Considering the importance the run has on the overall time and performance in a triathlon, it may be surprising that it is often the most overlooked discipline in terms of proper technique training. In this article, Alex Price not only talks about what are the key skill elements shared by the best runners in triathlon, but also ‘how’ working on your ground game will not only help improve your run form, it will also improve your efficiency and reduce your risk of injury. Paying attention to the process of running, your technique, what you need to focus on and how you can improve it is a very valuable tool athletes should use every time they strap on their shoes.
KEEP THE ARMS NICE AND RELAXED. IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO CROSS OVER YOUR ARMS IN FRONT OF YOUR BODY
Keep the arms nice and relaxed and close to your body. It is important not to cross over your arms in front of your body. This helps to keep your chest open so your breathing is easier and reduces over rotating. Make sure you also keep your hands and shoulders relaxed.
STRAIGHT AND TALL TORSO
Think about this like someone is pulling upward on a string that is connected to your head. This will prevent you from slouching, and improve your biomechanics throughout. It is especially important as you get tired, as this is when people tend to slouch, which increases your energy expenditure.
This is one of the most common causes of injury for runners. If you are not strong through the gluteals the knee can track inwards slightly when your foot lands. This can cause hip pain, knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and many other common running injuries. To prevent this work hard on the clam and quarter squat exercises.
The less movement through your pelvis when your foot lands, the better. When your pelvis is ‘sloppy’ on foot landing there is an increase in energy lost, which quickly adds up to lost speed over a triathlon.
NO CROSSING OVER MIDLINE
Ideally your feet should land in line with the hip joint and not cross over the midline of the body. Crossing the ‘midline’ is typically a sign that the athlete is not strong enough through their gluteals and stomach to support the pelvis on initial foot contact. This cross-over is a compensation that some adopt, which again can increase the risk of injury and reduce efficiency. To prevent this, again work hard on gluteal strength and activation, along with visualising keeping the feet slightly wider on initial contact.
Your thoracic spine is the region between the bottom of your rib cage and your neck. Keeping this part of your back upright and strong allows for relaxed rotation and arm swing. People are often stiff through this area, especially those who work behind a desk or do a lot of driving. Thoracic mobilisation using a roller is great to keep mobility. Keep your lower back flat and rest back over the roller for one minute, in three different positions. This also helps your swimming to achieve a better stroke length and high elbow position.
The arm swing in endurance running does not provide ‘drive’ like sprinting, but provides balance and rhythm. Slightly increasing the elbow bend at the back of the swing helps the elbow to act like a pendulum and makes running more efficient.
Aim for 90-110 degrees of elbow bend at the back of the arm swing. Visualise a string attached to the back of your elbow and it being pulled back. Alternatively, imagine squeezing a golf ball in the small of your elbow at the back of the swing.
Head position is very important in controlling your body position. Look too far forward and you will lean back and slow yourself down, too close and you will be slouching and applying a braking force to your stride! It is ideal to look about 10-15 metres in front.
Having a strong stomach assists in improving pelvic control and ‘drive’ for the run gait. Keeping a stable pelvis also means the gluteal muscles can be used more efficiently, while allowing you to ‘wind up’ your connective tissue. The connective tissue then acts like a spring to recoil and drive your leg through to the front using less energy. A functional way to develop this strength is the supine cycling exercise. Lie on your back, focus on keeping your back flat (i.e., preventing that forward rotation of the pelvis) then slowly extend your legs out one at a time. Do this to fatigue 3-5 times.
The greater the degree of hip extension you can achieve while controlling your core, the faster you will run! To improve hip extension, regularly do hip flexor stretches. Dynamic stretches are best just prior to training – short holds (three-second holds), with static stretches (30-second holds) best for post training.
FOOT CONTACT AND CADENCE
The location of initial foot contact with the ground is paramount to good run technique. The foot contacting the ground in front of the hips leads to an increase in braking forces on landing, therefore slowing you down and increasing injury risk. Therefore it is not about how your foot lands (heel vs. midfoot strike) that is most important, but where it lands. In order to prevent overstriding, work on increasing your cadence or steps per minute, by taking nice quick steps. Additionally, keeping the foot nice and relaxed and allowing your full foot to come into contact with the ground allows you to use the best shock absorber there is – the arch of your foot.
Keeping your foot from lifting too high off of the ground increases efficiency by reducing energy expenditure. The smaller the ‘arcs’ to get the foot back to the front, the more efficient you are. 220
You can read the full article in the December 2013 edition of 220 Triathlon Magazine or click here to download
Article by Alex Price
Photos courtesy of 220 Magazine