One of the biggest mistakes serious runners make is to just run more miles, without varying their training to drive adaptation in other beneficial ways. Here are 4 things to work on to spice up your training as you work towards that 5k, 10k, half or marathon PB.
1. Increase your mass-specific force with a hex bar deadlift:
“Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements”, is the title of a well-known study by Dr. Peter Weyand which concludes that mass-specific force is king. Whether you’re a sprinter or a distance runner, it’s the amount of ground force you generate relative to your body mass that’s the biggest determinant of stride length and stride frequency – in other words, speed! On average, it takes 20,000 strides to run a marathon. If you can increase your stride length by increasing your mass-specific force and your normal running gait, you can move nearly a mile further with the same number of strides.That’s a pretty significant gain towards your marathon PB.
Ok, so how can I increase my mass-specific force?
According to the Senior Director of Performance at Nike, Ryan Flaherty, who trained Olympic medalist Meb Keflezighi for his Boston marathon win, the best exercise to increase ground force is a hex bar deadlift. As Flaherty explained on a podcast episode with Tim Ferriss;
“the biggest thing was teaching him that by hex bar deadlift training…he could stress his nervous system, recruit larger motor units without adding any weight. He started at 127 pounds, ended at 127 pounds, and by just introducing that one exercise – I didn’t touch his running or touch anything else that he did in the weight room; it was simply that one exercise – once a week, it improved his stride length and his running gait, which in turn helped him run faster.”
Here’s a good illustration of how to do a hex bar deadlift.
2. Midfoot strike under the pelvis:
As Flaherty goes on to say, in addition to building strength relative to body mass, the mechanics of a midfoot strike directly under the pelvis is also crucial. A lot of runners over-stride – meaning that their foot is landing in front of the pelvis, even if only by a few centimeters or millimeters, which generates less ground force with more energy. Anyone who over-strides will know how tiring and painful this is over the course of a marathon.
So how to practise striking under the pelvis? As a rule of thumb, it will normally feel like you are under-striding to begin with, and you should notice a higher cadence. Ask a friend to film you and notice where your foot lands. Also ensure that you keep working your core, which will help you maintain high hips to gain maximum power and stride length benefit.
3. Barefoot strides:
There are pros and cons of barefoot running. Pros include development of the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot, lengthening and strengthening of the Achilles tendon and calf muscle and learning to strike with the forefoot rather than heel. That said, one should definitely not go all in on this without starting small and building up slowly, to avoid risk of injury. Try adding in one barefoot session a week or fortnight (be kind to yourself – find a grass field) consisting of drills and strides to maintain good form throughout.
4. Nasal Breathing:
The simple act of closing your mouth when running can have a number of positive effects on your training, in particular for slower, lower HR zone running sessions. As most serious runners know, it’s important to include slower, lower HR zone runs to build endurance and nasal breathing is a good way to restrict speed and intensity in these sessions. The natural filtration provided by the nostrils also means that cleaner, more humid air reaches your lungs. And nose breathing tends to facilitate proper diaphragm function, helping to activate the core as you run. Most important, it can help athletes to build up their CO2 tolerance and provide a feeling of a 6th gear in that big race effort when you remember you also have a mouth to inhale oxygen through!