By now you’ve figured out what it takes to run, what shoes to choose, how to prepare to do it so you don’t find yourself unprepared (or always find the urge to do it). You have also started running, following a program that will lead you to do what seemed impossible until recently: run several miles in a row.
You’ve also realized that running for dozens of minutes in a row is possible. Therefore, it is time to work on the running setting, not only to look better doing it but because running efficiently means doing it economically as well, that is, using the right amount of energy, perfecting the athletic gesture and focusing on breathing and movements. Don’t worry: you don’t have to learn to do strange things, no special concentration is required of you, and you don’t have to run while remaining in apnea. Indeed: the more you read, the more you will realize that running well is really a natural and spontaneous thing.
The running setting
Running using your body efficiently is harder to describe than to do.
Let’s start with this assumption: the more you run properly, the better you use your energy and the less effort is required. In other words: you consume the right amount and conserve more reserves to go further during and not be exhausted later.
Imagine a car with square wheels: it would be significantly more uncomfortable and would consume much more fuel because the engine would struggle to roll something that by shape does not roll very well. If you run by moving your arms too much or raising your knees too high, stretching your stride too much or closing your shoulders too much, it’s putting you at the feet–square wheels. You go ahead but you struggle a lot more than you should.
To make the gesture more efficient you need to pay attention to a few, fundamental details, starting from the top down:
- Keep your head straight and aligned with your back, reclining it slightly forward and never bringing it behind your shoulders. The gaze must point forward. In other words, you don’t have to look at the few meters of road in front of you but further (and you certainly don’t have to look at your feet)
- Keep your shoulders open so you can breathe smoothly, taking in all the air you need
- Recline your torso slightly forward so that your shoulders fall just forward of your pelvis. You know how they run in cartoons, holding their heads behind their shoulders? That is the wrong way to do it!
- Hold your arms at a right angle.
Now imagine I take a picture of you: you have one knee up and are about to take the first step. Let’s move on to the dynamic part: let’s start running.
“Running is a controlled fall,” says ultratrail runner Scott Jurek (and if you don’t know what an ultratrail runner is, just know that he is someone who runs a lot, a lot, on mountain trails). When you take your first steps you are falling with control: as soon as you put your foot down you are ready to throw your weight on the road to propel yourself forward. Meanwhile, the unloaded leg is bringing itself forward to do exactly what the other leg just did: land on your foot, unload your weight on the ground, load up to proceed, take off again. The good thing is that you don’t have to think about it to do it, just like when you ride a bike you only think about pedaling. You do it and it comes naturally.
When you run keep a few simple rules in mind:
- land with the midfoot, or in other words: try not to land on your heel. If you land forefoot you are able to absorb better the impact with the ground. Doing so you’ll minimize the chance of injury because you are running in a way that better distributes the loads, carrying them from your foot and dampening them in the rest of your body
- Take frequent, short steps instead of more sparse, longer steps. The reason is quickly explained: the more you lengthen your stride, the more you extend your leg to touch the ground in front of you (as if you were to jump over an obstacle). Doing so, however, brakes you and especially loads a part of the body such as the heel that is not made to absorb shocks
- Keep the pelvis on a straight line as much as possible. To do this, imagine that a rope tied at belt height is pulling you: here, this rope must always remain parallel to the ground. If it rises and falls, it means you are proceeding by hopping, that is, you are wasting energy on hopping instead of proceeding!
We talked about the running setting and movement. One last, very important piece of advice remains: breathe. If this seems obvious to you, know that, on average, we do not know how to breathe well, and this heavily affects running efficiency.
First of all: do you know what “breathing well” means? It means inhaling and exhaling using the full lung capacity, that is, filling and emptying the lungs completely. To do this, you have to use your diaphragm, which is the muscle located at the base of your lungs that is in charge of this function. What is the most common mistake in breathing? It’s to breathe filling only the upper part of your lungs. You know when you are afraid or under stress? You take short, quick breaths that only manage to fill part of the lungs.
Breathing fully has two benefits: it opens the torso and supports it better, improving running efficiency, and it allows you to take in more oxygen, which, without going into technical details, your muscle cells need.
Even when you are not running, train yourself to breathe well because making it a natural thing will allow you to get used to it in training as well.
How to do it? Concentrate on breathing like this: inhale inflating your belly (this means you are filling the lower part of your lungs) and exhale pushing air from the bottom up, using your diaphragm to empty your lungs and “deflating” your belly.
If you want to learn more about what pace you should breathe at during running, we explain how to do it here.
And don’t overlook another very important benefit that breathing well gives you, even apart from running: it allows you to control anxiety and moods.
Until the next installment!
THE GUIDE TO START RUNNING
Some tips to make running less of a chore