It’s science! New research reveals surprising ways to run better.
Humans are creatures of habit, and runners are no exception: We latch onto particular training strategies and hit repeat until we get bored or burn out. If your routine feels stale, shake it up with science. Researchers are always working to examine how athletes respond to different training techniques, and sometimes these studies reveal effective new ways to challenge your body and build your fitness. Now is the perfect time to experiment with your own training, says Rebekah Mayer, National Run Training Manager for Life Time Fitness in America. “It’s a great time to try something new,” says Mayer. One of these quirky ideas, borrowed from recent scientific findings, can reinvigorate your running.
Occasionally shifting into reverse may help your body burn fuel more efficiently on every run, according to a recent study. Researchers found that incorporating backward running into training for 10 weeks was enough to improve forward running economy by 2.5 per cent in well-trained runners.
This is because the unfamiliar motion places a greater demand on the heart and lungs than moving forward at a similar pace. Backward running – or any exercise that forces you to move in a direction other than straight ahead – also strengthens stabilising muscles and builds coordination, says conditioning coach Courtenay Schurman. Plus, reverse locomotion targets your quadriceps, making it especially helpful for runners who train on flat terrain (which taxes mainly the hamstrings).
Do it Start by adding five or six 22 to 45 metre backward jaunts on a flat, low-traffic surface after an easy run once or twice a week.
HACK YOUR PLAYLIST
High-energy music (with at least 125 beats per minute) has potent pump-up properties, but slow jams can also play a role in training. The authors of a new study discovered that when subjects listened to slow-tempo music right after a 20-minute treadmill run, their heart rates returned to resting state more quickly than when they listened to livelier music or static noise. Researchers speculate that listening to slow-tempo music during the “off” periods of speed or tempo workouts would have a similar effect. Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., author of Applying Music in Exercise and Sport, offers one explanation for this: When the body is heavily fatigued, heart and breathing rates tend to lock into the rhythmical qualities of music.
Do it Make a playlist with one or two fast-tempo songs to pump yourself up before a high-intensity run, then add slow-tempo songs to play during the recovery portions. Karageorghis recommends songs that are 100 to 120 bpm (like Fifth Harmony’s “Work from Home”) for active recovery. Keep the music off while going fast to stay attuned to your sense of effort and form, Karageorghis says.
TAKE A WALK
Newbies have been using walk breaks for decades, but seasoned runners experimenting with challenging climbs can benefit from them as well. New research shows that walking up steep hills (inclines greater than 15.8 degrees) is more efficient than running up them at the same speed. Walking steep hills keeps your heart rate controlled and prevents you from hitting your anaerobic threshold, the point at which the body switches to burning only carbs for energy, says Mayer.
Do it At the foot of an unrelenting hill, break the incline into three sections. Run the first
third, then switch to a brisk walk. Once you’re two-thirds of the way up, assess your effort level, Mayer says. If your breathing has steadied, you can run again, but if you’re still winded, hiking will help you conserve energy without costing you too much time.