Full speed a head
There’s more to running than lacing up your trainers and hitting the pavement. Boost your knowledge, improve your technique and get fitter faster with help from the expert contributors to the new book Running Science
THE RUNNER’S BODY Should I breathe through my nose or my mouth?
Getting air into the lungs is critical for runners, since it provides oxygen that is essential for energy production. The transport of air into and out of the lungs is known as ventilation and it is controlled by the diaphragm, a layer of muscle underneath the lungs, and the muscles of the rib cage, known as the intercostals.
High volumes of air enter the lungs during exercise and this process becomes inefficient if too much resistance is encountered. Scientists have found that when ventilation rates exceed 40 litres of air per minute (they can reach up to 60 when running at high intensity) the route that encounters least resistance is through the mouth. The nose is used but only when small volumes of air are required.
Some athletes have used nasal strips to reduce resistance and promote nasal breathing, but research has demonstrated that these strips have little effects on ventilation rates or performance since the nose still offers more resistance than the mouth to incoming and outgoing air.
MOVEMENT Should I lean into my run?
The posture of the trunk during running is an important technical aspect for both enhancing performance (running economy) and minimising injury risk. Runners who lean forwards to a greater extent are more economical (which means they run faster for a given oxygen usage). The forward lean needs to start at the ankles, not the waist, and promote alignment of the body in a straight line. Research indicates that the performance benefits can be attributed to greater activation of the hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteals) during the driving phase of the running stance.
In addition, a forward lean also reduces the risk of injury. Around half the injuries reported in runners are knee injuries, most commonly patellofemoral joint (PFJ) pain. In a study, injury-free athletes who ran with an “increased trunk lean” of around 14.1° exhibited less PFJ stress than those who
ran at 7.3° and 4°. As well as reducing knee stress, it engaged the large hip extensor muscles. Maintaining a forward lean – between 10° and 16° is considered to be optimal – without losing straight alignment requires torso strength, which is why strength and mobility exercises help improve running performance and reduce injury risk.
FUEL Can caffeine help me run better?
Taken before or during exercise, caffeine is associated with reduced discomfort and exertion, increased alertness and perhaps even an increase in the number of muscle cells that are recruited during running.
Studies have demonstrated that consuming 5mg per kg of bodyweight 45 to 60 minutes before exercise is usually enough to improve performance in endurance and shorter-duration activities by 3-5%. For a 72.5kg runner, a caffeine dose of 5mg/kg is 363mg, which is about four espressos or three cups of instant coffee.
Experiment with caffeine in training to determine the amount that produces the best results. Those who regularly consume caffeine may need a larger dose than caffeine-naïve runners, who may require only 2mg per kg of bodyweight.
PSYCHOLOGY Can positive thinking improve performance?
Many runners use psychological techniques. For example, some engage in self-talk, where they speak to themselves about how well they are performing or are about to perform. Research also indicates that imagery skills can help manage fatigue – runners mentally rehearse experiencing sensations of fatigue and see themselves coping successfully. Imagery creates a blueprint for the pattern of thinking and behaviours required to deal with a situation, so that when those conditions occur, the athlete can instigate the appropriate coping strategy quickly and effectively.
When starting to learn how to use psychological skills, it is good practice to use them in training, become competent in the techniques and then apply them in