If you think there’s nothing wrong with your running technique, you could well be wrong. Or maybe you are like Phoebe from friends and fear your technique is beyond help? Think again, on both counts. This summer I decided it was time to check out the Running School in Southampton, to get a few lessons on how to improve my gait. I know I have a problem as I always get injuries in my left hip/glutes/knee. The question is, did I get a red card, or was I pupil of the week?
Before I start, here are my stats:
PBs: 20.55 (5K), 43.06 (10K), 70.10 (10miles), 1.40.44 (half marathon), 3.39.05 (marathon)
Current goals: Sub-3.30 marathon next time (or anytime…in fact make that just getting to a marathon start-line; this year it just hasn’t happened).
Here are their stats:
Cost: Six sessions £260
Expected outcome: ‘A detailed biomechanical analysis of running technique and movement screening, five coaching sessions, a handbook (including beginner/intermediate running programmes and a strength programme) and ‘before’ and ‘after’ clips of your running style,’ Paul Bartlett, Southampton Running School.
Contact: Visit the Running School website (runningschool.co.uk) to find your nearest Running School (there are nine franchises around the country, as well as one in Germany). For Southampton Running School Call 02380 653707 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Before I started my six sessions, I talked to Mike Antoniades, the founder and performance director of The Running School. He told me how most recreational runners run without a thought for their technique.
“Running posture then becomes a leaning, mechanical shuffle rather than an elastic movement,” says Mike. “Most runners haven’t been taught, so they run how they think they should. To change [that], they have to go through a retraining process.”
This is what The Running School does. It aims to teach you the correct, and most efficient running motion. “This means the body has very little up and down movement (minimal bouncing) the arms are relaxed as they move, but like mini pistons backwards and forwards, and the legs are cycling with the heel coming up above the knee when it is off the ground,” advises Paul Bartlett, my coach at The Running School, Southampton.
I signed up for their six-week course, with the hope of transforming my technique, and the dream of ending my annoying niggles (and maybe even getting back into PB shape). I’ve suffered from recurrent niggles/injuries in my left leg for several years. The opportunity to get some expert insight into this was too good to miss.
What to expect
After a few minutes of easy jogging on a treadmill Paul videoed me from the rear and the side. When we looked at the footage I could see my left shoulder was sloping down more than my right. Paul was able to instantly tell me exactly what the cause was – my glutes (the big muscle in your bottom), and especially my left ones, weren’t firing. Paul informed me 95 per cent of the people he sees have poor glute activation. My right glutes were overcompensating for this, as was my whole right side; my right arm was coming forward and across my body; my right foot was further forward when it struck the ground than my left.
Next I tried a few functional exercises to make my glutes fire. I then hopped back on the treadmill to try out the correct running posture (your heels kicking upwards towards your bottom, your arms pumping forwards at a 90 degrees angle), which I found really hard. Within 20 seconds I was out of breath. After a brief rest, I tried again. Each time Paul shouted at me to adjust my hands (higher towards my chin), my elbows (drive back so that my hand comes as far back as my hip) and my heels (higher!). The first session was harder than I had expected, but I’d been equipped with the basics. It was up to me to go away and do the work.
Over the next week I did my glute activation exercises every day, and every time I ran I did some of the exaggerated technique. After about 30 seconds I would be exhausted though. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do what Paul expected me to!
Running faster, getting stronger
Session two was even tougher! I went over my functional exercises and I felt so much stronger than the previous week. Then it was straight onto the treadmill to practise the exaggerated ‘correct’ technique after a warm up; we did this session over and over again as I added in new elements (or tried to take out more bad habits!). We also went outside and I practised the exaggerated technique further – and surprisingly it felt quite natural (though still an effort; I knew I couldn’t maintain it in a race situation!).
Session three was … you’ve guessed it, hard! I now realised the course was going to be more demanding than I thought. We warmed up with my functional exercises to get my glutes firing, and then hopped onto the treadmill to practise in full. An intense 10 minutes, doing co-ordination exercises on the mat, had me tapping back and forth with each foot onto a marker, as fast as possible. Then it was hopping forward, to the side, back and to the other side – all fast, all trying to keep your feet in the circle you start from. “These fast co-ordination exercises, that you do on both sides and to the back and front, re-teach your body to use all of the muscles in the legs at the right time,” Paul told me as I was sweating all over the place. “In just 15 minutes you can start to re-fire the correct sensory pathways to ensure you are using each leg properly.”
I can’t lie – I was relieved when the hard work was over! We went outside to practise my exaggerated technique half way across a football pitch, and it was surprising how I felt as if I was skipping along. Still, with the South Downs Trail Half Marathon (209events.com) that weekend I was worried I would revert to old habits as my body got tired running the hills.
Powered by fairy dust
The race was a big turning point for me. I expected to struggle so I couldn’t believe how I felt like a completely different runner. The sensation was of being ‘open’; my shoulders were back, even when I got tired towards the end. I was engaging my core much more than usual. With each new hill I did exactly what Paul suggested; used my arms to power up and kept my thumbs pointing forwards. It seemed to keep my gait in check, and I felt relaxed, comfortable, I even had a spring in my step all the way round. Was this a new me? I hadn’t been expecting that!
Sessions four and five also involved more functional and coordination exercises (jumping back and forth to different points on the mat), plus running on the treadmill at gradient 15! This felt so hard, even just 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off. But it really worked. When I went back to running with no gradient it felt like I was a child, a springbok hopping over the African plains, that fairy dust had been sprinkled into my trainers. I was amazed at how quickly my body had adapted.
During the last session I redid the functional movement analysis I did in the first; my score went up from 60 out of 100, to 90. Being a competitive soul, I was duly proud. And in the first week post-course I ran a 5K PB. When you’re in your mid-40s any PB feels like 10 Christmases rolled into one.
I feel like my running style is incredibly different – and better for it. I’ve not quite done the speed training to complement it but every time I run now I am adopting the style without concentrating or efforting. Paul gave me a sheet of strength exercises; I even photocopied it to take on holiday.
If I need a follow-up session, to check my technique is correct, I will pop along. Keep up with the exercises you are given and this, hopefully, shouldn’t be necessary. Maybe combining birthday and Christmas money could help you save to invest in this type of course?
If you are struggling with injury or niggles, or lacking the speed you seek, or just feel you have lost your way with running, then a course with the Running School may be perfect for you. I almost feel love towards Paul. He’s my running doctor. Not only has he unlocked my biomechanical issues, the changes he suggested seemed to have traversed my energy systems and I feel as if I am so much more confident within, mind body and soul. The hunched, depressed-looking runner I once was, is gone. Forever. Click on my video below and it’s obvious to see the massive difference I achieved in just six weeks.
Summer quickly turned into autumn and I’ve been keeping up my strength exercises given to me by Paul. I find it’s easier to do them after I’ve finished a run, twice a week – if I have to allocate them a separate time there’s much more chance I won’t get round to them. Now I’m proud to say I’m a Running School ambassador – if it can make so much difference to me, it can to you, too!
Bargains, bargains people!
Southampton Running School is offering half price biomechanical analysis, at just £15, exclusively to Women’s Running readers.
The sessions involves a 1:1 session with one of their Southampton Running School coaches who will analyse your running technique to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This session will be tailored to your fitness level and running experience, they will show you where injuries come from and to stop new injuries occurring and how to improve your PBs. This is available to both children and adults.
The 30-minute session is by appointment only. To book please call 02380 653707 or email email@example.com, quoting Women’s Running magazine.