If you want to learn to run properly, you need to train and think like a pro. While most of us will never be as fast as the pros, training like one can help you learn to tap into your full potential as a runner.
What you do when you aren’t running is just as important as the time you spend running and training.
While for beginners and intermediate runners the main focus is and should be on building basic fitness, progressing to more advanced stages will require you to adopt a running lifestyle – meaning what you do when you aren’t running is just as important as the time you spend training.
Here’s how concentrating on your form, mental toughness and recovery will help you run like a pro and push yourself to new heights (and highs).
The answer to the question ‘How to run properly’ lies in combining three elements:
- Running form
- Mental preparation
- Recovery from running
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1. Work On Your Running Form
One key element of running properly is efficiency. Running efficiently means you waste less energy propelling yourself forward. When you watch the pros run, it’s easy to notice the importance placed on body position and foot strike. While every runner’s running form will vary slightly, there are some basic principles that will help you save energy and run faster.
To maximize your potential and begin running with pro-level form, use these tips:
Use a short stride and a high running cadence
Over-striding and striking with the heel of your foot out in front of the body slows down your forward momentum. Instead, shorten your stride and make sure your feet land directly beneath your body. Ideally, your foot should strike the ground about 180 times per minute.
The hips are key to good running posture
Keep your torso and back straight while you run, which will keep your hips in the proper position. Leaning forward or rounding your back can cause your pelvis to tilt, affecting your stride and foot strike. Run tall with your head up and the hips will naturally follow suit.
Relax your upper body
Tightening the muscles in your face, shoulders, arms, and hands wastes energy and affects the efficiency of your running posture. While you run, concentrate on keeping your face loose and your shoulders relaxed. If they begin to creep up toward your ears, take a deep breath and remind yourself that they should be as low as possible. Swing your arms forward and back and not across your chest, and remember to keep your hands closed but not in a clinched fist.
2. Focus On Mental Preparation
One big difference between pro runners and the rest of us is mindset.
While many of us can be affected by negative self-talk on race day and get discouraged when our bodies aren’t reacting the way we want them too, pros focus on staying positive and mentally tough – fighting through tough sections of a race instead of giving up.
Here are some things all runners can do to become mentally tough:
The week before your race, take some time to study the course profile. Know where the hills are, how windy it might be, and visualize a strategy. For five to 10 minutes a day, sit down, close your eyes, and picture yourself battling through and overcoming all the things that could go wrong. Imagine where the finish line is, how it will feel to sprint to the line and achieve your goals. If your mind believes it will happen, you’re one step closer to actualization.
Every runner is going to have a bad day or not feel as good during a portion of a race as they hoped to. The difference between pros and amateurs often comes down to how you react. Instead of letting negative self-talk creep in, convincing yourself of how much pain you’re in and how impossible your goals are, think positively when things are at their worst.
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can do this. Everyone is hurting the same. Convince yourself that you’re feeling good, and say it to yourself over and over until you begin to believe it.
Build your self-confidence
If you’ve set realistic goals in your running and know what you want to achieve, convince yourself that it’s eventually going to happen even if it begins to feel impossible. One way to build self-confidence in your abilities as a runner is to make a list of all the times you’ve mentally overcome adversity in a race and had success.
In training, put yourself in uncharted waters in an interval session and work on pushing through it. Being mentally tough is about knowing what you’re capable of and not being scared to push yourself to a place that’s uncomfortable. Have confidence that you can do it because you’ve done it before – sometimes it just takes a little more time and effort.
3. Boost Your Recovery
When it comes down to training like the pros, it’s the little things that matter. What you do when you aren’t running becomes just as important as the time you spend out on the road or trail. How you take care of your body between workouts will often determine how you perform at your next race.
While it isn’t easy, you’ll need to make the time to treat your body right.
Since training itself is about breaking the body down and allowing it to recover to a stronger, faster state, what you do after a run is vitally important. While it isn’t easy, you’ll need to make the time to treat your body right. Here are three things you should be doing after and in between your runs:
Focus on hydration all the time
Dehydration can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to recover properly. Concentrating on hydration in the hours that follow a workout a critically important to flush by products from your system and provide your muscles with the fluid they need to move properly.
After you’ve recovered, try to stay hydrated all the time instead of playing catch up just before a particularly intense or long run. This will also make rehydration after a workout much easier to manage.
Use recovery tools
Not all of us can afford weekly massages, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other tools we can use to recover like the pros do. Foam rollers, ice baths, or other non-conventional recovery tools like float tanks can help your muscles recover quicker for your next workout.
If you’ve been training with a heart rate monitor, don’t forget to use it when you aren’t running, too. Some of the more advanced GPS smart watches like the Polar V800 have built in programming that recommends recovery time in between workouts – which can be an easier way to determine your heart rate variability and keep you from overtraining.
While most adults require somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight hours of sleep, elite athletes are recommended to get more – somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to 10 hours.
Get plenty of sleep
You really want to know what the pros do when they aren’t running, eating, or hitting the gym? They’re sleeping, a lot. When you increase your training load, the body requires more sleep to recover properly. While most adults require somewhere in the neighborhood of six to eight hours of sleep, elite athletes are recommended to get more – somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to 10 hours.
To squeeze in even more shut-eye, try a quick power nap for 15 to 30 minutes instead of plopping down in front of the tube. Even if you don’t fall asleep, shutting your eyes and relaxing can help to relieve stress, relax your muscles, and give your body the down time it needs to recover properly.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.