Don’t let the boring title put you off scrolling down this stuff is bloody fascinating for any athlete, but more specifically running based athletes. We so often talk about the big 4 components of running performance- Aerobic power or VO2max, lactate threshold, mental toughness and running economy. All 4 we work on every day here at RUNNEZ HQ and all 4 are very trainable. In my opinion, not one of these components is more important than the other, but all 4 need to be worked on in abundance to improve, and to make the elite level all 4 need to be almost elite not one of these can be lacking.
It is another reason why we emphasise every workout having a purpose, and these variables are worked on all year round in different sessions. If two athletes have a vo2 max of 70 mL/kg/min and are both reasonably tough, the athlete with the greater running economy should usually win.
Many practices improve economy, strength training is super important, hills both short and longer hills, tempo running, long running, race pace efforts, technique cues and mobility drills.
But today I want to talk about specifically gaining some free speed from elastic recoil. Let me explain, firstly connective tissue is made up of many elements, it connects all your bodies muscles, organs, blood vessels, nerves and other parts to one another. Some of the most important connective tissue for runners are bone, tendon, ligament, cartilage and fascia Elastic recoil occurs when we convert energy temporally stored in our tendons and fascia with each foot strike kind of giving us a free push along.
Tendons are the major contributor here, as you run energy is for a moment stored in your tendons then this is released propelling you forward once your muscles contract. Simply with each step we take while running our Achilles is stretched, this is stored as energy. When our calves then reach a maximum safe stretch, a reflex causes our calf to contract, at the same time your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia as well as other fascia release the stored energy. This acts as a catapult and adds to the force generated by your muscles. This is further enhanced the shorter your ground contact time (higher cadence) So here is a couple of quick tips to improve your elastic recoil and therefore help improve running economy.
1. As mentioned above work on less ground contact time aim for 180 steps a minute, If you’re a long way from this number don’t try to change it too fast just be aware of picking your feet up quicker and work on it over time.
2. Strength train – so important in every aspect of athletic performance, focus on the big movements, squats, deadlifts, step-ups, hip thrusters and split squats.
3. Hill sprints – only for experienced runners keep the sets short under 15 seconds with plenty of recovery.
4. Plyometrics – again only for those with some experience and always start out very easy. Always warm up extensively before doing any form of plyometrics. Aim at 5-10 jumps on a small box or even some light bounds where you move from one leg to the other for 20 metres driving your knee high and forward. Allow 2-3 minutes between sets. It is not about smashing out at a high intensity workout, it is about performing a proper jump or bound for the stimulus we are after.
Elastic recoil is a fascinating topic and a nice little component of running performance and in particular running economy, have fun with a few of these and see if you can add them in to your strength training routine.