the drill, jog it out and end the workout. For example, notice on the advanced video’s bicycle drill how I land straight up and down every time, balanced over my center of gravity just like when running. Hey man, that’s the beauty of having multiple takes on the set! In real life, it’s easy to over or under rotate on the bicycle move such that you land with your spine angled backward, behind your center of gravity (too early) or with spine angled forward, in front of your center of gravity (too late)—particularly when you get tired or distracted (e.g., while jabbering into the lavalier mic to make a video.) When this happens, you will feel a jarring sensation in your legs or spine that is not pleasant and potentially injurious.
Please enjoy each video a couple times at home to really study the impact positions and technique tips before you go out and attempt them. I’ve added a few more helpful comments for each drill as follows:
Running Form Drills – Intermediate Drills To Improve Technique and Protect Against Injury
- High heel, high toe
- High knees
This is the bread and butter of the running drill world! It’s not that strenuous and very scalable as you get fitter. Once you get some experience, you can try to get those extra few inches of knee height and work those hip flexors; this is a muscle group that gets so terribly compromised when you sit at a desk for hours. When I’m feeling my best, I’ll try to hold the high knee position for an extra beat to enhance the degree of difficulty.
High Heel, High Toe (aka Buttkickers)
Don’t worry about forward progress, just focus on getting the heels up to your butt. You can easily do this drill in place at your cubicle. Did you know that one of the greatest human running machines of all time, Walter George, did a bunch of his training running in place while working at a print shop? This old-time legend destroyed the world record in the mile in 1886 with a stunning 4:12, in a match race that was witnessed by 30,000 screaming fans betting heavily on the outcome. This time held as the world standard for an astonishing 30 years.
Stand tall throughout and notice the huge penalty when your bodyweight collapses even a smidge into the ground, instead of preserving the spring potential of the Achilles.
Advanced Running Form Drills – Advanced Drills To Improve Technique and Protect Against Injury
- One-legged sprint
- Hamstring kickouts
- Backwards sprinting
Keep that dead leg ramrod-straight and try to get the toe to gently brush along the ground. It’s easy to lose focus and have the dead leg start to participate unwittingly with a little knee bend, then a little more knee bend. The drill really does wonders when the leg is completely straight.
Start gently with miniature pedal revolutions until you get the hang of it. Go ahead and skip a few potential takeoffs to make sure that every single takeoff is executed perfectly and landed perfectly. Oh boy, is it fun when you can get into the rhythm of taking off on opposite legs with no break. A stint of these is as tough as blasting a real live 10-20 second sprint.
Here’s another drill that is really scalable. You can start without even leaving the ground and executing the motion while walking as demonstrated. Your hamstrings are often the last muscle group to become really resilient and adapted to sprinting. Okay, the calves get a vote, too (That’s why you’ve got to watch the calf stretch/heal plantar fasciitis video).
As with the hip flexors, your hamstrings get traumatized by sitting in a chair all day. When asked to become a prominent source of power for the running human weekend warrior, it’s no wonder the hammy strains and tears are one of the most common athletic injuries. I enthusiastically recommend doing a few kickouts at the end of every single workout you conduct to keep them strong and flexible! I also do them at airport gates and rental car check-in counters to keep the hammies happy.
Who knew that putting the engine in reverse could be the single best trigger for optimal sprinting technique? Just shift back into drive and carry on with the same technique attributes in place: high knee, high heel, and dorsiflexed foot.
We talk so much about the importance of sprinting in the Primal Blueprint, and these drills can stand alone as an effective sprint workout before you even unleash your first proper sprint. Truth be told, I required several days of recovery after filming because we were out there for quite a bit longer than my average sprint session. All in tireless devotion to bring you some awesome drills that will spice up your sprint workouts, improve your technique, and help you become more resilient against injury.
You can pick and choose your favorite drills and intersperse them into workouts frequently, or go through the complete cycle once in a while for an excellent high intensity workout. You can even choose a few to work on for a few minutes here and there as microworkouts.
Enjoy these drills and make up some new ones if you wish! Don’t overdo it at one session to the point of technique breakdown, but do a sampling of them every time you finish a run workout or have a break at the gate before your connecting flight. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you notice changes in your running efficiency.
