Step on It: Faster Through Better Form
Do you want to run faster, but feel like something is holding you back? “Basically, we are born to run fast. Running is the most natural form of movement available to us,” explains running expert and coach Sascha Wingenfeld. So why does it sometimes not work the way we want it to? Office jobs and sedentary routines, just like poor posture or monotonous training, rob us of our speed and dynamism. “Yeah, people can actually train themselves slow, or unknowingly incorporate brakes into their own movements,” says the expert.
More steps = better technique?
Runners with good technique can achieve a cadence between 180 and 190 steps per minute. Those who don’t lace up so often usually can’t run more than 160 steps per minute. What does this mean? “While it is true that people who run fewer steps per minute take longer strides, they also require more power. This ultimately makes it difficult to maintain a dynamic running style. Their foot stays in contact with the ground too long, which also greatly increases the impact,” cautions Sascha. The key to fast and healthy running is the right combination of step length and step frequency. Your feet should only touch the ground briefly. The higher the step frequency – i.e. the more steps you take per minute – the more effectively you can use your energy. This way you can run faster, longer and with less effort. “But you often have to learn how to make this natural sequence of movements again,” explains the running coach.
How high is your step frequency? Find out!
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If you make contact with the ground less than 160 times, you are probably running with too much power. Your steps are too long, and your running form is getting in the way of you running fast. But don’t worry, the following tips can help you take your foot off the brake and finally floor it.
Here’s how it works:
But one thing first: Your body is going to need some time if you want to develop a more dynamic running form in which you take faster steps. This change is a process which requires constant work. “Your muscles have to get used to the new running style and grow accordingly. Trying to change everything overnight isn’t good for your body. So, all I have to do is focus on taking shorter steps while running, right? If only it were that easy. Each step requires your body to relearn the proper movement. Plus, it needs quick muscle fibers, which may have lost some of their strength due to long distance runs. Your body has to build up this capability again.
5 tips that will make you faster
Running expert Sascha Wingenfeld shares some of his best tips and tricks for shaving time off your personal best.
1. Introduce variety into your training
Once a week, you can play with the speed of your workout. Simply try fast and short interval runs or cross-country fartleks. The main thing is that as you run faster, you increase your pace by increasing your step frequency. This training stimulus helps you break out of your usual routine and push your body.
2. Improve your dynamics and form with hill sprints
For hill sprints, you need about a 100-meter incline in your running route. Sprint up this incline at 85% effort and use the downhill to start your recovery. Do 6 to 10 rounds. When you run uphill, you are forced to lift your knees higher, which in turn makes your running style more effective. The power comes directly from your push off, and your center of gravity automatically shifts farther forward. Driving your arms also helps power you up the hill. All these things improve your technique. And although inclines are quite intense, they are a very effective tool for increasing your speed.
3. Get off the road
Dare to break out of your comfort zone a little more often and choose a running route that is more strenuous than usual. Do you normally run on well-packed trails or the road? An energy-efficient stride, while perfect for these routes, lacks dynamic movement. So what can you do? Next time try a dirt path, or simply run through field and forest. Of course, this is harder, but it can do wonders for your running form.
4. Stay flexible
Stretch the muscles used after each running workout so you remain flexible. You can also incorporate a more extensive stretching and conditioning session into your training routine once a week. Why? Well-balanced muscles are the foundation of healthy running. If your body has to constantly struggle with tightness, your running will zap your strength rather than build it up.
5. Keep the beat
Grab your phone and your favorite music and you’re good to go. “Make sure that the songs in your playlist have about 170 to 185 beats per minute. That way you constantly receive acoustic feedback on the effectiveness of your running form. At first, it will be hard to adapt your step frequency to the higher beats per minute. But with a little practice, you will develop a good feeling for the cadence of your steps,” recommends Sascha.
Time for a change
There are a variety of ways to improve your running technique. Find out what options work best for you. Don’t try to incorporate everything into your training right from the start. Give your body the time it needs to make the transition. Also, avoid running too fast, for the art of good running technique lies in being able to maintain it at slow speeds, too. No matter what you choose, it will be worth it. Have fun and good luck with your running!