Energy (Part 1) – Technical Running Notes
Hi LTCers! We are extremely fortunate to have none other than Trail Grandmaster Ryno Griesel share some knowledge on how to improve your trail running technique.
Let’s try something quick… right there where you are standing, jump up (gently – don’t injure yourself) and land solidly on your heels.
What do you feel?
It hurts for sure, but what do you feel? It’s energy – right?
But when not channelled and absorbed correctly it will lead to strains and injury over the long run.
Now let’s jump up again with the same effort, but this time land on your toes while bending your legs, and squat all the way down as you absorb that energy (keep your ab-muscles engaged and extend your arms forward to keep balance).
Feels much better, right?
I understand better now, after some years (I unfortunately learnt the hard way with a current hamstring tendinopathy injury) that we often focus on utilising energy, even train harder to develop more energy, but omit training our bodies to absorb and channel this energy efficiently. The latter skills will include amongst others: functional strength training, dynamic stretching and correct technique.
To further improve this channelling we have to move and run with our entire bodies. Let’s take our arms for example: it drives us upwards on the climbs, and by opening them up wide on the down-hills we will better manage balance and direction. Contrary to popular belief, we do not just run with our legs.
In this post, I will be sharing some basic techniques related to up and down-hill running. All with the aim to produce, channel and absorb energy optimally throughout.
Be agile like a boxer. Be light on your toes on the up and down-hills…
By being dynamic – pushing off from your ankles and calves you will cover more ground without the need to take longer steps. Longer steps over the long run may lead to strain and injury.
I am dividing the application of up-hill techniques into three different levels of incline: gentle, medium and steep.
GENTLE INCLINE: Power Running
Lean forward into the hill, take big steps, big powerful arm swings to drive you up the hill with maximum power output. Essentially, you are sprinting up the hill. For the cyclists amongst us, I compare this to using the “Big Blade” on your bike.
Power Running will expend a significant amount of energy and you should save it for when necessary. For example – you see someone in front of you on the climb, and you want to catch and pass them without granting them the opportunity to sit on your (proverbial) wheel. Or you might run next to someone going up a hill and sense that they are taking a bit more strain than you – apply just enough Power Running to “break the bungee” and then settle back into your normal pace.
MEDIUM INCLINE: Economic Running
I compare the Economic Running technique to cycling in your “granny gear”. I would say that you will typically utilise this for about 60% of your climbs.
You will take small steps; apply short arm swings, but all in high cadence. Keep your upper body upright & look up to optimise breathing. The idea here is to progress in the most energy efficient way. “Just keep swimming – Nemo”
STEEP INCLINE: Power Hiking
There comes a point where even the energy utilised from spinning in your granny gear does not outweigh getting off your bike and pushing. You will benefit even further by using a different set of muscles that will help recovery because you are mixing it up.
In running terms we call it Power Hiking – where you will use fewer steps to cover the same amount of ground compared to Economic Running. Although it requires more effort – you will often be more efficient over the steeper incline and it will give you a physical and mental break.
With experience you will get to know your own strengths and abilities better and become better equipped to make the call when to switch between the Economic Running and Power Hiking.
Put your hand on your quad, as close as possible to your knee. Try form a straight line from your shoulder through to your ankle. You will then be simulating the action of a trekking pole, in the absence of it.
Having your hand placed anywhere further back on your leg (rather than right at the knee) will result in pushing yourself backwards, essentially working against yourself.
With the Power Hiking technique, you will automatically notice on a super steep incline that you will be more forward on your toes taking shorter steps while on an easier incline you will be able to take longer steps, digging your front heel into the ground while using your back foot as a dynamic rebound. Each time you will push your hand off your quad/knee on your front leg to create forward propulsion.
We can get quite close to the benefit of Trekking Poles with this technique by utilising the push-off technique, but Trekking Poles allow us to pull with our arms as well – more about this next time
Very similar to Trekking Poles – Power Hiking changes your body into a 4×4.
It is important to keep a straight line as far as possible to ensure all energy produced is utilised in steering you in your desired direction of movement. This is equally important throughout all techniques of up and down-hill movement.
Keep your centre of gravity as low as possible and follow the elevation of the terrain. Bending your upper body forward will have a slight negative influence on your breathing – but this will be out-weighed by not fighting gravity head-on with a “vertical” upper body position.
Nothing really to teach here – just remember “Controlled Falling 🙂 …
Some notes to consider however to understand the concept a bit better:
- Relax your body and accept the down-hill,
- Lean forward from your pelvis,
- Be on your toes,
- Keep your legs bent, absorbing the shock with your quads,
- Engage your abs muscles to keep better form,
- Open your arms for stability and balance,
- Follow a straight line,
- Always look 5-6m ahead, your brain amazingly processes the info and knows what to do by the time you reach the obstacle,
- Never land on your heels as this is a sure recipe to twist your ankle,
- Never lean backwards, as this will have you land on your heel,
- Don’t brake – it will lead to fatigue and possible injury,
- To slow down – shorten your steps and bend your legs,
- Pace – the closer to the finish, the more you can gun it, or if you are a very proficient down-hiller you might choose a down-hill mid-race to make a break and then settle back into your pace
To see these techniques come to life and get personal coaching from Ryno, as well as practical gear, nutrition, and cross-training lessons from other experts, check out the Trail Clinic
All images supplied by Heloise Hunter from TRAIL Magazine