How Do I Decide What I Need To Work On?

As a recently qualified Personal Trainer, it has really opened my eyes to a world of training that could potentially make a world of difference to my own running.

PART I – Analysis!

Using race photographs and video footage of certain exercises, I am able to ascertain any weaker areas, or technical aspects of running that could use a little work.

Race photographs are pretty good for this, because you are invariably TIRED when these are taken. Fatigue is obviously the main cause of loss of form, which you can see here in these examples:


I might add, I was PARTICULARLY tired in this race, which was the Greater Manchester Marathon this year. I had recently (almost) recovered from a fractured big toe on my left foot; a digit I can now confidently say is very important for running and consequently, I had not got the full amount of training in before the start of the race.

But I’m not going to talk about the race here; I got very tired and finished with abysmal running form, but as the saying goes: “you learn more in defeat than you do in victory”.

Not that this was really a defeat for me, but I wouldn’t put it in my top ten moments of all time either. What it did do was give me an opportunity to analyse my running form under severe fatigue, which is where any technical faults, or muscle imbalances step into the light and make themselves known.

In this first photo, taken maybe about half way, it doesn’t look too bad at first glance. I don’t look in any distress and it doesn’t look slow by any means. The interesting thing about it is the timing; it shows both my feet off the floor, and my leading foot just about to strike the ground.

At this point I can almost hear people that have maybe read a bit, shouting at the screen that I am ‘heel-striking’ the ground, yeah yeah yeah, I’ve heard that too, ‘heel-striking is bad’ etc etc…

The truth is, I’ve always been a natural heel-striker, whether I’m running well or not. It is not as simple as just TELLING someone to run on the mid-foot; that won’t work on its own.

The thing I notice here in this first photo that I WASN’T doing in the photos from earlier in the race, is planting my foot out way in front of the knee. This is a classic case of getting tired and trying to force the stride length. Unfortunately, although this does ‘sort of’ make you go faster temporarily; it saps your energy really quickly as you can see from the next photo (taken in the final couple of miles). Here I’ve just given up on stride length completely and arguably running with better form, but I’m so tired now it’s not really helping. The big tell-tale sign being my head has slumped.

As I was saying before though, in any bad result it’s important to question ‘why?’ and then work on it. Having now reflected and done a few more tests, it’s quite clear to me now that I definitely need my toe to FULLY recover before doing any more serious running. It is almost impossible to run with good form without full flexion range of movement in it. In the meantime I can keep up my cardiovascular fitness quite adequately with cycling, plus I’ve given myself some other leg strengthening exercises to work on and pivotally some hamstring flexibility exercises, which should all come together when I return to reduce some of the ‘over-striding’ as I mentioned earlier.

PART II – Stabilising Muscles

In running, we get most of our forward propulsion from our glutes, but at the same time, we also need to develop our quads and others stabilising muscles to soak up some of the impact that running creates. So for these reasons, it makes sense that squats are a great exercise for a runner.

But what I want to do when I train people is go a little bit further than that, and look at how the body and muscles respond not just to adding weight like you would in the gym, but also adding impact in a controlled way.

What I’ve done here is taken the squat exercise and added some height. I find this is a really useful exercise, particularly for runners wanting to run off-road on varying terrain.

Ground slightly uneven here, which the body makes adjustments for without even thinking.

Ground slightly uneven here, which the body makes adjustments for without even thinking.

Now obviously, I’m not recommending going round jumping off the tallest things you can find. Start small and build up. This ledge here is typically the tallest thing I’ve ever found myself needing to jump from in a race, so no need to go higher than this for me. Parkour athletes may have something different to say…

Also don’t try this with bad knees! Seems an obvious and slightly patronising point to have to make, but there we go, I’ve said it now. This is an exercise that if done OCCASIONALLY can help your knees long-term potentially and improve the necessary balance and proprioception… but not if your knees are already bad; this will make it worse!

I’m not going to go into too much detail here, as I could probably write an entire paper on this sort of thing if I had the time, and I don’t think a basic fitness/adventure blog is really the forum for superfluous details.. All I’m really looking for from this angle is that I’m balanced and the muscles are doing the work; NOT the joints. Other angles look at other things of course.

This photo illustrates the bottom phase, just before coming back up. It is amazing looking at it frame by frame, seeing all the minor adjustments the body makes to find its balance; from the arms moving, to the hips levelling and all sorts.

The two points I have illustrated masterfully with the use of colourful arrows here, is that when fully balanced and as little impact as possible running through the knees, there is not too much forward gap between the front of the knee and the front of the toes. Also the line from the back and the shins are normally almost parallel.

I decided to post this angle on here, as opposed to the front angle, as the front angle shows up the slight muscle imbalance I have from a weaker right side, and as a general rule, I don’t like to make myself look bad more than once an article 😉

So anyway, this is just a couple of examples of how I decide what I need to train and work on for myself. As I’ve mentioned before in previous articles; I am NOT a natural runner really on paper, but I do work quite hard and I’m lucky enough to not get tired very quickly at a slow enough pace.

Trail-Running-PackageIf this sort of thing is of any interest to you; if you want to introduce yourself to a new sport, improve, or make yourself more injury resilient? Visit my Personal Training section here:

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