The Answer is Only as Good as the Question

QuestionRunners are practically drowning in theories that promise to be “the answer.” 180 strides! Forefoot running! The Pose Method! Just like Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent, we find ourselves searching for the right question to all the answers being propounded by the running pundits-of-the-moment. Is that how I run faster? Is that how I train smarter? Is that how I stay healthier?

One of the great things about modern technology is that we consistently have more and more data to use in our training. But all that data can be a double-edged sword. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae and assume we’ve found “the answer” by focusing on the end game.

The problem is we’re often asking the wrong questions. We’re Carnac the Magnificent—gone wrong. Instead of asking, “What part of my foot should hit the ground first?” we should ask, “How do I teach my stride to be more efficient so I can be faster and healthier?”

Many experts are now pushing the concept of the ideal cadence—180 or more strides per minute. The problem is that we are never told how to get there. There is more to an “ideal cadence” than just quicker steps. Yes, faster turnover increases cadence, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to a more efficient stride. In order to properly improve our turnover, we must first focus on “turning on” the proper muscles.

I teach my athletes that we want a pawing action at foot strike. Unfortunately, many of us use a pounding action because our glutes fail to fire fast enough to create the pawing action. Running efficiency isn’t so much a question of what part of the foot touches the ground first, but how squared initial contact is beneath our hips. In other words, running efficiency is directly related to how centered our foot strike is beneath our center of mass. Overstriding occurs when the foot hits the ground well ahead of the hips.

Think of it like this: If you jab two sticks in the ground—one perpendicular to the ground and the other angled back toward you—which one will create the greatest opposing force to your forward motion? Obviously, the stick pointing backwards is going to resist forward motion. It’s the same with running. When your foot strikes the ground—no matter what part of the foot it is—even a minimal angle in the shin is going to create resistance.

So how do we improve our mechanics so that our foot strike is as squared as possible beneath our center of mass so that we can increase our cadence and become extremely efficient runners? (Phew. That was a mouthful.)

The answer is “glutes.”

By increasing our glutes’ ability to pull the foot back down underneath our bodies into a neutral (perpendicular to the ground) shin angle, we can alleviate many of the opposing forces that create the “braking action” that slows us down. Improving our glutes allows us to correctly improve our cadence, reduce ground contact time, and reduce vertical oscillation of our center of mass through the gait cycle.

In other words, we become more efficient.

Speed SchoolWe must teach our muscles to fire properly to achieve our goals. Muscles are stupid, but they have memory. Through consistent training, we can develop correct muscle memory. FLEET FEET’s Speed School is focused on utilizing running drills, speed dynamics, and other proprioceptive training to help us match the right answers to the right questions. A combination of drills from Speed School and strength/flexibility classes will help you take that next step in achieving your goals.

Good Luck and Happy Racing!
Coach Cary

Tim Cary is FLEET FEET's Assistant Training Manager, coach of the FLEET FEET-sponsored Runnababez Elite team, and manager of the FLEET FEET Racing Team.  Over his 20 years of coaching, Tim has coached athletes to three
 national team championships, five national individual championships, two national records, and numerous All-American and All-State honors.  Click here to receive Tim's weekly article via email.

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