Bottom Up Approach – Treating Running Like A Skill

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the hazards of adding strength to dysfunction, which Gray Cook discusses in Athletic Body in Balance

Cook addresses what happens when an athlete increases the difficulty of an exercise before perfecting the skill necessary to perform the exercise. If an athlete does not bench press correctly, but increases the weight, they will be adding strength to dysfunction.

This is how we should look at running – as a skilled movement pattern that needs to be perfected before increasing the amount of running.

This is what the running community does not do. Within the philosophies of coaches like Arthur Lydiard or Jack Daniels, running is never thought of as a skill that needs to be perfected. Sure, threshold training and v02max training are talked about, but the way the body moves is rarely, if ever, addressed. Aerobic capacity is a poor indicator of running fitness and the idea of training cardio is completely backwards. Alwyn Cosgrove explains this very well. The very fact that two people can be running at 5 minute mile pace but look completely different should be very telling of how these concepts are backwards or at least short-sighted. This is a prime example of putting the cart before the horse

“Sprinting is natural to our growth and development and is a pattern that we should nurture more of. What do children do a lot of? Sprinting! And when they get tired, they stop. We could probably learn something from that.”Jon Messner

As I have mentioned in previous articles, I believe humans evolved to be able to sprint, not jog. Sprinting and jogging have two very different movement patterns. I believe in training movement over anything else, which is a concept I took from experts like Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Jon Messner.

Sprinting is not a specific pace as much as it is a specific movement. Of course, in order to get that movement, one would have to be running at 100% max speed or at least close to it. The goal of a 5k running program should be to get the athlete as close to the sprinting motor pattern as possible during the race. A perfect sprinting pattern may be impossible due to the athlete not running fast enough; however, the very act of trying to get there is what’s important. There is no perfect, but aiming for perfect is what is desired.

The body remembers movement

Perform a particular movement enough times, and that movement becomes pretty grooved into the neuromuscular system. This movement could be bad or good. Bodybuilders, who squat for many years, will have a difficult time changing the way they squat if they start running into pain, which results from the less than perfect pattern they have practiced.
This same principle applies to runners. A runner of 10 years will have a much more difficult, if not impossible, time changing the way he runs compared to a beginner. I’m talking movements as small as foot landing farther out than the other foot. This is the kind of stuff that can lead to injury in the long run (long run, get it? double meaning).

Perform corrective exercises. Fix the imbalances. Learn to sprint.

So take that same runner with the imbalance, add more running to his program and he is effectively adding strength to dysfunction. His imbalance is still there, but it is now being amplified because he is running more.

How to develop the skill

I believe a running program should start with the very basic principle – learning how to run.

Learning how to run does not start out with a 3 mile easy run. Learning how to run should start with 10 second intervals, which allow the athlete to focus on perfecting the movement pattern. Over the course of many months and years, we can progress 5k workouts from 200s @ race pace to mile repeats, while constantly practicing and perfecting the sprinting motor pattern on other days of the week.

I firmly believe that by making the athlete stronger, developing his power through sprints and addressing his imbalances, he will be able to perform harder workouts with more frequency. The athlete that can out-train his opponents will beat many of them.

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