By Don Williams
B.Sc., M.Chiro., ICSSD., PG Dip. NMS Rehabilitation,
Cert. DNS. Memb: CAA, FICS, CEA.
At this time of year, many people are trying to get in shape to look good on their holidays or just generally coming out of their winter slumber.
I always get a good laughing watching the hibernating bears starting to hit the esplanade in the morning for a jog, walk or in some cases some other movement activity which needs to be seen to be appreciated, but does not necessarily fall into the above categories.
Many people are trying to improve their running speed, and the evolution and growth of the parkrun groups around Brisbane is testament to an improvement in the public sentiment about improving health and fitness.
We do speak to a lot of people about their running and for many a desire or goal to be able to run faster and at the basic level, this is just human nature.
There are a number of factors which can play a roll in increasing your speed, or in fact hindering your ability to increase your speed. The aim of this article is to help you identify and address some of these issues.
At the most basic level, correct footwear is important. This is even more important if you get, foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain when you run. There are a range of different runners to suit different foot types and also different events, choosing a shoe that suits you and your intended sport is always very important. Correct footwear choice will usually save you money and prevent frustration long term from injuries.
If you are not sure if your shoes suit, maybe book in and have your gait assessed on the treadmill and we can point you in the right direction.
Secondly, gait mechanics. The mechanics of the gait cycle (walking and running mechanics) are really quite complex, so I will keep this section brief and untechnical. Essentially, when we walk, as our leg swings out in front, the heel of the foot strikes the ground (creating a deceleration or slowing moment), then we pull through with the foot into weight-bearing and then the heel lifts, the other heel strikes the ground and we push off with the toes. As people progress into jogging, the mechanics change a little, with one of the big differences being that only one foot is on the ground at any point in time. For slow jogging, this works fine, however, if you want to run fast (probably around 4 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre or faster) we need to improve our gait mechanics to minimise the deceleration phase, so that the foot is travelling backwards when the heel strikes the ground. This is a fascinating area and one which is rich in opportunities to improve. If you have never had your technique assessed, do it. This may have a dramatic impact on your speed and overall enjoyment.
Cardiovascular issues and Muscular Endurance
People often think of fitness as a cardiovascular issue. Certainly this is a major component, however, muscular endurance also plays a roll.
To break this down, the cardiovascular system is the heart, lunges and blood vessels and essentially, this system extracts oxygen from the air and transports it to the muscles, and returns the waste products back to the lunges etc. Improving fitness in this area improves the ability or efficiency of our bodies to do this effectively.
Muscular endurance describes the ability of the muscles to contract repeated during an exercise.
Both of these systems will adapt and improve with training. The muscular endurance ability tends to be a little more sport specific and will adapt most effectively to the training you are doing, as in , riding a bike won’t improve your running performance as much as running training will.
Cardiovascular fitness is a little less sport specific and generally, a range of cross training activities can all have a positive impact on your aerobic conditioning.
The efficiency and effectiveness of these systems will evidently have a significant impact on your running speed and training can be made much more effective or targeted by understanding what your thresholds are for aerobic capacity, allowing you to train more effectively to increase these thresholds. If you would like to know more about your cardiovascular and muscular endurance, we have a range of testing options to directly test and assess these systems and can then provide you with targets for your training.
Obviously, injuries can slow us down. Common injuries in runners are calf and Achilles injuries, hamstring strains and tears and low back strains. Knee and hip issues also play a roll.
Many of these injuries can be controlled or prevented by correct footwear choice, effective training strategies and evolving or increasing your training and distance over a period of time.
If you have injuries, address them early and resolve them before returning to training and racing. Mismanagement of injuries can be a major contributor to long term disability and whether you enjoy your running over the long term or retire early, hurt.
Lastly, training techniques and the type of training you do can greatly increase your speed.
Often runners will plod along at the same pace every time they run. Their body adapts to the speed and load that they place on it so it essentially “gets used to” that pace.
For these people, altering training to help the body adapt to faster speed when running can be effective. Think of this as training to increase leg speed.
Certainly, it can be much easier to quantify this type of training if you use a running computer or watch. There are a variety of products available on the market, Suunto, Polar and Garmin certainly make some great products which allow you to assess your speed, distance, time, heart rate and more advanced models even look at stride counter, stride distance…and the list goes on.
At Institute of Sports and Spines, we carry the Garmin Forerunner watches, which are and excellent product and the different models will fairly much meet the needs of even the most discerning runner.
I am a BIG fan of using technology to improve training specificity and effectiveness. I cannot stress this enough.
By using a computer, you can accurately measure your speed and time for 1km, 5km, 10 km etc, you can look at your running pace per kilometre, which then gives you the ability to target improvements in speed and time over a given distance so you can gauge your progress.
Simple Drills to try
Obviously it is great to do some time trials of the distance and time you want to improve so you know where you are at, then, set some realistic goals of what you want to achieve and in what time frame. For these drills, lets assume you can run 5km at a 6 minute per kilometre pace. Giving a total time of 30 minutes (perfect for those parkrunners in our midst).
Try running for 1 minute at 5minutes per kilometre pace, then run for 2 minutes at a recovery pace of 6 minutes per kilometre, continue for the duration of 5 kilometers.
Trial your next run at 5 minutes 45 seconds for 1 kilometer, then do a recovery kilometre at your usual pace. Repeat this to have completed 5 km with 3 at the fast pace and 2 at recovery. You will have knocked 45 seconds off your 5km time.
Hills are great for this. Find a hill near home, try and run your normal 5km pace when running up a medium incline. This is not great for leg speed but will increase your strength.
Trial this on a 400m track or keep a close eye on your computer. This is punishing, but at the same time, can be very good for getting used to running faster. It will help with cardiovascular conditioning, muscular endurance, leg speed and mental conditioning.
Run 400m comfortably.
Sprint 100m then coast for 300m. Stop and Rest 1 minute.
Sprint 200m then coast for 200m, Stop and Rest 1 minute.
Sprint 300m then coast for 100m, Stop and Rest 1 minute.
Sprint 400m, Stop and Rest 1 minute.
Then do the drill in reverse back to the start.
Hopefully these ideas and concepts will give you a start point if you are trying to get faster this summer. As always, if you have any concerns or issues, get them checked out before you embark on intense training sessions and if you need any assistance with gait patterns, performance testing or injuries, let us know and the team will be more than happy to help.