Matt Fitzgerald in his 2007 book Brain Training for Runners provides 12 proprioceptive cues you can use to improve your stride and become a better runner. We've used 11 of these over the past 11 weeks of our Squad training. Next week, we'll do the final one.
If you are keen to improve your running, then you need to focus on your technique. The following proprioceptive cues are great to teach you to run with good form. Pick ONE cue per week (or longer, if required) and focus on getting it right. Repetition is the key, and you will need to make a concerted effort to perform the motion. It’s easier to do this when you are out running on your own, as in a group you will be distracted by other runners.
Navel to spine
Activate your core muscles by pulling your belly button inward toward your spine while running. This help stabilise the pelvis and lower spine during running. You may not be able to sustain this for long, as it requires a lot of concentration.
Fall into the run (or 'lean')
Do this standing still to find your own lean. Fall forward from the ANKLES (not the waist!). Now start running and fall into the run so you are at a slight angle - keep it up. Want to run faster? Lean more. For those who overstride, this will help to get your footfall more under your hips, rather than in front of you.
Running on Water
The aim is to have quick contact with the ground. Increase your cadence and push off with your foot with some force. Imagine that you will fall into the 'water' if your landing foot lingers too long on the ground.
This is an 'easy cue', but I don't think it will be that easy to correct! While running, take note of your left versus your right side. Pick a part of the body and focus to see if you do the same thing on both sides. If you do spot a difference, adjust your stride to eliminate the discrepancy.
I had a yoga instructor correct my posture months ago. She did a slight tilt of my head as my head was 'leaning' towards the right. I've realised that I have a slight right tilt to my head all the time! Whenever I think about it, I take note of my head alignment and correct it. By focusing on it and working on it, and it will come right eventually.
Driving the thigh, aka pulling your knee up
Focus on pulling the knee more forcefully than you normally do. This cue enhances your stride symmetry. We don't have perfect left-right symmetry. The better the runner, the better the symmetry, so it's worth working on improving this.
Pounding the ground
To run faster, your footfall has to be pretty forceful as your foot hits the ground. Practice actively driving your foot into the ground. Utilise the 'pulling the road' action while you do this. If you are not sure what to do, then land with the whole foot on the ground and work on keeping your cadence high.
To 'scoot', you need to focus on minimising vertical oscillation. But don't do this at the expense of your cadence. Continue to have the fast turn over with your legs and a short contact time on the ground. Matt Fitzgerald describes this in his book 'Brian Training for Runners' and suggests: 'Imagine you're running beneath a ceiling just two inches above your head that will leave you with a terrible headache if you smack into it repeatedly throughout a run.'
Pulling the Road
This one requires some thinking! Imagine you are on a treadmill, but it's not moving. You run by pulling the treadmill belt backward with your feet. The aim is to pull the road behind you with each step. This cue teaches you to generate thrust earlier (i.e. you activate the relevant leg muscles required to push you forward prior to your foot landing) and stiffen your stride - this is what gives you a 'spring' in your step and minimise ground contact time.
And no, not both cheeks at the same time - just to make it a bit more 'mental' for you! Just before your foot touches down, contract the muscles in the hip and butt on that side of your body and keep them engaged throughout the ground contact phase of your stride.
Ha, ha. As you run, you need to ensure you 'relax' your feet!
Axle between the knees
Imagine there is something between your knees pushing your knees 1 cm further apart than they would normally be while you run. This cue helps you engage the hip flexors and hip external rotators and prevents internal rotation of the thigh.
Running against a wall
Imagine there is a wall in front of you. It moves as you run. Your knees and feet will knock into the wall if you overstride. Focus on shortening your stride and landing with your foot under your hips, rather than in front of your body. Remember to lean from the ankles.
Fitzgerald, M., 2007. Brain Training for Runners. First ed. New York: New American Library.