Running fast is useful, whether for playing sport, high intensity intervals, catching a train, or doing a 10K; and a fast finish is all about strength and conditioning so you may already be halfway there – here’s how to bridge the gap
Changing Gears Isn’t About Fitness Having a strong finish is essential if you want to post a good race time, or beat the competition to the line. You might think this requires lots of running-based training, but according to Saucony running coach Craggs, a fast finish is less to do with mileage and more to do with strength and conditioning. ‘If you look at what Mo Farah did to get his speed in those final few laps of a 10,000-metre race – a lot of that's come from the conditioning, not necessarily the running training. In terms of how you change gears, actually that's not really to do with Mo’s aerobic conditioning, his cardiovascular conditioning; that's to do with his power.’
Craggs says that even regular runners should be doing gym moves. ‘Every runner that I work with will be doing squats, they'll be doing deadlifts, they'll be doing press-ups and rowing exercises to maintain posture. All that stuff's really crucial; if you're not doing it you need to be doing it.’
Having a strong, stable upper body becomes even more important when running fast
The Upper Body Matters To Running The Saucony Stride Lab is recording my running gait with three slow-mo cameras – the results show that my elbows are flaring out as I run. This isn’t great form apparently… ‘With my clients I’m often getting their elbows tucked in, by getting them stronger through the rhomboids, being able to open their chest up and building their pec strength so they can get this regular movement.’ It looks like all the climbing I’ve been doing is strengthening my lats, while my rhomboids have slacked off. Having a strong, stable upper body becomes even more important when running fast, says Craggs. ‘To up your cadence, to have that kick and finish, you need to get the upper body strength, because it's what counterbalances the legs, but it's also about stabilising your torso.’
Gaining Core Control If you’ve been dodging core workouts then you may need to add some planks or other deep-core exercises (ditch the sit-ups) to your routine. Having strong legs and upper body without a stable core is a recipe for bad running form, especially when you’re running faster. ‘What we're trying to do as you're building your speed up, is to say, can you – from the waist down – control a more dynamic stride? The core strength is there to counterbalance any upper body rotation.’ Of course, you can do your core a favour and eliminate that rotation: ‘If you imagine a big zip down the middle of your body, a lot of runners cross that midline, so your core, your obliques have to work very hard to kind of stabilise that movement.’
Going Forwards, Not Up And Down If you’ve ever watched world-class sprinters, you’ll notice that for the first 30m they stay very low to the ground. ‘As you speed up your vertical oscillation goes up, so each stride you're lifting off the ground a little bit more, which isn’t efficient because you want your energy going forwards,’ says Craggs. ‘With sprinters the hardest thing is to keep their foot drive through low to the ground, so they're not lifting their knees – when they're in that drive space there's no wasted movement, and no bounce going on.’
Balancing Your Current Strengths If, like RISING, you do a lot of squats in the gym, then you may find that you’re quad dominant. Looking at my slow-mo treadmill run I can see that my toe-off is a bit lazy – the glutes and hams don’t seem to be firing as much as the quads – which means I probably bounce too much. It may be that I need to do more hamstring and glute moves, but then again I may just not be activating those muscles correctly. ‘You can be very strong, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you use those muscles when you run, and that's where that neuromuscular bit comes in. How do you work a deep squat or a deadlift into becoming something that you can functionally use when you run?’ asks Craggs.
Recognise That Running Is A Skill You wouldn’t walk onto a tennis court without first gaining a basic understanding of the shots and body movements, and it’s the same with running, but there’s a tendency to think you already know how to run ‘naturally’. ‘The skill element to running is significantly less than it might be in golf or tennis or lifting, but it's still there,’ says Craggs. ‘And it's a more complicated and more dynamic process to learn how to adapt either your biomechanics, or how to vary your running gait, to run faster, because so much of it is an ingrained movement pattern, and a lot of it is based upon your neuromuscular ability.’
So, don’t rely on being able to adapt to faster running on the fly – just like anything else, you need to train your body with the correct running patterns. Visit Craggs’s Running With Us site to view his running drills videos and help your body to adapt.
If you take a Ferrari engine and you put it inside a Vauxhall Corsa, it's going to break apart
Creating a Stronger Chassis Craggs points out that the cardio element of running is where you are building your engine – the CCs – but that’s only half the story. ‘If you take a Ferrari engine and you put it inside a Vauxhall Corsa, it's going to break apart, because your engine is outstripping your frame's ability to carry it,’ he says. So the conditioning work is important, but it has to be the right kind of work. I can see from my gait analysis that my glutes are not firing properly, which is creating a tilt to my hips.
‘What you must also be able to do is take the good strength and conditioning you've got and make it running specific.’ The kind of moves he’s talking about are weighted but dynamic, with single-leg elements. ‘For example, doing barbell walking lunges, but controlling the movement. Instead of just doing a walking lunge we get the triple extension – when you come through with the bar you’re getting the full extension, the ankle, knee to hip, and you're able to hold in that position with some stability before you drop into the next stride, and can explode out of it,’ says Craggs.
Work On Having Lighter Feet Looking to vary your gym warm-ups? Then consider skipping. ‘Mo Farah does a lot of boxing,’ says Craggs. ‘Not necessarily for his upper body strength; he does it to reduce his ground contact time. A lot of sprinters do skipping exercises because it's trying to take all that power they've got, but not leave them heavy-footed. The danger is the stronger you get, you can get a bit heavy with your running. But you don't have to, and the heaviness is nothing to do with the strength or the weight.’
WHAT NEXT? Any running training should be accompanied with a bit of stretching to stop muscles becoming shortened as they strengthen, preferably in a separate session. Check out these stretches recommended by Tom Craggs.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.