Month #1 – How to Establish Safe Running Mechanics (that are fast!) in Two Months

Article 2 of 3: Establish a Short Stride in Month One 

In this second article of the series, I provide instruction for your first month of short stride running.

Month 1 Goal

By the end of the first month, the goal is to be able to comfortably run with short strides for 20 consecutive minutes.  It doesn’t matter how fast you run—you just need to maintain movement for 20 consecutive minutes. In month 2, you will learn how to develop speed using your short stride mechanics. By the end of month 2, you will be able to comfortably run fast for 20 minutes and be excited to run a 5k!

In the first month, commit to running slowly. Seriously, keep it slow—even if you are already in decent running shape. Short strides are easy on your body, but a “new” experience for your body, so you need ease into it. You need to be extremely careful any time you load muscles and joints in new ways (or when there is a hiatus in your training). For example, think about doing 10 push-ups when you haven’t completed any pushups in a couple months. You will be sore the next day, even if ten push-ups is a relatively easy task for you! So you need to be patient and give your body a month to adapt to the biomechanics of short strides, even if it feels easy.

Next, I will provide detailed instruction for the first month of running. The instruction varies depending on your current level of running fitness. I will provide guidance for:

1) those who are not in running shape and

2) those who are currently in decent running shape. (if you can comfortably run 20 consecutive minutes)

3 Workouts per Week

The plan for all runners, regardless of current running fitness, is to establish short stride running mechanics by completing three 20 minute workouts each week (during this first month). To be safe, all runners should avoid running on consecutive days – schedule your runs on Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs/Sat, etc.

If you are not in Running Shape

The 20 minute week 1 workout is simple: complete 5 minutes of short stride running and 15 minutes of speed walking or biking. The speed walking and/or biking will help you safely build/maintain needed fitness. You can certainly walk/bike more than 15 minutes if you’d like.

For each successive week, you simply add 5 minutes of running (10 minutes of running for week 2 workouts, 15 minutes of running for week 3 workouts, 20 minutes of running for week 4 workouts). And continue to complete speed walking or biking as needed (to achieve 20+ minutes of exercise).

I use this approach with students when I teach a college running class. In that class, the goal is to run for 40 consecutive minutes by week 8. Nearly every student is able to complete this goal (comfortably). Most students achieve this goal only running twice each week—you will complete three runs each week, which is perfect.

For the first 2 runs of each week you may break your running into shorter intervals if you prefer. For example, in week 1 you could alternate running and walking each minute until you have completed 5 minutes of running. Or you could complete two 2.5 minute runs with a 3 minute speed-walking “rest” in between. But for the third run of the week, you need to go for it! Complete the running assignment with no rest!

By the third run of week 4, you should be comfortably running 20 consecutive minutes!

What if you are not able to run 20 consecutive minutes by the third run of week 4? Simply give yourself another week or two to accomplish this goal before moving on to the month 2 program.

If you are Already in Running Shape

If you are already in decent running shape (you can already comfortably run for 20 consecutive minutes) it will likely be relatively easy for you to run the entire 20 minutes with short strides.  To be clear, the month 1 rule for runners who are already in running shape is: no discomfort while running!

However, sometimes switching to short strides can be tough on the calves and Achilles tendon. Here’s why: your foot landing style may change when you shorten your stride. Most long-striders land on the heel. When you shorten your stride you may switch to landing more flat-footed or even on the forefoot. A flat-foot or forefoot landing loads the calf muscles quite differently. So it may take your calves a week or two to adjust to short strides.

So go ahead and run the entire 20 minutes during week 1 if you can comfortably. But if you feel any discomfort in your legs (most likely your calves) be smart and ease yourself into the 20 minutes of short strides.

If you feel discomfort you should:

1)      slow down,

2)      break your run into intervals, or

3)      stop running at the time you feel the discomfort (and try to add 5 minutes the next week)

If you are not able to comfortably complete the 20 minutes of running, you should bike and/or speed walk (if needed) to achieve 20+ total minutes of exercise (just like the beginner plan). And if you have the time/inspiration, complete some extra biking or speed walking to make your total exercise time 30-40 minutes. This is an easy way to maintain/build fitness. Also, an easy/moderate bike ride after the run can do wonders to loosen any muscles that may be a little “tight” from running in a new/different way.

Once again, it’s important to commit to running slow during month 1, even if it feels really easy! Be smart and give your body ample time to adjust to the short stride mechanics. Save your speed training for month 2.

Focus on these Mechanics

When you begin to run with short strides the ultimate goal is to feel like you are gliding across the ground (avoid “bounding”). I included the short stride photos from article 1 for you to review again. To achieve the gliding motion, focus on the following details while running:

90 per minute Short Quick Strides

 

1)      Keep your head still. When “gliding”, it should be easy for you to read the street signs while running. If you struggle with this task, you are likely “bounding”. Land with your foot under your body. Avoid reaching forward with your foot. Instead, let your foot comfortably land under your body, with your leg in a strong position (photo 3). This will make it easy to land softly. Also, don’t worry too much about whether you land on your heel, flat footed, or on the forefoot. Do what feels most natural. Your primary goal is to successfully shorten your stride. You can fine-tune how your foot lands when you become more advanced. I will provide more advanced instruction for foot landing strategies in future articles.

2)        Avoid a deep leg bend. Again, your goal is to glide across the ground. Don’t let yourself “dip” when your foot lands (photo 5). Dipping will cause you to “bound” up and down. When your foot lands, focus on immediately pushing yourself forward to keep the “glide” going.

3)        Don’t push forward too hard. When you push yourself forward, do so with moderate effort (photo 8). Your goal is to take a short step forward so there is no reason to “explode”. Explosive steps will quickly fatigue your legs. Instead, focus on taking short, quick steps.

4)        Keep your feet near the ground. When you swing your foot forward, keep it close to the ground to maintain the gliding motion (photo 4).

 

During the first month, you will need to focus a lot of attention on these specific mechanics. Keep it simple: focus on one of these details at a time (for 1-2 minutes). Then, move on to the next. Spend about half of your running time focused on mastering a specific detail. And spend the other half of your running time focused on “getting in a rhythm”—your goal is to have each and every step feel “smooth” and identical. After a month your safe mechanics should become “subconscious”—it should feel like your legs are “running themselves”.

 

Next, read article 3 in the series to learn how to properly train in month 2 (to build speed with your safe running mechanics).

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