We all wish that we could run like Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipketer. Gliding through the neighborhood streets and flying round the local running track with smooth and effortless strides. Only barely breaking out in a light sweat on the forehead. If having a large VO2max is the Physiological measurement that a runner is aiming for, then having a good running efficiency and effective stride is ultimately what limits your potential.
The term Bipedal Integrity describes how well we have evolved from our four legged ancestry and maintained bipedal proficiency as our surrounding human culture becomes more sedentary. It can always be improved to a point and therefor increase a runners potential. However, a poor running model on the other hand will highlight a runners weakness. Accruing mileage on a poor running model is like constantly adding water to diluting juice, making it weaker and weaker until injury occurs. Does this ring any bells?
Brother Colm O’Connell at the famous St Patricks High school in Iten, Kenya, uses the FAST model with his athletes and it has been successful in creating world champions, Olympic medalists and world record holders.
F – Focus. Focus the mind on the job ahead and think about what your body is doing and how it is reacting with the immediate environment.
A – Alignment – the body should be in an almost upright, tall posture with the hips beneath the shoulders.
S – Stability – holding the core, especially the lower abdominals strong and stable.
T – Timing – the feet should contact the ground in an even rhythm like a metronome.
And of course remember to relax. You don’t want your body to be like a brick contacting with the hard ground, rather it should be flowing like water.
Coach Rob Higley, who has coached successful athletes across Africa, adds two important aspects to this model, Tempo and Depth. Once you have mastered the FAST model, Tempo and Depth give you more speed. Tempo is another word for leg speed. Quite simply if you move your legs faster you will run faster, but there becomes a point that you reach when you cannot move your legs any faster. This is where depth becomes important. The term depth means pushing deeper into the ground which will give an equal and opposite force to propel your body forward. Other words which could be used are force or power. The scientific or technical term for this would be power to weight ratio, or, the power that you produce divided by your body weight. So less body weight equals more power.
To increase depth or power when out running, many runners slam their feet into the ground to generate more force. Think about the number of steps you take while out on a run and it is a lot of steps. When you are running fast, 4-5 times your body weight can be passing through your axis from the top of your head to the foot striking the ground, during each step, therefor you have a lot of stress on your body! Where does this lead to? Yes you guessed it, more injuries. Every time that you take a step, think of ground as being thin ice and land on it as lightly as possibly. As soon as your foot is on the ground you realise that the ice is actually really thick and you push off it as hard as possible to drive your body forward. So the sound from your feet should be a light tapping noise, equal on both sides and keeping an even tempo.
So no matter how big your engine size is (VO2max), your car won’t go very far if it has square wheels. Therefor the importance of developing an effective running stride with good efficiency should not be overlooked. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Colin is a freelance Physiologist, writer and speaker who helps runners, beginners to elite, all over the world to reach their running goals. He has spent time in Kenya with some of the world’s best coaches and athletes. A runner himself with a current marathon pb of 2.33.