We’ve already had a look at the history of running, the benefits and drawbacks of running as well as injury prevention and treatment in other articles. In this article we focus our attention on running training and strategies and methods you can use to run faster and more effectively as well as some of the latest running trends.
Running - The Importance of Training
As with all sports and exercises, to get good at running, you need to train. While for some people, training simply means running regularly and for longer distances; for the person aiming at seriously improving their running, there are an abundant number of variables you can change to improve the overall quality of your running. The two most common factors include:
1. Training Environment – Treadmill vs. Outdoor training
Treadmill vs. Outdoors
There are essentially two ways you can go about your running training; training on a treadmill or running in the outdoors. Both methods have their benefits and drawbacks and therefore it is essential to know about each so you can effectively and safely train on either surface.
Treadmill training is unusual in the sense that you are running on a moving surface, whereas regular running requires accelerating on a stable, static surface. What this means is that in treadmill running, your body doesn’t actually need to move forward. Instead the focus is essentially on moving up and down. This places extra pressure on the heels, especially the outer heels, which have prompted several large sporting brands to produce shoes especially for treadmill running. Treadmill running also differs from outdoor running in that it is actually easier than outdoor running at the same speed. Due to the stable environment and controlled nature of treadmill running, less energy is actually expended with regular treadmill running. In order to correct for this, it is actually important to have a 1% incline1 when running on a treadmill. In fact studies have also shown that runners tend to run slower on treadmills due to the visual absence of a moving environment2, another reason why the intensity needs to be increased if training on a treadmill.
Running on a treadmill is also often an indirect culprit for injuries. Because the surface of the treadmill is so unvaried, our muscles and other tissues tend to have a hard time adjusting to the outdoors environment with its highly variable surfaces, eg, cracks, bumps, grass, footpath, sand, etc. As a result, we become more prone to injuries. However, treadmill training does offer the benefits of a controlled environment. It helps us avoid extremes in environment such as rain, hot and cold weather, which can hinder our training effort and is a much safer option for people who work long hours and not wanting to run at night or for those people who travel often to foreign destinations. We are also more capable at developing endurance and speed as we tend to naturally slow down when we control our own pace. The treadmill also offers a instant display of distance ran and calories expended which can be a motivating factor.
Running Training Outdoors
One of the best ways to prevent injuries is to vary the environment and intensity of the run. It is much easier to change and utilise different surfaces in the outdoors than it is on a treadmill which helps to strengthen the muscles, ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues better to lower the risk of injury. Training in the outdoors also helps you better prepare for any races you have coming up as your body adapts to external environmental factors such as heat, cold, wind, air resistance, etc. At the very least, training outdoors is often a lot more fun and a lot less boring.
The majority of runners run with shoes on, which makes shoes an extremely important factor in training. The right shoe can often mean the difference between training comfortably with minimal injury risk and training awkwardly with a high chance of musculoskeletal injury. Ironically, running shoes are considered a rather novel experience in our long history of running, considering the modern running shoe was only really created in the 1970s. In fact, modern day running footwear has changed our running styles from a typical front foot or mid foot striking pattern to a heel strike pattern, which would be extremely painful without the cushioning of the modern day running shoe.
If you are training in shoes, it is important to pick the right shoe for your foot. At the most basic level, this will depend on the arch of your foot, which you can easily test by doing the ‘wet’ test, which involves dipping your foot in water and stepping on a piece of paper. You can then view your arch type which would fall into one of three categories:
- Normal (Medium) Arch – This is where you see half of the arch. The most versatile foot type and suitable for just about any shoe, but a neutral is recommended. Neutral shoes generally have a curved last (shape of the shoe). That is, the shoe is much thinner in the middle.
- Flat (Low) Arch – This is where you can see your entire footprint. People with a flat arch are also termed flat footers and often experience foot pain with overuse. In fact, flat footers were once heavily excluded from joining the army in certain countries. People with flat feet are said to work best with stability shoes (semi-curved last) or motion control shoes (straight last).
- High Arch – If on your footprint you see only the heel and the front of your foot with an absent or almost absent arch section, then you have a high arch. A neutral shoe works best and it is best to avoid stability or motion control shoes.
Strangely, a fairly recent study3 actually disputed whether these recommendations are correct. The study was able to show that female runners who were flat footed and using motion control shoes missed the most days of training due to injury than flat footed females using neutral shoes. While it is clear running shoes affects how we run, research is still needed to find the best shoe for each type of foot.
Barefoot running has been increasing in popularity in the last couple of years. Touted as a ‘back to basics’ and a more ‘natural’ style of running, several studies4,5,6 have been able to show that barefoot running uses less energy and can decrease the amount of injury due to the fact that barefoot runners tend to have a front foot strike, which allows for greater elastic energy for easier propulsion and less jarring and braking seen in heel striking, a common trait for many people running in shoes.
