A common complaint that regular runners or walkers make is that they don’t seem to get any quicker. Quite often, the reason for this is that they have acquired a tempo that they have become too used to.
And just as with our other ways and routines, our exercise can also become habitual and unchanging. We will get into a comfort zone which can be very difficult to break out of.
Ultimately, you have to force yourself to do things differently. It doesn’t just happen; you have to make it happen.
There are three ways that you can run/walk faster:
Firstly, you can try to improve your overall fitness which means that your body is better able to move faster for longer. This involves training – speed exercises, building up the distance, gym work, hill training.
Secondly, you can try to improve or change the way that you are running. This involves moving more efficiently so that your exertions are used most effectively. Energy and effort aren’t wasted. How streamlined is your movement? How are you landing on your feet? How much is your head moving around?
Both these elements are long term fixes. You should not expect immediate improvements.
There is, however, a third, short term method of increasing your run/walk speed that relates to the mechanics of your movement.
In practical terms, there are two elements to running or walking. It is by altering one or both of these that you may be able to move faster:
- Stride length – the longer your stride, the more ground you will cover. By travelling a greater distance per stride you will be moving faster.
As a simplified example, if you use a hundred strides to cover a hundred meters then by increasing your stride length by just one centimetre means that you will save a meter of distance. That’s one less step you have to do. Over a kilometre that’s a saving of ten meters.
- Stride frequency – the more strides you do, the quicker you will move, the more distance you will cover.
As an example, if you do a hundred steps a minute and cover a hundred meters then by increasing your number of steps to 120 per minute, that’s an extra 20 meters covered. Or, in time terms, instead of doing a hundred meters in a minute, it now only takes 48 seconds.
But how do you do that? You may already feel that you are going as fast as you can. Sometimes getting that extra effort out of your legs is tough. They just don’t seem to want to do what you tell them. They have their rhythm and they’re sticking to it.
If that’s the case then there is a useful mechanical way of tricking your legs into moving faster. Instead of thinking about your legs, you could try changing the movement of your arms.
One of the best gauges for judging how fast a runner is going is to look at the runner’s arm movements. The more the athlete moves his arms the faster he is running. If you watch an elite marathon runner they don’t seem to be going very fast. It looks easy. But if you try to copy their arm movements you will then realise how fast they are running.
Your arms move in synch with your legs. As one arm moves forward so does the opposite leg. It’s like a counterbalance.
As evidence of this link, try running with your arms fixed by your side. It is not only incredibly difficult but it also feels very unnatural.
So, mechanically, by moving your arms quicker (frequency) or by extending the reach of your arms as they move backwards and forwards (length), your legs will naturally adjust to the new rhythm and you should speed up.
The beauty of focusing on your arm movements rather than your legs is that when you are running or walking you are very conscious that it is your legs that are doing the work. You don’t feel as if your arms are doing anything much. Therefore it feels like very little effort to adjust your arm movement, either extending it or speeding it up. Your legs will then mirror that changed arm movement and your speed will increase accordingly.
This technique does require some concentration for as soon as your mind wanders you can all too easily relapse into your previous tempo.
Changing your arm movements is a neat, effective and simple way of tricking your body into moving faster. You can achieve good results relatively quickly.
Of course, the surest way to see if it works is to test the technique, to give it a try and to see if it makes a difference. Go faster arms might just be the way to your go faster stripes.