Developing Technique

“Running is a series of falls, aided by gravity.” Sven Otto Kanstad. Physicist and former competitive runner.

Running is such a repetitive activity that places significant stress through your entire body. During most long runs and certainly any ultra I find it amusing when my elbow or shoulder are the most pain-limiting joints, singing out for me to stop or at least change the routine forces that are passing through them. After hours on the trails, simply holding up my forearm is enough to make my elbow cry for mercy. Likewise, an old shoulder injury rears its head at about the 30 km mark, reminding me of the strain that 20,000+ swings of the right arm has over time.

The two biggest risk factors for injury are overload (more foot strikes than you are conditioned for) and biomechanics / movement patterns. Overload is relatively easy to predict but requires some serious restraint to avoid running a little further than you planned when you feel good or squeezing in some panic training when you feel that you haven’t done enough. Biomechanics can be improved in many ways such as a running assessment, short hill sprints, strides, and strength training. Of course, for your biomechanics to benefit from strength training, it is necessary to perform your exercises with good technique from the outset and reinforce these quality movement patterns over time.

To ensure you benefit from strength training without risking injury I recommend starting off with a series of foundational exercises to learn the key movement patterns required to run well. These are essentially the triple extension of your ankle, knee and hip during push off and triple flexion of ankle knee and hip during landing. Add in a little arm swing and Bam! you are running. Triple extension and triple flexion sound complicated but luckily are some of the most common exercises that people are familiar with, especially us runners. These include the squat, lunge, step up, deadlift, Olympic lifts, kettlebell swings, jumping and many more. Triple flexion is typically achieved by controlling the down phase or lowering phase of these exercises and through focusing on the landing phase of jumping exercises. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include bicep curls and bench press, but if that’s what gets you to the gym, then go ahead, fill your boots.

I encourage a phase-based approach to strength training to allow people to learn the triple flexion and triple extension patterns with standing exercises and no or minimal load, combined with heavy machine weights (no technique required) to still supply some heavy load to the system. For example, phase 1 would include single leg calf raises (always calf raises), broomstick squats, and wall deadlifts, combined with good old leg press. See the table below:

Week Exercises Load Sets & Reps
1 Calf Raises (left leg)
Calf Raises (right leg)
Broomstick Squats
Wall Deadlifts
Leg Press
Body Weight
Body Weight
Body Weight
2 x 5 kg
30 kg
2 x 12-15
2 x 12-15
2 x 12-15
2 x 12-15
2 x 12-15
2 Calf Raises (left leg)
Calf Raises (right leg)
Broomstick Squats
Wall Deadlifts
Leg Press
1 x 5 kg
1 x 5 kg
Body Weight
2 x 5 kg
35 kg
3 x 12-15
3 x 12-15
3 x 12-15
3 x 12-15
3 x 12-15
3 Calf Raises (left leg)
Calf Raises (right leg)
Broomstick Squats
Wall Deadlifts
Leg Press
1 x 5 kg
1 x 5 kg
Body Weight
2 x 5 kg
40 kg
3 x 10-12
3 x 10-12
3 x 10-12
3 x 10-12
3 x 10-12
4 Calf Raises (left leg)
Calf Raises (right leg)
Broomstick Squats
Wall Deadlifts
Leg Press
1 x 7.5 kg
1 x 7.5 kg
Body Weight
2 x 5 kg
45 kg
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10

I have included sample weights in the above table just to give you an idea of what may be appropriate. If you feel that a weight is too heavy to control with good technique, then please use less weight. I am more interested in the repetition range. For example, if you are working between 10-12 reps and can reach 12 reps with good technique, then increase the weight during your next strength session. However, if you fatigue before 10 reps, then reduce the weight. Easy. Safe.

THE BROOMSTICK

Broomstick squats may not be the heavy strength that your body is craving, however it is such a simple way to nail technique that it should not be overlooked. Stand tall holding the broomstick along your back with three points of contact, the back of your head, your upper back and your tail bone. Any grip that is comfortable is fine. Initiate your squat by folding through your hips, reaching your hips back and letting your knees bend in the direction of your toes. You can squat as low as you can maintain those three points of contact. That’s it! You are squatting! Continue to practice and reinforce this movement pattern for four weeks. The next stage is to hold the broomstick overhead at double shoulder width and repeat for a further four weeks before progressing onto single leg broomstick squats. With a little patience and 12 weeks of practice you will be moving gracefully with a refined squat technique and ready to add load.

RECOVERY

Strength training can leave you with heavy legs. To make sure you can apply yourself as best as possible to your strength training and your running sessions, I strongly recommend that you look after your recovery as best as possible. This means prioritising sleep and fuelling well. Following strength training, I suggest Whey Protein (add flavour) within 30-60 mins of your session. The period overnight provides another opportunity to deliver nutrients, promoting training adaptations. Including Overnight Protein (vanilla every time), 30-60 minutes before bed, further supports muscle rebuild.

Editorial brought to you by our official fueling partner Science in Sport.

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