Should I change my Running Technique?

We often get asked: "how can you make a meaningful difference using run analysis while on a 1 week training camp?". This is a very fair point as it’s easy when doing video analysis to just 'say what you see' and end up patching up or correcting outcomes rather than identifying root-causes. When it comes to video analysis, there is an old saying which is that the analysis is only as good as the person interpreting the data. This blog explores whether run analysis could help you understand if you should be changing your running technique.

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When it comes to running analysis, it is the interpretation of the analysis that is the most important for you as an athlete. Inevitably, the "flaws" can present themselves in a similar way so it is down to the individual doing the analysis to identify the root-causes. All too often athletes are fixated by the areas that obviously look "wrong". However, almost always, this is just an outcome, not the cause. 

Therefore we use a double-pronged approach: Can we identify the root cause and can we do anything meaningful about it?

Firstly the underlying basis of coaching is to do no harm. It can be easy to coach what is in front of you and miss the point about doing no harm if an athlete ends up picking up an injury due to changes we have made after an analysis session.

In very simple terms the running motion takes the landing forces of falling and uses them to generate forward propulsion. There is an efficiency factor which needs to be considered as clearly some people run more effortlessly than others – but that basic premiss is true. However, these forces can be very significant. These may be several times your body weight and more as you go faster. Sprinters may have to manage up to 12 times their body weight! For an 83Kg athlete, that is a metric tonne of load which the body absorbs and then uses to drive you forwards!

Therefore any change we make needs to be done with the utmost care and we must ensure the changes are made in a way that lets your body adapt. When we build an arch bridge, the final task is to put the key stone into the middle of the span. This then makes the bridge very strong – look at some of the magnificent Ancient Roman bridges around today. However, until the keystone has been placed, the bridge is totally unstable. Therefore, there is a lot of work in making the spans (at either end) stable while the bridge is being built. The same is true when making changes with your running: everything has to come together before the bridge is built completely.

Efficiency versus Effectiveness Changes

We can broadly classify any changes made as either efficiency improvements or effectiveness improvements.

Think of the two options in the context of painting a wall. The first method gives it a bit of a clean and paints over the old colour. The second strips the paint back and starts afresh.

Effectiveness changes take time: it takes time to correct and then it takes time to rebuild but the finish is certainly faster across all ranges whereas with efficiency changes you are likely to see bigger changes as you go longer, as you get better at holding your new, efficient form. 

Injury is the most common reason runners lose their consistency. Therefore, anything we can do to improve efficiency and reduce the likelihood of injury is a change we would certainly like to implement pretty quickly. We frequently use cues: "lift your knees up", "try and hold your posture", "drive the elbow straight back" etc etc. however, these are likely to be mechanisms to retard the onset of fatigue. In other words, these are things that stop you slowing down as quickly and therefore make you more efficient. Here, we are focussing on changing how the same load is absorbed by the body, but not making the load any bigger. We are making the most of working with what we have got.

However, to make effectiveness changes requires a lot more work. These sorts of changes may be made over the course of months rather than weeks. In both instances there will be a heavy reliance on a Physio and strength and conditioning programme but effectiveness changes will need a good relationship between physio, strength and conditioning coach and coach (Read about how Elaine Garvican managed that here).  This option is looking at getting faster and therefore does require some re-building as we are increasing the load your body will suddenly be managing. This can almost certainly not be done in 'just' video analysis and certainly requires a prolonged period of corrective measures. Here we are making a concerted effort at raising the glass ceiling.

As most people have learnt to run informally, few people run effectively. We could spend ages working with athletes, changing all sorts of areas of their technique where actually for the racing they are doing and given what they want to achieve, they could continue just fine as they are! For those wanting to kick start their racing to another level there may be reason to rebuild. But in all honesty, there is more likely a bigger reason to improve their efficiency: stop them getting injured and maximise their potential with what they have got before taking out the surgeons knife.

Is there a place for Video Analysis?

Certainly; but make sure you are comfortable with what it is supposed to be achieving and understand that if you really do want to make substantial changes, then this will require rebuilding and probably last a few years. It will require focused intensive work and will mean a mature take on the long game rather than the short term gains. Otherwise, use it as a fantastic tool to ensure you are remaining efficient and spot what your coping mechanisms are when you start to fatigue. That is a brilliant way to stay racing fast as in most instances in triathlon, competing at a higher level has more to do with slowing down less as opposed to going faster. 

Fundamentally, there are no magic formulas. Video analysis is limited by the coaches interpretation as well as the athlete's application of the feedback. Depending where you are in your athletic career, you will find it serves a different purpose. However, if you want to make the significant changes, then you need to be willing to commit to the correction process.

Philip HatzisComment