Making the Legs go Faster
February 1, 2000
For the Washington Running Report
FACT: As a runner gets faster, the stride length
shortens. Of course, this means that the secret to running
faster is to turn the legs over
faster - to teach them to move to a faster cadence. Research
continues to show that a shorter stride is more efficient, and
runners err, they tend to over-stride. In my experience, the
shortening of only an inch or less can often relax the hamstring
muscles; a resilient muscle can respond quicker, enabling the
legs to go through the motion quicker. Most of you will run
faster - with less
Twice or three times a week, build into your warm-up a series
of "cadence drills." You must do these regularly for them to
work. Be sure to
bring your watch with you as you warm up with a slow mile or
so. During the warm-up, count the number of steps you're taking
about 3 separate one-minute segments. Make your count as one
foot touches - either off the left or the right (the number of
touches in one minute, for example).
Do a series of one minute accelerations. At first only 3-4.
Gradually build up to 8-12. Don't try to spring. Running all-
out often causes
injury. In the more gradual acceleration, you're teaching
yourself how to run faster - without significantly increasing
effort. On each of
these, count as you did in the warm-up for the full minute - as
one of your feet touches.
On each successive acceleration, increase the turnover by a
count of 5-10 per minute, until you are at your peak. At first,
length - in order to increase the count. Over the next few
months, you will increase the cadence - and will naturally find
the most efficient
stride length for you.
The best running form for cadence drills is just good, efficient
running form. Keep the feet close to the ground, going through
a smooth and
efficient motion. Your body should be relaxed, in the upright
position. Whenever you start to feel tightness in your
hamstrings, lower back,
and butt muscles, shorten the stride length a bit more. Before
the legs can turn over faster, the muscles must be relaxed.
Flat terrain often
makes it easier for you to learn the workout. After a few
weeks, after you feel comfortable, you may vary the terrain.
It's never wise,
however, to choose steep inclines - or steep downhills.
Don't let this become a gut-wrenching, speed workout. You're
teaching yourself to glide at a quicker pace. This allows you
to run faster
with less effort - and decreased chance of injury.
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