Running Mechanics – Part Three

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To correct running mechanics it is best to use Fault/Reason/Correction Paradigm. First identify the fault in the mechanics. Then find the reason for the flaw and then correct the flaw. Look at the big things first in the context of the PAL Paradigm. Get a sense of the flow of the action, before looking at specific considerations. Focus in on smaller pieces of the puzzle only after global considerations have been addressed. This is in concert with the whole/part/whole concept of motor learning, start with the whole action in this case running, then look at the parts. Decide what parts need attention. Design task oriented drills or movements that will reinforce the correction of those parts. Rather than focus on the fault you are trying to correct, give the athlete a task to achieve that will correct the fault. Above all coach the correction, don’t coach the flaw. Allow the runner to explore and solve the movement equation, then, as soon as possible relate the drill back to the whole action.In designing and selecting drills to improve running mechanics, answer the following questions: Why drill? Drill to reinforce correct patterns or to change or improve incorrect patterns. What drills? The drills should be as directed and specific as possible. A few drills clearly defined and well chosen are better than a large number of general drills that dance around the issue. Make sure that the drills are in fact reinforcing correct mechanics that relate to each individuals specific needs. When is it best to do the drills? The optimum time for learning is when the person is fresh and fully recovered from any previous training stress. Therefore drills are best done near the start of a training session. How to do the drills? Based on the objective of the respective drill make sure that the drill is correctly executed.

Drills alone and running are sometimes not enough to improve running mechanics. Improved strength is a big factor in improving running mechanics. Segmental weakness can contribute to poor mechanics, especially in the core. Therefore it is important to couple any program that attempts to improve running mechanics with a sound strength training program that utilizes multi-joint and multi-plane exercises.

The following is a checklist of running mechanic skill faults to look for and correct. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Posture

  • Sitting- Leaning backward
  • Bending forward at the waist
  • Excessive side-to-side sway
  • Head Position- Back or Forward

Arm Action

  • Swing across the midline of the body
  • Arm carriage
    • Too High
    • Too Low
  • Abbreviated arm action
  • Excessive arm action

Leg Action

  • Foot strike
    • Exaggerated forefoot or heel contact
  • Stiff hips
  • No knee lift – Shuffling

Running mechanics vary with and must be adapted to the speed of the run. A sprint has different demands than a distance run. Running mechanics occur on a continuum from a pure sprint to a long distance run. The most visible change along the continuum is in the amplitude of the movement. A sprint demands longer stride length, greater air (flight time) and shorter ground contact time. As well as a vigorous arm action, higher knee lift and a forefoot foot strike. Efficiency is not as much of a consideration as is the pure production of power. A distance run will have shorter strides, much shorter flight time, longer ground contact time, a mid foot to rear foot strike and lower more economical arm action. The longer the distance run the more important the efficiency becomes.

Summary

Improving running mechanics is not a quick fix. It demands constant attention and fine-tuning like any other motor skill. Because it is a motor skill it is teachable and learnable. Don’t be in a hurry, it takes time. It requires body awareness, balance and good basic core and leg strength. Each running step is a step toward ingraining a new motor pattern or reinforcing an established pattern. Beware of drill for drill sake. Oftentimes drills break the movement into too many component parts. Always relate the drill to the whole action of running.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta

@coachgambetta

Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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