Tuesday, August 21, 2018 – 11:55
The growth in mass participation running is fertile ground for running scientists, because recreational runners want to do as well as they can, even if they might not be standing on the podium at the end of their race like athletes. Many will not have a coach, but most will want to learn and appreciate how best to prepare and compete, and how to get the very best they can from their bodies.
This is where science can help. It may not be able to turn a recreational runner into an Olympic champion, but science can help any runner to get more from their performance, stop them making certain mistakes and, above all, improve their enjoyment of the sport. The scope for science to impact on running is immense.
My book Running Science: Optimising Training And Performance features some of the latest scientific findings that you can apply to your running today to perform better. Here’s a taste of the latest research and the practical training ideas that you’ll find in it.
Efficient runners get better results
In order to run, the body has to produce energy. This occurs as a result of the breakdown of either carbohydrate or fat in the muscles, and for low- and moderate-intensity running this process always uses oxygen. Approximately one-fifth of the air that we breathe into our lungs consists of oxygen, and this is then transported via the lungs to attach to haemoglobin in the blood.
With each beat of the heart, oxygen-rich blood from the lungs is pumped to the exercising muscles, where it combines with fat or carbohydrate to produce energy. Blood that is low in oxygen is pumped away from the muscles and back to the lungs.
The amount of energy needed to run at a given speed varies between runners, and this in turn determines how much oxygen the working muscles require. Someone who uses a lot of energy ? perhaps as a result of poor technique or a high body fat percentage ? will need more oxygen, and be less efficient, than a runner who uses less energy. Efficient runners use less oxygen, save energy and suffer less fatigue. This is known as ?running economy? and it has a real impact on performance.
A simple analogy is to think of two cars. If one requires more fuel than another while travelling at the same speed, the one with the highest fuel consumption will stop first. In the same way, a runner with poor economy will stop before a runner with good economy when running at the same speed. Here are eight science-backed ways to become a more efficient runner.
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1. Shed the weight
Extra weight – particularly body fat – requires more energy, so runners with high body fat levels have poor running economy. High-intensity interval training and a balanced diet will help shift it.
2. Get the leading knee right
A straight knee will produce resistance when the foot lands on the ground. This needs to be overcome with extra energy before forward momentum is generated.
3. Don’t overstride
If your foot lands too far ahead of your body it causes a braking motion that must be overcome before moving forwards. Avoid this by planting your foot only slightly ahead of the body.
4. Keep your rear foot down
Efficient runners with good running economy tend to keep their feet close to the ground and avoid wasting energy with a high follow-through of their trailing leg.
5. Stay straight
Excessive rotation wastes energy and makes it hard to run efficiently in a straight line. Rotation has to be stabilised with counter movements, which requires more energy.
6. Avoid swinging your foot
Swinging your rear foot outward as it comes forwards for the next step is a common problem. The instability and loss of forward momentum it creates requires additional energy.
7. Lean forwards
Relaxing and leaning slightly forwards creates the optimum body angle and displacement of your centre of gravity, minimising braking forces.
8. Stop bounding
Vertical displacement ? moving upwards as well as forwards ? uses extra energy and does not help forward motion, so it results in poor running economy.