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With the rise of barefoot-style running and the five-fingered minimalist shoe, the science of stride mechanics – once only the arcane domain of running geeks – has entered the mainstream. Has running, the most elemental of sports, really become so complex? Does the average guy hoping to go out for a pain-free run really have to worry about all of this? MH joined forces with Runner’s World to bring you the best answers to these questions. You’ll find out how to clean up your stride, strengthen your legs, prevent injuries, train for a half-marathon without losing muscle, choose the right pair of shoes and stay motivated. Happy running!
Fix your form
Alberto Salazar watches as world-class runners (and recent Olympic medalists) Galen Rupp and Mo Farah knock out 300m repeats at Nike world headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon. The two men move with grace and efficiency. “It looks natural, but Galen and Mo work incessantly on their stride,” says Salazar, their coach. The same fundamentals that apply to Olympians also apply to you. You can run with fewer injuries, greater efficiency and ultimately more pleasure, says Salazar, if you follow the four simple rules below and do regular sprint drills (see “Speed School”).
Aim for a slight forward tilt – about two or three degrees, says Salazar. You don’t want to lean too far forward or too far back. Too far forward and you shove your full body weight into the ground with each stride. Too far back, and you jam your heels.
DO THIS To promote a properly tilted and aligned neck and torso, allow your eyes to guide you. Instead of looking down at the ground, let your gaze settle on the horizon. Keep your chin tucked instead of letting it jut out.
Take a Hand
“The typical runner never thinks about his hands, but in fact, they’re crucial,” Salazar says. “Your arms should swing back and forward, not across your body.” With each stride, bring your hand to the vertical midpoint of your torso, but don’t let your hand cross that midline. If it does, your body will rock side to side.
DO THIS To release tension in your hands and arms, run with your hands forming a loose fist; imagine that each hand is carrying a pretzel that you don’t want to break.
Use Your Arms
The fourth key to a successful stride, Salazar says, is arm carriage. “Your shoulders need to be relaxed and sloping down, and your elbows should be slightly bent,” he says. “If you tighten your shoulders and let them point up instead, your arms start to flail and you lose that circular, forward-flowing drive.”
DO THIS As fatigue sets in, your shoulders tend to lift and tighten. When this happens, briefly drop your hands and shake out your arms to relax your muscles.
Be on the Ball
“If you land on your heel, you’re almost certainly over-striding,” says Salazar. “You’re pounding your leg into the ground with each stride and increasing your risk of injury. When you land on the balls of your feet, you flow with your forward energy.” A recent study of Harvard runners supports Salazar’s theory, it found that forefoot strikers have fewer injuries than heel strikers.
DO THIS Flick back your heel quickly after contact; visualise pawing the ground with the balls of your feet.
What you can learn about running from…
They tend to land on the balls of their feet. Run barefoot for two minutes after your regular run, says biomechanics researcher, Professor Peter Larson. You’ll adapt to the lack of cushioning by landing closer to your body.
The Road Runner
There’s a running method to the madness of the bird’s whirring legs. “Most top class runners have a stride rate around 90 steps per minute per foot,” says Bosch. Count yours, and if it’s well under 90, shorten your stride.
He went for a little run and ended up across the country. Runner’s World editor-at-large Amby Burfoot offers two takeaways: (1) aim to go a bit further or a bit faster each week; and (2) use races to explore places in South Africa. To find the best races, visit Runner’s World
Strong tendons help these heavy beast hurdle high obstacles and outrun horses in endurance-type races. To gain more spring, says decathlete Bryan Clay, do this plyometric circuit once or twice a week: box jump, single-leg hop, lateral jump (three sets of 10 reps each).
Running Makes You Smarter!
Sharper memory, better mood, new brain cells. The research is in – running blows your mind! Here’s the real-world proof
The Atomic Physicist
“I run six times a week first thing in the morning. Afterwards I’m energised: I’m more spontaneous and I’m more aggressive at getting work done. It gives me a fresh mind and makes me more focused and efficient.”
– Professor Walter Ketterle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nobel Laureate in physics
The Inventor “Running focuses my mind and allows me to think around a subject. I still need a workshop to make discoveries, but on a run I might think of a new avenue to explore. Another thing I learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you’re hurting like crazy. The moment you should accelerate is the moment that you’re most tired. I found that to be so in life as well.”
– Sir James Dyson, founder and chief engineer of Dyson, manufacturer of vacuums and fans
The Tech Wiz
“I really started running for meditative purposes. I would pick some problem to have in my head while running – not for the purpose of solving it, but for the purpose of having it bounce around in there. Like when you say you’re going to sleep on it; I say I’m going to run on it. Then at some point later on, a solution falls out.”
– Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter
“I try not to think of anything special while I’m running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometime. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.”
– Haruki Murakami, author of 1Q84 and What I Talk About When I Talk About
Running can be a head game. Use these motivational tips to come out on top
— Men’s Health & Runner’s world staff
Join treadmill university
“The rhythms of treadmill running boost learning,” says running coach Matt Barbosa. Use an easy run to rehearse a speech or listen to a podcast.
Strike like a ninja
Listen to your stride: ninja good, elephant bad. Lean forward slightly as it will help you touch down on your forefoot. Not only will it be more efficient, your joints will thank you.
Zoom up hills
“Taking it easy up hills might be best for the less trained runners,” explains Bosch. “But the top of the hill is a good time to attempt to mentally ‘break’ an opponent.”
Find a partner
“Stick to more popular running routes like promenades and parks (or join a running club). You’ll often see regular faces,” suggests MH Girl Next Door Amelia Frenkel.
Ignite your stride
If you’re tiring during a run and need a mental boost, imagine you’re on hot coals, says running coach Jeff Galloway. You’ll definitely speed up your stride!
Create a mantra
Think brief, positive and instructive. For instance, says US Runner’s World editor-in-chief David Willey, to fight fatigue when powering up a hill, think: claw the ground.
Shift to walk speed
Run for four minutes, walk for 30 seconds. “This helps when you’re not as fit as you should be in a long race,” says Professor Andrew Bosch of the MRC Research Unit at UCT.
* The man in our photograph is Elroy Gelant, 26, and the current South African 10km champion and holds the SA record for the indoor 3 000m race. He also won the cross-country trials this year.