The post How to Improve Running Form: Introductory And Advanced Running Drills (With Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Running is the most simple and straightforward of fitness activities, so we generally don’t pay much attention to learning and refining proper running form. Consequently, there’s a widespread problem of joggers and runners with extremely inefficient technique that can lead to slower times and increased risk for injury.
Unfortunately, when you plod along at a jogging pace, the penalty for inefficient running form and lack of explosiveness is minimal. In contrast, when you sprint, you try to generate maximum explosive force with each footstrike, so even the slightest technique inefficiency or wasted motion delivers a severe performance penalty. Sprinting, Primal Blueprint Law #5, is a great way to clean up technique errors and drift in the direction of proper running form.
Here, we’ll break down the components of proper running form. If you struggle with some of the technical explanations, watch the technique instruction video to help you grasp the concepts.
The Fundamentals of Proper Running Form
The basics of proper running form are pretty simple: Your body should be in stable position with your center of gravity balanced over your feet at all times. The classic image you see on trophies or in clip art of a runner with legs extended way behind or in front of the body represent egregious technique errors.
Instead, check out this slow motion video of the greatest sprinter of all-time, Usain Bolt. Wait until the sprinters get up to speed and are standing tall, then notice how Bolt and the other sprinters preserve straight and elongated spines at all times. Their feet land right underneath their bodies with every stride. The sprinters never lurch forward unless they’re diving for the finish line tape!
Proper Running Form: Like Riding a Bike?
The illusion that you must run forward—extending your legs or torso forward to cover ground—leads to overstriding at all speeds. If you alter the position of your torso relative to your moving legs, you’ll have a significant energy cost to recalibrate for the next stride.
Instead of trying to cover huge chunks of ground with forward-lurching efforts, envision running like you pedal a bicycle: Your upper body is upright and stationary (like sitting upward on the bike seat); feet cranking the pedals in a smooth circle, then feet returning to the same position under the seat with every revolution.
For the most efficient energy transfer on each stride, focus on getting your feet onto the ground and off the ground as fast as possible—as you would to pedal a bike faster. You can also strive to run like a deer or a canine companion, who exhibit a stable center of gravity (albeit over four legs, not two), incredible explosiveness off the ground, and zero wasted energy.
3 Common Running Form Mistakes
The biggest issues I see that disrupt proper running form:
- Upper body instability: Leads to unecessary side-to-side motion of the torso, arms, and pelvis
- Destabilized core: Leads to overstriding
- “Lazy feet”: You land and sink into the ground instead of exploding off of it
When you implement proper running form, you’ll feel lighter on your feet and more explosive right away. Let’s cover each of the fundamentals of proper running form so you can begin striding like a beautiful deer.
How to Correct Upper Body Instability
When your spine compresses and your neck retracts toward the shoulders during running, you lose kinetic energy, promote inefficient breathing, and instigate a fight-or-flight activation. Dr. Kelly Starrett, creator of The Ready State, author of the bestselling injury prevention and rehab masterpiece, Becoming A Supple Leopard, and all-around legend of the elite athletic performance scene, explains:
“We’ve seen up to a 30 percent decline in VO2 max due to compromised breathing and a misaligned load anywhere along the spine. When runners fatigue, they become destabilized. The pelvis gets overextended and their man-bellies hang out. Mechanically, the nervous system becomes compromised and unable to generate maximum force, or transfer energy into the ground. Furthermore, when the 11-pound head is destabilized and the neck is destabilized, the athlete defaults into a shallow, ‘stress-breathing’ pattern. This over activates the sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight response—and makes workouts more stressful than they should be, and more difficult to recover from.”
Hold your head high and onward we go! To correct upper body instability while running:
- Keep the torso and head quiet and tension-free at all times. Pay special attention to keeping the cervical spine elongated.
- Keep the hips and shoulders forward-facing. Don’t swivel or rotate from side to side, and don’t rock the pelvis forward and backward.
The only energy output from your upper body should be to pump your arms for momentum. The faster you run, the more energy you’ll exert to pump the arms. At jogging speed, you essentially relax your arms and achieve a gentle, natural counterbalance swinging of the arms to help balance the swinging of the legs. When you sprint, you drive the arms forward and backward powerfully.
Regardless of running speed, you don’t want your shoulders to lurch forward, nor should any part of your arms or hands cross the centerline of your body. Envision your arms pumping back and forth in one plane like a locomotive engine or oil well.
