This piece is about becoming a better runner and what prevents many runners from improving, namely tension and poor running technique. Here we look at braking and different ways this happens, many of them unnoticed and therefore difficult to change…just part of the wallpaper of everyday running experience.
Although there is a lot of talk out there both in books and mags as well social media on how you can improve your running, I think that runners tend to suck it up and hope for the best. In other words how they run is as pre-determined as the colour of their eyes and the size of their feet. This becomes a self fulfilling promise when there’s no awareness, interest or motivation to improve their performance, aside from more training . Younger runners can get away with poor technique, making up for what they lack in efficiency with talent, effort and energy. I have been passed many times in races by runners who’s technique looked horrific but who’s physical and mental gifts put them in a different class.
As we get older and begin to lose some of our youthful gifts, finding how to get more from less starts to look a bit more interesting. Some might refer to it as slowing down the slippery slide. I like to think of it as getting smarter as you get older.
One area many runners could improve is learning how to release the brakes. For those more technically minded individuals, braking usually refers to the landing foot coming down ahead of the hip. In fact every runner brakes, but some do way more than others. (see picture below)
Braking is something efficient runners have learned to reduce as much as possible allowing themselves to benefit more fully from both propulsion and momentum. Braking requires the athlete to accelerate more on every stride which mean he/she has to work that little bit harder to maintain an even pace.
Braking also seems to put more strain on the body to absorb the shock of the landing, potentially leading to “breaking” or injury. Learning to reduce braking is not that difficult and can be learned quite quickly in some cases by just getting the runner to simply let their foot drop to the ground rather than reaching out to get a longer stride. Slight increases in cadence can also have a positive influence on reducing braking.
Braking for runners, effectively slows down forward movement. The foot landing in front of the hip is just one of the ways we brake. In the big picture, braking can be viewed as anything we do, or don’t do which makes us work harder than necessary. Why don’t coaches recommend we run bent over in the slump we often practice all day long at the computer? Because it makes it harder to breath! Try hunching over and taking a full breathe of air and compare the ease of breathing when sitting or standing a little straighter. Alexander found that the key to efficiently breathing in a performance was for the back to lengthen and widen. Anything he did which cause compression to his back made it harder to breath resulting in his sniffing and gasping for breath, all against against his better instinct. Becoming aware of poor postural habits and their affect on breathing is a good way to address this issue. Locating a qualified Alexander Technique teacher can really fast track this learning process.
Another way to brake, ie reduce the sense of ease and freedom in movement, is to stiffen
yourself so that your
shoulders and hips stay square to the target line. If you look at this picture of Kipchoge, world record holder in the marathon
you’ll notice how much his shoulders rotate ( and his hips as well although in the opposite direction) Many runners are used to stiffening the body when they walk and sit thereby shutting down (braking) the body’s natural tendency to spiral. It wastes energy to prevent what should happen naturally. Releasing this tendency feels so much better and helps the runner find their flow.
Finally for the uncommitted runner, if you’re looking for a way to not get out the door, any excuse will do. Now that kind of psychic braking can be really tough to break! ! Finding a running partner, either the 2 legged, 3 legged (baby jogger) or four (dog) variety is an invaluable aid in this dept.
So to improve your running, learn to release your brakes and enjoy a smoother, easier ride.
In the Art of Running Workshops, we help runners release their brakes and lots of other things as well so they leave better happier runners!!