People in favour of barefoot running suggests that our strong capability to run long distances means that we have actually evolved so that running barefoot is considered the best and safest option. However, barefoot running does have its disadvantages including exposure to the elements and for those who aren’t used to barefoot running, greater impact forces which can result in injury. To help with these disadvantages, it is best to start barefoot running training slowly and perhaps invest in barefoot stimulating footwear such as the Vibram FiveFingers™ which help to reproduce the feel and benefits of barefoot running whilst avoiding the disadvantages mentioned above. The evidence supporting barefoot running is still inconclusive, but most scientists agree that with proper care and knowledge of the risks, barefoot training is an acceptable training method.
Tips for Run Better
While one can spend an article in itself focusing on training methods and strategies for better running performance, here are this author’s top 4:
1. Heart Rate Monitors – While not a training method per se, a heart rate monitor is by far one of the handiest tools for improving and tracking your running progress and improving fitness. Using a heart rate monitor can help you train more effectively by preventing overtraining and avoiding undertraining. Judging effort by feel alone is often inaccurate, which is where the objective measure of heart rate excels. Heart rate monitors used during running can also help pacing strategy by ensuring you don’t go too hard too soon or not going fast enough.
2. Resistance Training – Resistance training helps you get bigger, stronger and more durable muscles which can help improve running performance. Studies7,8,9 have been able to show that endurance resistance training can help long distance running while heavy resistance training can help improve sprint ability; useful for the sprinter or for the endurance runner at the end of the race.
3. Technique – One can’t stress technique enough when it comes to running training. The proper technique can not only help you run better, it can help lower the chance of injuries. Running technique is an extremely subjective area of research as each person’s most economic running technique is different. In general however, the main points of focus would be on:
- Foot Strike – Maintaining a mid to front foot strike, which will help with propulsion.
- Posture – Leaning your body slightly forwards will help keep your centre of gravity forward which will help you achieve a better foot strike and gain momentum. Leaning backwards will mean that you are constantly braking, which can damage your muscles and other tissues.
- Arm Swing – A good arm swing can help you generate speed and reduce air resistance.
4. Music – Most people tend to run to music as a way to cut through boredom and as a motivational tool, but in fact, studies10,11,12,13 have been able to show that music has the ability to help pacing and breathing strategies by synchronising these movements to the beat. Music can also lower our sense of exertion making running easier than if we were to train without music. All these factors help to not only make the experience of running and other exercise more pleasant but also help improve performance.
As new technologies and interests come about, running is beginning in response. Here are 3 of the latest trends that will revolutionise running training in the near future.
1. Vibration Devices – Its popularity as an alternative to exercise is growing in America and this form of exercise is predicted to become increasingly popular in Australia too. Whole body vibration (WBV) devices are machines which vibrate, which stimulates the muscles to subconsciously contract as a reflex. Studies14 have shown that this has the ability to actually increase the amount of muscles working. WBV devices are not only used as an adjunct to regular exercise but has been shown to help with recovery from running, running performance15 and help provide a different training stimulus to the muscles without overloading the joints.
2. Running Devices – With improving technologies, running devices are revolutionising the way people train. With more information made available through apps and devices able to record your progress such as the Nike FuelBand™, there are hopes that this plethora of information will help you train smarter, harder and more often.
3. Obstacle Course Running – With a seeming explosion of obstacle course events such as Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race and Urbanathlon to name a few, the traditional training method of running for a set amount of time or a set distance just doesn’t cut the mustard with these events. Instead, a focus on circuit training is recommended with aerobic and anaerobic based fitness activities.
Running training research and trends have come a long way in the past couple of decades. From the invention of the modern day running shoe to treadmills to phone applications able to track your running progress, training for that run has never been as encompassing an activity as it is now. Regardless of your running experience, if you want to improve your running remember to:
1. Vary your training environments and surfaces
2. Use other exercises methods
3. Work on your posture
4. Make use of modern day technologies
5. Vary your training attire
By following these 5 simple steps, you’ll be a going from a novice to professional runner in no time. But remember, training is really only one piece of the puzzle. Without proper nutrition and supplementation, you won’t be able to reap all the rewards from your hard training. Head on to Part 4 to learn more about running nutrition and supplementation and why it is the key to unlocking your running potential.1. Jones AM, Doust JH. ‘A 1% treadmill grade most accurately reflects the energetic cost of outdoor running.’ J Sports Sci. 1996 Aug;14(4):321-7.
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11. Edworthy J, Waring H. ‘The effects of music tempo and loudness level on treadmill exercise.’ Ergonomics. 2006 Dec 15;49(15):1597-610.
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