Today we’re going to take a look at The Perfect Stride by Thomas Reckmann. This is a great book about stride technique and running economy for all of you runners out there. The five key insights we’ll be looking at are running economy, VO2 max, performance factors, running stride, and triggers.
Reckmann advocates that running can be improved just like any other skill. He uses examples like tennis and golf where people will hire a tennis pro or a golf pro to help with their technique – their hitting technique, club swing, tennis swing and such, to improve their performance. And the funny thing is, we have so many runners in the world, running has become so much more popular over the past 30 to 40 years, but very few people will invest in improving their stride technique to have a better run and better performance. A lot of people run for the enjoyment of running but, at the same time, just small tweaks in stride and in running the economy can make a big difference in how you feel as you run—the process of running can feel less belaboured and more joyful.
Running economy is effectively getting the most out of your stride. The example that Reckmann uses is Kenyan long-distance runners. For a long time, it was believed that the Kenyan runners had an advantage in the oxygen they could consume – the VO2 max, their maximum oxygen capacity while running (with more oxygen capacity you don't get tired as quickly). The research actually revealed that it's their running the economy, the efficiency of stride that makes Kenyan runners so proficient. Your running economy is, effectively, how much you're getting out of each stride and it makes sense, right? It's just like a car, how much are you getting per tank of gas?
The Perfect Stride is well-photographed and it's a great book in the sense that you get a lot of keys and cues from the images. Basically, improving your running economy starts with a more efficient running stride. Just the idea of running economy is really interesting—it’s maxing out what you can do in each stride as opposed to just looking at your general fitness.
Fitness, on one hand, is being able to take in that oxygen, but then what do you do with it? Is your stride kind of sloppy? Is it more side to side or up and down than forward moving? This insight here, running economy, is a very big one and it is pretty much what The Perfect Stride is all about, maxing out that efficient stride within your run, whether that’s sprinting or long distance.
VO2 max is really your maximum oxygen capacity, as previously mentioned. Intervals are a great way to improve VO2 max because when you’re running intervals, you’re able to max out, right? You can go a lot faster in a shorter period of time than you would be able to maintain that pace over a long period of time and that faster pace forces your whole body to adapt to that demand. That's why intervals are so effective for improving your VO2 max. However, VO2 max, again, is only one part of running economy; it's the combination of VO2 max and your running stride that make a more effective running economy.
There are some examples in the book of ways to improve your VO2 max—interval training is one—and it even has benchmarks that you could aim for if you were doing a VO2 max test.
Essentially, all athletic performances are based on a combination of fitness, strength, and technique; these are our performance factors. It makes make sense. When we look at performance factors, everything comes down to fitness, strength, and technique for any sport – tennis, basketball, or soccer. Well, running is no different. It's like a pyramid with all three sides that make it as strong as it can be. What Reckmann is getting at with performance factors is looking at the technique side of the pyramid.
With running, we tend to focus on the strength and the fitness. We train the VO2 max side of it, getting more mileage and being able to maybe adapt your pace so that 5K or 10K run is now a couple of minutes faster. That’s a fitness factor.
Then you have strength, the legs. With any new runner, those first few miles, or after you’ve taken a break from running, you’re really going to feel it in the strength of the legs, we tend to focus on as well.
But that third side of the pyramid is what often gets overlooked and kind of falls off the map. If we only focus on technique just as much as we do the fitness and strength sides of it, our running economy would improve that much more. The book actually has a few chapters specifically on exercises you can do to improve your technique.
Reckmann defines a good running technique as having, “...nothing to do with whether it looks good or not. The key is to keep energy consumption as low as possible and to achieve that, you should run so that you take advantage of both gravity and the muscles’ stored energy.” That's what we're looking at with our running stride. You want to take advantage of gravity and the stored energy effectively coming from the Achilles tendon up through the calf, through the posterior chain into the glutes, and propelling us forward.
There are a few key points here with running stride: the hips should be angled upward and forward, the shoulders should be lowered and relaxed and the feet should land underneath the body and work actively on the ground. It's three points. Each area is covered in the book separately with exercises you can do to improve each part. For example, you might already have hips that are angled upward and in the right position, but it is more about relaxing the shoulders down and keeping the chest up.
Last but not least, we have triggers, and this is a great concept that relates directly to running stride. A trigger is just a thought that you might have – it can also be a physical trigger like a bracelet or something like that – but it’s really a trigger to bring you back into focusing on those aspects of your running stride, the hips, the shoulders, and feet moving actively on the ground. It could just be a thought and it can be one word. It's unique to yourself, but it could be ‘up’—while you're running, you think ‘up,’ and that's your trigger to keep your hips up.
It's a great tip that works effectively with The Perfect Stride because it allows you to refocus on the stride itself and it’s also unique to you. What is it that you need to work on? Are your feet working actively on the ground, or the hips or the shoulders, and then find the trigger where, as you’re going through your run, you think, “Oh, wait! I haven’t been doing that, I haven’t been actively working on my stride, so my running economy is probably taking a dip.” Once that’s triggered, you can use the focus to bring you back into working on your stride and improving your running economy.
Alright team, that's it for today. Again, the book is The Perfect Stride, the author is Thomas Reckmann, and we encourage you to pick it up and give it a read. Our summaries are available at fitknowts.com as 5-page PDFs or audio summaries of 20 minutes or less.