In this third instalment in our series with elite Swedish runner Ida Nilsson, she coaches us on how to run faster and to have the strength to carry yourself forward, whether on road or trail.
Being able to run fast for five, 10, 20 km, or even a full marathon involves more than pure cardiovascular fitness. Running technique and strength are also required. Both can be developed with consistent training.
Increase your cadence
It’s common for amateur and beginner runners to think running fast involves taking longer strides. Images of Usain Bolt in the 100 m sprint come to mind, or maybe Road Runner fleeing Coyote, or a gazelle – legs outstretched – bounding away from a hungry lion.
In fact, especially when it comes to distance running, the opposite is true. Taking more smaller steps is faster and more efficient.
“We all have a different natural cadence, some take longer, some take shorter steps,” Ida says. “But with a higher cadence you will go faster.”
Coaching tip 1: Try to take smaller quicker steps when you go out running. To help with this, allow your feet to drop down directly underneath your hips rather than out in front of you. To start off, work on this for five or 10 minutes in each training run.
“Remember cadence also depends on the distance you are planning to run; if I’m doing a five or 10 km then maybe I need to have a longer and more powerful stride. But if I want to train for a road marathon I have to shorten my stride and take smaller, quicker steps because it’s faster more energy efficient.”
Coaching tip 2: Another way to improve your cadence is by reducing the contact time each footstep has with the ground. We want to minimize that. Try doing two legged hops, demonstrated in the video below, as a warm up
Having strong abdominal and back muscles is important for runners. “If your back and abs are strong then you will be straighter and get that lean on we discussed earlier,” Ida says. “If your butt and hips are strong this will help you avoid sinking down in your posture.” Ida recommends doing strength exercises that build the inner core muscles, the transversus, rather than the outer, more visible muscles.
Coaching tip: Another way to improve your overall running strength and fitness is by getting off the road onto the trail. Running on uneven surfaces, like on hiking or forest trails, develops the body in different ways to running on the road. “It builds up the small muscles in the feet, as well as the legs and core muscles,” Ida says. “It’s also very nice for the mind to run in different scenery!”
This video shows Ida’s fast foot turnover, or cadence. Faster, smaller steps are more efficient!