Human beings were made to run. It is one of the simplest most elemental movement patterns that we can do. However, do not let running’s seeming simplicity fool you: running can be just as technical any sport.
Steelworks Strength System’s Individualized Programming client, Nick K, is focused on becoming a better runner.
To achieve this goal, we have slowly started to retrain how he runs. We started with loads of wall holds in the desired finished position i.e. correct hip, knee, and ankle angles at the end of the drive phase. Efficient patterns of movement are then encouraged through marching drills and “reflexive strength” work. Finally, to improve over all physical preparedness and power, Nick also includes loads of weighted carries, barbell exercises, and gymnastics movements.
Drawing from the work of Dutch sports scientist Frans Bosch, reflexive strength work is one of the highlights of Nick’s training. Following the theme of “transfer of training”, we are very selective in the types of movements programmed into Nick’s daily workouts. Sprinting generates higher peak forces in the muscles than can be caused through “maximal voluntary contractions” in weight training movements i.e. squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, etc. Therefore, we believe that the types of strength gains made in the gym must be applicable to becoming a stronger and more reactive runner. Moving well through the body’s “stumble reflex” and “crossed-extensor reflex” is just the kind of strength a runner needs.
You’ll notice the two reflexes in action in the above video. The stumble reflex occurs when the left leg (the planted leg) moves backwards. This causes the right leg to swing through. The simultaneous extension of the left hip and knee causes an equally strong flexion of the right hip, knee, and ankle. This is the crossed extensor reflex.
While deadlifts and squats are effective at build incredibly strong posterior and anterior chains, the transfer of training to the movement of running is limited. The drill shown in the video captures the ideas of reflexive strength in running perfectly. Nick must forcefully navigate through both reflexes with an external load.
In short, being a better runner is not just about running more (though a higher weekly mileage of running is important towards becoming a stronger runner), it also involves dedication to improving how technique and strength is expressed.
Bosch, Frans. Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach. (2016) 2010Publishers. Rotterdam, Netherlands.