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Part 1: Body Works

Posted on 19/09/2019

Feature Image: Tembela Bohle

About the Author: Jono (old man) Rumbelow is the familiar and friendly face at Run in Bree street. You may not know, however, that he is an experienced coach and learned athlete himself. He also has some experience singing in a choir, but let’s not get into that. 

The way we “use” our bodies determines our success.

(This is part one in a four part series by Jono. He wishes through this series to get people to think about their running, their form and approach to training (over just plodding along and likely getting nowhere fast) in order to become a healthier and happier runner in the long run.)

Many athletes have the perception that the more you do, the better you become. NOTHING however, could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to running. At the same time, we tend also to forget the fact that being fitter, faster and a better runner, takes more than just running. To be fitter, faster, better, we need to be more efficient when we run and to be more efficient, we need to have some semblance of a training plan that is effective and in order for a training plan to be effective it needs to target these 4 things:

  1. Muscular strength
  2. Muscular flexibility
  3. Joint mobility
  4. Sufficient and Effective Recovery

Let’s not forget, for any training as an athlete to be successful, your nutrition needs to be pretty darn good too (not perfect, there’s no such thing as perfect nutrition). A training plan should also include these 5 elements in order to become a more well rounded athlete.

  1. Strength
  2. Endurance
  3. Speed
  4. Neuromuscular responsivenes
  5. Lactate Tolerance

I already hear the screams and shouts saying, “I don’t have the time to fit this all in” or “where am I supposed to get the money for a programme?”. The joke is though, you likely already run every night, or every other night, and you’re quite prepared to spend money on a physio when the injuries start to stack up. Maybe we can rather work to optimise both your time and money and still be a stronger, faster and more resilient runner.

The more we resist changes in the way we approach training and running, the more inefficient one becomes. This results in bad habits, as one runs in a way that uses the body poorly.  The saying goes; “practice makes perfect”… I am not convinced. It should rather say “practice makes permanent”. To become fitter, faster and better, means changing the way we use and abuse our bodies.

A classic example: Posture

Runners are told that improving our posture and standing tall while running will help us be “light of foot”. This is true, but then ask the same people about their posture at work, at the dining room table or in front of the TV… which action based on total time will have the greater effect on our bodies and thus our performance? I think we all know the answer!

The way we function is by and large effected by our head, neck and shoulders which is most cases is negatively influenced by poor posture in everyday activities. How many runners feel their necks are free of unnecessary tension? Very few indeed. Frederick Alexander noted in his research, that “the head should be poised freely on top of the spine in such a way that the spine is encouraged to lengthen and the back widen producing an effortless and movement and a sense of lightness”.  For those who don’t know who Alexander was, he was key in the successes of athletes like Linford Christie, John McEnroe, Daley Thompson and Cathy Freeman to name but a few.

Awareness is key

Another area Alexander noted was “the state of receptivity in which we are simultaneously aware of both what we are doing AND how we are doing it”. Most athletes I observe have absolutely no or very limited awareness of what they are doing during a training session. There is far more going on than what you think or feel. It is this lack of understanding or awareness, that is a barrier to improvement and thus possibly staying motivated to continue running.

Few runners follow a set routine given to them by the club they belong to, or a friend, and even fewer go online to download a training plan. Routine is good but beware of training becoming too mechanical. Going through the motions turns to boredom and so dulls the brain to a point where you run because you have to. In saying this, the lack of connection to a structured programme has serious consequences – the most obvious of these being little or no improvement in our running efficiency, speed or fitness. Another area where awareness while running can wane is in the use of distraction while training to “try pass the time”. The most classic is the listening to music, talking to a friend or thinking of the ice cold drink waiting at the end of the run.

You see, if we are not aware or switched on to what is going on in the session, chances are we are missing some of the most vital signs popping up from muscles, joints and even our feet. Without this awareness, one cannot change bad habits and so won’t be able to improve. No a heart rate monitor cannot tell us everything, but in conjunction with feel and focus on our bodies, we can get a heck of a lot more out of a session.

Dont Just do it!

It is quite easy to say that most runners “Just Do it!” (as the Nike slogan say’s). Our bad habits are mostly learnt unconsciously. Consciously learnt habits can be changed. That is key to our success. Socrates, when asked whether it was better to do wrong knowingly or unknowingly, shocked his listeners by replying, “It is better to do it knowingly. If you know that doing something is wrong, you can change it.

Until part 2, happy learning while running.

Author: Jono Rumbelow

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