We might be born with biomechanics, and many people believe you can’t change the way you’re designed, or way your body is meant to move. But with some practice and mindfulness, you do have the ability to change some things that will change the way you run forever. For the better.
This is a big one. Flexibility is imperative for your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints to move. Without flexibility, your range of motion is restricted. It takes some work, and it can be a bit painful, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. Yoga is a great practice for runners to improve flexibility (plus many other benefits) and by doing so, you’ll lower your risk of most of the common running injuries, including muscle strains, pulls, shin splints and runner’s knee.
As a runner, your efficiency is directly proportionate to the quality of your posture. Good posture is defined as having a fairly straight spine, not too straight, but not too bent. Slumping makes your body’s muscles work harder to hold you upright. Poor posture causes the circulation of blood to your organs to be restricted and inhibits oxygen to your brain. Your mother (grandmother, aunt) knew what she was talking about when she told you to put your shoulders back.
If you land with your feet in front of you, you’re overstriding. Your feet should land under you. Not bending your knees while running causes stiffness and poor circulation in your legs. Your knees should be bent at about a 90 degree angle when you’re running at a medium pace.
Cadence is the number of strides you take per minute. Most people have a low cadence, but ideally when you run you want to spend the least amount of time on your legs as possible. The longer you take with each stride, the longer your foot spends on the ground. Which means your legs have to expend more energy to support your body weight; it might not seem like much, but it adds up quickly. Your goal should be to maintain about 85-90 strides, with each leg, per minute. No, you don’t have to count (but you can if you want) - try using a metronome. You might be amazed at the transformation.
Any of these changes take mental focus; you will need to reeducate your body. First by determining the right adjustments to make, then focusing on those adjustments until they become part of your muscle memory.
Upper/lower body coordination
There’s an adage that work is best done if the responsibility is spread out over many workers. This is also true when running. Your upper and lower body should be doing equal amounts of work so no single muscle group is being overworked.
Another benefit a runner can receive from yoga is learning how to breathe using the entire lung capacity, called “belly breathing”. We should breathe like that all the time, but instead we usually only use the upper part of our lungs. You can learn belly breathing from a baby. Seriously. If you watch them breathe you will notice their belly rising and falling, instead of just their chest. Your muscles use oxygen to convert stored fuels into usable energy and belly breathing allows you to utilize your entire lung capacity, delivering the most amount of oxygen possible to your tired muscles.
Tense muscles can restrict the range of motion in your arms and legs, which can make it hard to run faster. Shake out your hands frequently during a run, make sure your fists aren’t clenched, give your neck some side-to-side nods here and there. When you’re relaxed, you will burn less fuel while running and take less time to recover.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned runner, you can learn how to improve your fundamentals and be a better runner.