Little habits – that you don’t even realize you have – can cost you a lot of energy and keep you from running/walking faster. Ignoring them is like driving down the highway with a tarp on top of your car – when the tarp has a loose corner. The tarp resistance can cause your fuel economy to dip – and your energy and enthusiasm for the trip can go with it.
Look around on the road and you’ll see runners/walkers doing the same thing. Runners/walkers move parts that don’t need to move and compromise their ability to speed up and stay fresh. Here are some of the most common bad running/walking habits – and how to fix them.
- Swinging your hands across your body. It’s a running/walking mistake to keep your arms still at your sides while running/walking, or swing them without bending them. When you run/walk, all your movement should be forward or back. Any other motion saps energy. Crossing your hands over the midline of your body is a big one. Not only does this force your upper body to work harder, it makes you cross your legs over each other, too. If there’s a white line on the road and you’re hitting it with every step, then you’re spinning your body more. The easiest fix is to be aware of where your arms are. Relax your arms, keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle close to your body, and swing your arms forward and back. As they come forward, your hands should not cross the center line and should come up no further than your breasts. This arm motion will give power to your run/walk. Your feet generally move only as fast as your arms.
- Looking at your feet. Look down at your feet and try to breathe in. Now look in front of you and do the same thing. When you look down, you’re cutting off valuable oxygen. Good posture for running/walking allows you to breathe well and provides a long body line to prevent problems with your back, neck, and shoulders. Chin up when running/walking – it should be parallel to the ground. Focus your eyes a few feet ahead of you.
- Squeezing your fists. The pressure that you put on your hands translates into your forearms and shoulders. That energy starts to travel to every part of your body. If you’re not relaxed in your arms and hands, you’ll eventually feel it in your legs. When you feel yourself tightening up, let your arms fall to your sides, relax your shoulders, and shake out your hands.
- Trying to get faster every day. To get strong and fast, your body doesn’t just need a workout; it needs to rest. Remember how Sunday was a traditional day of rest? There is wisdom in that. Take a day off at least once per week. Rest helps to repair muscle tissue, which is what makes you stronger over time. To get faster, you should either build in rest days and/or truly go easy on your easy days. Easy doesn’t mean 30 seconds slower than your race pace. Some of the top runners in the world go as much as two and a half minutes slower per mile than marathon race pace. And if they can back off some days and still run fast, so can you.
- Overstriding. When runners/walkers try to run/walk faster, a natural inclination is to lengthen your stride in front, reach out farther with your forward foot. This leads to a clumsy, ungainly gait, striking hard with your feet. Your shins hurt, and you really don’t get any faster. All the power of your run/walk comes from pushing with the back leg and foot. If you’re trying to run/walk fast, concentrate on taking shorter, quicker steps. Then think of really rolling through your step with your back foot and leg, getting a good push off. The result will be faster feet and a longer stride where it does you some good – in back.