Become a full-blown runner

23. January 2018

1. Strengthen your hips 

In all honesty, how many times did you follow through with a strengthening program during the past few weeks? Exactly! All enthusiastic runners know that good hip stability is of particular importance – yet many procrastinate time and again. So, just to remind you: the more you run, the more you absolutely need strength gymnastics to ensure your musculoskeletal system can withstand the rigours of running in the long term. What you fail to address in your youth will come back to avenge you more and more as you get older. Therefore: resolve to complete an athletic program for 30 minutes two times a week without any ifs and buts or excuses! The best thing to do is to immediately enter both fixed dates in your agenda. There is nothing mystical about it: you just need to do around 10-15 repetitions of 5-6 exercises that strengthen your legs, buttocks, and hips – and complete the whole thing twice. These kinds of exercises are ten a penny. The decisive factor here is not necessarily the exercise selection, but the fact that you do them regularly and as accurately as possible. 

2. Swing the skipping rope 

When was the last time you jumped 100 times in one go with a skipping rope? When it comes to effort / reward, rope jumping is a mini miracle workout for runners of all kinds. It strengthens your foot and leg muscles, gives you a strong footprint, and ensures short ground contact time. Whether during a short break, on your way home, or when watching the news – take the time to jump rope for 10 minutes two times a week. Aim to do 500 jumps, either split into 5 x 100 jumps, 2 x 250 jumps, or else in one go. To start with, jump with both feet and then switch to one leg if you can. You'll see: if you do it regularly, rope jumping will make your running style more relaxed, more active, and more dynamic over the long term. 


3. The arms determine the tempo

Most runners tend to focus on their legs during training. When running, however, the following applies: our legs do what our arms ask of them. So, it’s high time we specifically addressed the arms from time to time. When we move our arms at a low frequency, we automatically move at a slow pace. However, if we manage to swing our arms at a high frequency, our pace becomes faster. We can use our arms to create a short pendulum that we can swing back and forth quickly. The active use of our arms on ascents in particular gives our running style momentum and prevents our tempo from slackening. These are the most important points to bear in mind:

  • The arm movement should come from the shoulder joint and not from the elbow joint. 
  • Aim for an angle of less than 90 degrees between the upper arm and forearm and make it even tighter in the forward movement. 
  • The arm movement is optimal if you form the so-called “runner triangle” between the upper arm, forearm, and torso at the end of the backward movement. The backward arm movement ensures that your body is stabilised, and that you keep your balance while moving.
  • The hand position is relaxed and not stretched, the thumb is always uppermost and parallel to the direction of movement.

4. Step cadence 

Do you know your number of steps per minute? If not, then take a watch with you the next time you go running and measure your step cadence at different tempos. The step cadence naturally depends on the individual, but there are rules of thumb and guidelines you can play with. Basically, the following applies: the higher the speed, the higher the step cadence. And the longer the step, the more likely the landing foot will slip back on the heel, whereas medium or short steps favour landing on the midfoot or forefoot. A smaller step also often effectuates a –desirable – proud posture with a high centre of gravity. The steps of most beginners and somewhat slower runners are too long. The recommendation is therefore to not take a long step forward, but to rather take short steps or maintain a relatively high cadence and simultaneously focus on applying an energetic footprint behind and stretching the leg. 

But how high should the step cadence be? German sports doctor and running expert Matthias Marquart has installed a cadence calculator on his website as a guideline. For a woman with a height of 170 cm and a running pace of 6 min/km, the calculator coughs up a cadence of 170 steps per minute, for 4 min/km, a cadence of 183, and for a very fast 3 min/km, a cadence of 195. For a tall man with a height of 185 cm, the corresponding recommendations are: 163 at a tempo of 6 min/km, 175 at a tempo of 4 min/km, and 188 at a tempo of 3 min/km. Conclusion: when training, play with your cadence from time to time. Deliberately run with quick fast steps, and then take somewhat longer steps at a lower cadence. Also pay attention to how your step cadence changes according to the terrain and how ascents require smaller steps than flat terrain. 

5. Tempo runs 

Endurance athletes are also tempo fans: the faster you run, the better it feels – so long as you don’t run out of breath. At the same time, tempo runs require a certain capacity for suffering and you need to fight it out. The feeling of well-being comes primarily at the end of the run. Our tip: do short yet fast runs on a frequent basis. For example: run relaxed for 5 minutes to warm up, and then run at a constant fast tempo for 20 to 30 minutes in one go, whereby you have the feeling you can only maintain this constant tempo for 20 or 30 minutes before you need to slow down. Tempo runs are also mentally rewarding as they strengthen your drive and assertiveness. Important: the duration of the runs should only be increased slowly. To get started, begin with 20-minute runs and only increase them to 30 minutes after a few weeks.