All the energy for arm swinging should come from the larger muscles in the shoulders, while your hands, forearms, and upper arms should be completely relaxed instead of tense. Sprinters make a point of extending the fingers to prevent a natural inclination to make a fist and tense the forearms. For the arm swing, pick an angle, such as 90 degrees, and preserve that angle throughout the arm swing. Avoid the common error of straightening your arm on the backswing, as this results in a loss of energy backwards.
How to Correct a Destabilized Core
While we emphasize relaxation instead of tension, realize that you need to generate explosive forward propulsion from your extremities from a stable base—your core and pelvis area. Again, the urgency of keeping your core and hips stable instead of loosey goosey is minimal while jogging, but extreme while sprinting.
Correcting a destabilized core seems simple, conceptually:
- Make a concerted effort to slightly engage the core muscles throughout the stride pattern, especially at impact, and especially as you start to run faster.
This will preserve that straight and elongated spine as well as prevent the disastrous error of energy collapsing into the ground. This energy collapse is quite common and can cause the hips to become un-level upon each stride impact. Remind yourself to engage your core muscles—pull in those abdominal muscles—as you run. This will also help keep your spine elongated and your neck straight.
How to Correct “Lazy Feet” or Shuffling
To maximize explosiveness and minimize energy loss on each stride:
- Dorsiflex the foot as soon as you launch off the ground. Aggressively flex the ankle and foot upward as high as you can (up to 30 degrees, toward the shin) as soon as your foot leaves the ground.
- Through the stride pattern prior to the next impact, point the toes forward with the sole nearly parallel to the ground. This achieves an energy coiling effect in preparation for the next footstrike, where you’ll transfer that energy onto and off of the ground ground as quickly as possible.
You can also visualize the instructions above in the context of pedaling a bike. Pushing the pedal forward requires dorsiflexion of each foot in order to keep your feet on the pedals while completing the circle.
The opposite of dorsiflexed feet: lazy feet, which occurs when one leg leaves the ground and that foot remains relaxed in a drag through the air, toes pointed toward the ground.
When that uncoiled foot hits the ground on the next stride, there is no kinetic energy to leverage. The foot lands, spends much more time on the ground than a spring-loaded foot would, and the impact of your entire bodyweight transfers onto the pavement or trail. Then you recover from the impact, summon a bit of force, and get your foot off the ground again. This practice wastes potential explosive energy that could be returned by consciously (at first) dorsiflexing the foot.
Watch the clip above to see the slow motion of lazy foot. Look carefully and you’ll notice a barely perceptible collapsing of energy into the ground, even on that very slow jogging stride. Due to the energy collapse, the foot spends more time on the ground than it does with a quick stride generated by “strong foot” running.
Pretend that your running surface is hot lava. As soon as your dorsiflexed foot hits the ground, explode off the ground before you get burned. “On the ground, off the ground” is a great mantra as you move at any running speed. While a sprinter drives the knees high into the air, exploding off the ground and taking long strides accordingly, a jogger makes smaller circles and takes shorter strides. Nothing changes in your running form as you speed up except you take longer, more explosive strides.
Watch the clip above to see how my technique looks the same at a variety of speeds.
Every time you jog, run, or sprint, strive to achieve the bicycling over hot lava technique and you will soon ingrain the “strong foot” running form to the extent that it will feel terrible to jog with lazy feet. Good luck and enjoy a more graceful and explosive running experience.
Have you tried these or other running form corrections with success? What’s worked and what still feels difficult? Share in the comments below.
Tremendous credit and appreciation for these lessons goes to retired U.S. Olympic team 1500-meter runner Michael Stember, who presented his running technique clinic several times at our PrimalCon retreats in Oxnard, CA. Michael captivated the crowd each time with an incredibly passionate and precise clinic on how to run properly. Now he does the same making sushi in Brooklyn, NY.
Recommended Related Reading and Videos:
- Primal Blueprint Law #5: Sprint Once in a While
- The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 1
- The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 2
- More scientific discussion and technique breakdown from the great Michael Johnson, former world record-holder in the 200 and 400 meters
- How to Cure Plantar Fasciitis
- Plantar Fasciitis: Best Shoe Choices
The post Learn Proper Running Form to Increase Efficiency and Decrease Injury Risk appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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