When a runner’s goal is to improve speed, he will often try running at a faster pace. An example of this is when you run your usual 10-kilometre route but instead of running at 6 minute/km pace you crank up the juice and do the run at a 5 minute 45 second/km pace. The problem with this is as we try to increase speed, our dysfunctions often come to the surface and become more pronounced, bringing on pain, especially as we become more fatigued during the run.
So how can we become faster and avoid injury?
You can’t put regular tires on a Formula 1 race car; they have special tires that are designed to handle the stress of the increased speed.
So what can you use to equip your body to handle the stress of the increase in speed? Functional exercises.
An exercise becomes more functional as dysfunction decreases and function increases. The goal of each exercise is to recognize and improve a weak area within a movement, make those areas stronger, and therefore make the runner faster, more efficient, and decrease occurrence of injury.
Include these 4 movements into your routine and feel your function and speed increase as you build your strength.
Intermediate runners should start with the first 2 movements, and they can be performed every day. Advanced runners can perform all 4 movements 1-3 times per week. Allow 48 hours of recovery between sessions.
Sitting Isolated Hip Flexors Lifts
Why do it:
- Increases leg turnover speed while running
- Promotes proper function of low back muscles for stability
How to: Sit up straight on the edge of a bench or chair, feet and knees pointed straight ahead and hip width apart. Roll your hips forward to place an arch in your back. Lift one foot about 3 inches off the floor and then lower. Use the front hip muscles to generate the movement. Work up to completing 3 sets of 20 repetitions. Switch sides and repeat.
Tip: While you run try to feel the hip flexor pulling your trail leg forward, the same way you feel your hip flexor pull your leg up off the ground during this exercise. This will increase your leg turnover speed and produce faster times.
Why do it:
- Trains the body in proper running mechanics without allowing room for compensation movements.
How to: Initiate the movement by pulling your knee up in front of you toward your chest. As your foot descends, your heel should hit first. Roll from your heel to the ball of your foot and then to your toes. Your pace should be very slow (2mph). Your torso should be upright, shoulders and abdominals relaxed. Keep your low back arched. Perform the Function Run 1 time for 5 minutes.
Tip: You can use Function Run as part of a warm-up before your next run. Activating the lower leg muscles will give you a little extra spring in your step.
Why do it:
- Strengthens leg muscles
- Improves stability
How to: Stand on one leg with your foot pointed straight ahead. Now hop across the floor. Do not bring the other leg down. Hop for distance and height. Switch legs and repeat. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
Tip: Just like while you are running, remember to keep your head up and your eyes looking across the room or field, if you look at your feet you are more likely to fall forward.
3 Minute Drill
Why do it:
- Strengthens and leg muscles and improves endurance.
How to: Jump rope for the first minute. Keep your shoulder blades retracted. Run in place with your arms extended for the second minute. Run lifting your knees to your chest. Keep your arms extended straight out from the shoulder in front of you. Keep your shoulder blades retracted. Jump up and down for the third minute. Keep your feet pointed straight ahead. Squat down and jump as high as you can. Reach arms up as you start your jump. Try to stay in control and in alignment at all times.
Tip: Increase the number of repetitions you perform in each minute gradually. When you can work through the full 3 minutes with no rest you will have built up awesome muscular endurance. This will help you push hard at the end of a run or race for a fast finish.
About the authors:
Luke Rowan and Catherine Hull are avid trail and road runners and the owners of free2move – Pain, Posture, Performance. They use a combination of Posture Alignment Therapy, Personal Training, and Integrated Energy Therapy to help people learn how they can heal their bodies and unlock their limitless potential.