6. Alternate between relaxed and fast running

Don’t just do regular tempo runs, but also long and slow runs as well as interval training. It’s best to give each training unit a focus and don’t mix everything up in one training session. Long jogs, continuous runs, tempo runs, speed variation, intervals – everything is justified and necessary if you want to mature into a full-blown runner over time. Short intervals can improve your speed, and long and slow runs your fat metabolism – a good long-distance runner needs both. This is why you also need to train both individually. Important: although fast runs can bring about rapid progress in your performance, they should only be done in doses because they require a longer period of regeneration. The rule of thumb in training: the ratio of slow training units to fast units should be 3:1, which means they should be done considerably more often.

7. More jumping

With rope jumping you train your overall foot and leg muscles as well as your footprint, and with targeted jumps, your speed-strength and coordination as well as the stretch reflex of tendons and connective tissue. There are countless forms of jumping. There are jumps where you stand and then catapult yourself away from the ground, but also ones where you jump down from an elevated position and only then push yourself away. A sequence of jumps, and one- or two-legged alternate jumps are also ideal. Simple, varied jump sequences are suitable for the overall preparation period and for making you “lively”, two-legged and high bench or hurdle jumps, on the other hand, should be completed as an independent form of training and require the appropriate recovery. Important: you need to work your way around to doing proper jump training. Simple jumps on a roughly 15-20 cm step where you jump up and down on one or both legs or back and forth can easily be done on a regular basis before a continuous run. Try it out!

8. The mountain calls

As an independent form of training, hill runs offer the perfect opportunity to integrate strength and stamina into your running. And precisely because they go uphill, hill runs are very challenging for the muscles and the cardiovascular system but not for the musculoskeletal system. The principle is simple. Look for a steady, not too flat ascent and warm up for 5-10 minutes. Then complete several series of hill sprints. For example, 3 series of 3 runs, each lasting for a duration of 40-45 seconds. Or 10 sprints, each lasting for a duration of 20 seconds. Run uphill during the exertion time, then (depending on the terrain) either march during the break or run really relaxed back to the starting point. Make sure your body posture is stable and upright, even when it gets tough.


9. A change of horizon

Hard to believe: the fastest backwards runners in the world manage to run 10 km in an incredible 38 minutes and the marathon in 2:38 hours, but take these times more as an inspiration than a goal…. One thing is for sure: running backwards for a few steps from time to time is also highly effective because when you run backwards, your entire body muscles are stressed in a completely different way than when you run forwards like normal. The foot automatically rolls backwards over the forefoot, the body elastically absorbs the impact, and the burden is taken off the knees (which is why some also run downhill backwards). In short: backwards running offers a new experience, which opens up whole new horizons when it comes to your coordination, muscles, as well as the view, because for once you are not looking at where you are running to, but rather at where you are coming from … Tip: the easiest way to run backwards is on a straight and flat route. The arms are used actively behind you in a pendulum fashion, the upper body remains upright, and your eyes look straight ahead. Just make sure you don’t trip: it’s helpful to have a partner running forwards like normal who can correct your direction if necessary.

10. Relax

Training not only means exertion but also relaxation. And for all those who love training, recovery is particularly important. Those who only ever do strenuous physical activities run the risk of “burning out” at some point. Try new relaxation techniques, such as yoga, stretching, or Antara. Or do exercises that relax and care for your muscles at home. Soothing and gentle forms of movement not only give your muscles a well-deserved rest, but also relax you mentally and promote body awareness. Where am I supple, where am I tense and stiff? Dedicate 20 minutes two times a week to deliberately doing soothing forms of movement.

Frequency BEFORE duration BEFORE intensity

The most important training principles

  • The following applies to running training: increase the frequency first, then the duration and only then the intensity of your training.
  • Training is always exertion AND relaxation. Sufficient regeneration is important to ensure the body can process the signs of adaption triggered by training.
  • Intensity and duration compete against each other. Those who train very intensively should not do extensive training at the same time.
  • When it comes to your health, it is most valuable to do around 3-5 running training units a week for a duration of 20 to 60 minutes. Further running training units will not have an additional health effect and primarily serve to improve your performance.
  • Listen to your heart and check your pulse. In doing so, you can exploit the entire load spectrum and create a versatile training program.
  • To improve your performance, you not only need to increase the scope but also do more intensive runs on a long-term basis. Those wanting to make permanent progress need to take all the training elements into account, such as endurance, speed, agility, and strength.
  • If you have a fever, athletic training is an absolute taboo, even during the first few days after the illness! The body needs time to recover from an infection.