How to Increase Your Speed without Injury
Increasing running speed comes up often in our ChiRunning workshops and Facebook page. We hear questions like, “How do I achieve a personal best time at my next marathon?”, or, “I want to qualify for Boston – how can I get faster?” Even runners without competitive aspirations want to see continual running speed improvement over time. Running speed is a measure of progress that almost everyone can relate to, but we all know that as we try running faster, we run the risk of overworking our legs or getting injured instead.
While many people who begin practicing ChiRunning experience a natural increase in their speed right away, we de-emphasize speed as an immediate goal. True pain-free running mastery lies in the ability to set up the conditions for speed through proper running technique. That means cooperating with the force of gravity by leaning more while simultaneously holding your alignment and relaxing your hips, legs, shoulders and arms. Think of it in terms of physics: as you offer less and less resistance to the force pulling you forward, the faster you’ll go.
Running Technique First, Then Distance, Then Speed
Relaxed, pain-free running technique, whether fast, slow or in-between, is a goal we all share. Applying these ChiRunning Form Focuses will improve your efficiency and allow you to build distance gradually:
- Posture – Create a straight line from the crown of your head to your feet. When you’re properly aligned, your body is supported by your structure, not your muscles.
- Lean from the ankles – Leaning slightly from the ankles allows gravity to pull you along as you fall forward.
- Midfoot strike – Land with a midfoot strike rather than a heel strike to decrease impact to your lower legs, knees, and hips.
- Stride length – Keep your stride short to avoid pulling yourself forward with your legs.
- Pelvic Rotation – As your legs swing out behind you, allow your hips to rotate around their central axis with each step. Make sure your core is engaged and that your pelvis isn’t moving laterally (side to side).
- Cadence – Maintaining a constant cadence, the rate at which your feet strike the ground measured in strides per minute, prevents your legs from spending too much time supporting your body weight with each step. We recommend running at a 170-180 spm (or 85-90 spm for each leg).
As your running technique improves, you’ll be able to begin running further with less effort. The way to determine when to increase your distance is by observing how long you can successfully hold your running technique. When you’re ready to add distance or time to your runs, do it in small increments. Even a couple of minutes or a few tenths of a mile extra will improve your conditioning over time. The key is to be mindful of how your body feels while you’re running this additional distance and after. The same stresses that, in moderation, help our bodies adapt and grow stronger can also cause injury if overdone. When your body can’t keep up with the adaptations, you may stop improving, become overtired, or even injured. Steadily build your distance through persistence and patience, and enjoy the process.
Finally, what you’ve been waiting for! As you are able to hold your running technique for longer periods of time over greater distances, you will develop increased speed at a lower exertion rate. As you get faster, you’ll notice that your strides automatically lengthen. To prevent yourself from over-striding, make sure your feet stay under your center of mass with each step. Also, make sure your cadence remains between 170-180 spm, even as your stride length increases. Again, this limits the time each leg has to spend supporting your body weight when you take a step. The metronome is a very useful tool that will help you keep a sustainable pace as you increase your speed – we don’t recommend many gadgets for running, but this one can benefit you enormously.
The second title to the ChiRunning book says: “A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running”, which is a bold statement. But, turning your pain-free running technique into a “practice” with the goal of becoming effortless means that every time you go out for a run, you’re working on what you can do to create better results by doing less. That’s the real work!