Running is a great and motivating exercise. Many new runners, however, struggle to keep challenging their bodies and increase their speed and performance. If that is your goal, this article brings interesting insights on how to improve running, highlighting the role of muscle memories and muscle groups to improve speed.
For the art of running, endurance is the basic building block. But to push yourself to excel, it’s important to have a decent amount of speed in your stride.
It’s important to understand, however, that increasing speed is not just about pushing yourself in every run. There is a systematic approach that involves strengthening specific muscles, adjusting your form and even training your muscles to retain data, or muscle memory.
Here are tips from Adidas Runners’ coaches from Bengaluru, Anil Mahoba and Rashmi Gupta, on how to improve running speed.
How does muscle memory come into play?
While working on speed interval training, the muscles start to get used to working at a specific pace for a specific amount of time. Accordingly you can understand how much your body can be pushed for greater speed.
For example, if you constantly cover five kilometres in 30 minutes, your body gets used burning a certain amount of energy to maintain a steady pace to complete the course in that time.
“When you do your normal run, your legs have muscle memory. Once you do speed workouts, and later go for your normal run, with the muscle memory you realise you did a run at a faster pace than normal,” says Gupta.
“Once you start enjoying your speed interval training, the muscles build up memory and just move along.”
Which muscle groups have to be worked on to increase speed?
The main muscle groups responsible for speed are the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
“Glutes are the biggest muscles in your body, they hold your body erect,” Gupta adds.
Which workouts can help increase speed?
Planks are a good way to increase strength in the core. For seasoned runners, either increasing the duration of a plank or adding weights on your back is a good way to increase core strength.
“Squats, weighted squats, lunges and weighted lunges are very handy,” says Bengaluru-based Adidas runners coach Anil Mahoba.
“Then you can use the bouncing ball to help balance, because running is all about balancing on one leg as you stride. You can also work with resistance bands.”
Weight exercises do have merit, for both the upper and lower body. But it’s advised not to use heavy weights.
“Go for lighter weights, but more reps and functional exercises. Around 5kg or 7.5kg weights are adequate. Anything heavier means you’re starting to bulk up (which reduces flexibility),” Mahoba says.
“If you do use heavier weights, then reduce repetitions.”
Does form make a difference?
Yes, and it is very important for speed.
The arms play a big role, but they only activate if they’re swinging straight front and back, and not sideways. The movement helps the forward drive, and just tweaking a possible side-to-side movement to front-back movement tends to bring about significant improvement.
Then there’s the head positioning.
“Looking down is not good,” explains Gupta. “When you look down and run, the oxygen intake capacity decreases. You should always look forward, keep your chin parallel to the ground and run.”
In terms of the lower body, the push should be forward rather than the legs pushing into the ground.
The posture needs to be nice and straight without a slouch, which can be improved with strength training.
“The core of our body, neck to pelvis, that region has to be very stable when we run. Even though it’s an activity that focuses mainly on your lower body, if the upper body is not straight, the lower body will not be able to manage it,” she adds.
It’s also important to understand that ‘form’ does not just pertain to running, but also in the gym during training.
“[For running,] form is very important when you do any kind of workout – not the number of reps – which people tend to forget. When the adrenaline kicks in and you are pumped up, you forget what your body is doing,” Gupta says.
Is there an element of natural running form that does not need to be tinkered with?
Yes. Gupta encourages the natural landing stride – which is what area of the foot lands first – should not be changed.
“We have something called heel-striker, mid-foot striker, fore-foot striker. About 95% of runners all over the world are heel-strikers. I was a heel-striker. When I tried to change it to mid or fore-foot strike, I started developing pain in my arches. That’s the point I realized that when your body is used to a certain running form for a long amount of time and it’s not giving you problems, don’t change it,” she concludes.
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