Part 2: Who taught you how to run as a child?

Would you like to read part 1, first?

You may have come across advice and tips on the internet, or in magazines and books that are centred around:
• volume & frequency of training
• type of terrain
• running clubs & running accessories etc.

Although some of it can be considered and is somewhat valuable, it’s unlikely you’ll have come across anything that has truly helped you develop and improve your child’s running technique. It’s important to remember that children are not mini-adults and you can’t expect them to follow a similar training programme to yours.

I’ll take you through some valuable points to deliberate over before working out a training regime for your child.

Movement & muscle memory

When we learn a new way of moving (like the first time we run) our brain, nervous system and muscles develop a movement pattern so it can remember the movement the next time we repeat it.

The problem lies in the fact that you can’t simply perform the movement once and expect your memory to have saved it. You need to repeat the sequence over and over until that movement pattern is permanently ingrained in your muscle memory.

That is why youngsters, when they are learning a new skill, are initially erratic, jumpy and unsteady, but then begin to smooth out their movements. They become more efficient in the process until eventually, it happens automatically.

How do children differ from adults?

Children learn very quickly compared to adults. For instance, at The Running School for Kids, we can change the running technique of an adolescent in one hour after which they’ll be comfortable with their new technique. With an adult though, it can take up to three sessions to grasp a new technique, let alone be comfortable with using it.

The correct age for development and training

When parents ask me what the ideal age is for their child to start running, I tell them that although movement training should begin as soon as possible from the age of six onwards, the optimal time for running training is between the ages of nine and 14. This is because there is still the possibility of developing and steering the central nervous system at this age, and youngsters have the potential to acquire high levels of coordination and agility.

Training in more basic, functional movement can and should begin between the ages of three and six years old. With the correct teaching methodologies, toddlers can develop balance, coordination, awareness, agility and sports skills from a very early stage, which gives them a tremendous advantage if they decide to take up a sport and be active later in life.

Ideal distances for adolescents

I’m not talking about sending children out on long distance runs here. That is counter-productive to what we are trying to achieve – which is to teach your child the correct technique of running. Kids learn better when they are fresh and having fun. The exercises should be enjoyable and, yes, intense, but of short duration – about eight to twelve seconds.

So, how can you help your child learn to run properly?

The most efficient running motion is when the body has very little up and down movement (bouncing). The arms are relaxed yet move like mini pistons backwards and forwards. The legs are cycling with the heel coming up above the back of the knee when it’s off the ground.

Some aspects to focus on when developing a child’s running technique:

Feet: The feet should be landing under the body (centre of gravity), not ahead of it. Over striding causes a braking action and slows runners down.

Landing: Children need to learn how to land lightly on their feet. The best and most efficient way to run is to land on the balls of the feet, not on the heel. If someone’s been a heel-toe runner for a while it can be difficult to adjust but a good start is to practice landing lighter on the ground and trying to minimise the time the foot spends on the ground. At first, it’s better to practice for short bursts to get used to it.

Lower leg cycling motion: Teach your children to move their legs in a cycling motion. They should pull their heels up towards their backside rather than just lifting their knees.

Arms: Good coordination of the arms with the legs eliminates bounce, resulting in runners moving forward rather than upwards. The arms should be bent at the elbow at a ninety-degree angle and the movement should be back and forward. The fingers should be closed yet relaxed (as if holding a butterfly), and the hand should be moving to the chin and the hip.

Don’t try to get your child to take on everything at once. It can take several sessions to learn each technique. So, work on each one until it becomes fluid, and then move onto the next.

Would you like your child to learn from a professional? Get in touch for a free 15-minute consultation and we’ll guide you in the right direction. Simply request a call and we’ll get in touch.

5 Reasons You Keep Getting Running Injuries

Running, at its very essence, is a simple and pure sport. The open road, a wooded trail, fresh air and valuable time away from the modern world. It’s therapeutic, and a stress buster. You’ll even find that it can become addictive. The more you run, the healthier you feel. The mental and physical benefits are endless. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional runner, a marathon or sprint runner, achieving fitness and maintaining it is one thing, but avoiding running injuries is quite different. A good running technique is key.

According to a recent poll by Runners World, 50% of all runners obtain an injury, one way or another, be it mild or intense, per year. Remember that your body needs to adapt and this process takes time. The body is a fragile, multi-faceted system that needs to be taken care of.

I’ve put together five reasons you keep getting running injuries. Hopefully, this information will inspire you to take the correct precautionary measures and avoid them as best you can in the future.

  1. Pushing yourself too hard, too fast

This might sound like an obvious one, I know, but it’s one of the most common and easily disregarded. The majority of injuries happen when we increase the volume of training or the intensity of training, without correcting our running technique. Whether you’re training for a marathon or trying to get into shape, you need to build your body up slowly. Think long term. When you’re trying to add distance then you need to slow down your running speed. Be patient. And remember, you’re more likely to get a running injury when you’re tired so don’t push yourself too hard. This gives your body time to adapt.

  1. Not using the correct running technique

I believe that good form and proper running technique are key to reaching your goals and crossing the finish line strong and injury free. Try these tips:

  • Your feet should land lightly underneath the body, not ahead of it.
  • The most efficient way to run is to land on the balls of the feet, not the heel.
  • Legs should move in a cycling motion with heels kicking up towards the backside.
  • Arms should be used to get you moving forwards not upwards. Pump them and back and forth between the chin and hip, elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  • Fingers should be closed by relaxed.

A proper running technique gets your body moving in the most efficient motion possible, increasing speed and endurance and helping you remain free of running injuries by reducing the impact on your ankles, knees, hips and spine. Get in touch if you’re considering taking your running to the next level.

  1. Not doing strength exercises can result in severe running injuries

Runners hate going into gyms. Why are strength exercises so important?

If you increase strength then you’ll increase joint stability and ultimately reduce the injuries caused by the repetitive stress of running. Integrate exercises such as squats and ab work into your daily workout to help prevent lower-body injuries and improve overall performance.

And the good news? You don’t even need to join a gym to do strength exercises. Rather try box step-ups with a weight in each hand. This strengthens the whole lower body – quads, glutes and hamstrings.

  1. No variation in your training

It’s important to vary your training sessions:

Include an interval session or a speed session, fartlek or tempo session.
Run across a variety of terrains and in different shoes. Tackle some hills. Not only does this keep your training more interesting, but it diversifies the types of stresses that your body endures.

The more you mix things up, the more versatile your body and muscles become. The more variation the better.

  1. Not allowing adequate recovery time

One of the biggest mistakes runners make after a long-distance run, whether it’s post-race or after an intensive week of training, is not taking enough recovery time.  Recovery is a crucial and an often neglected part of training, and imperative to preventing running injuries. According to Runners World, a day off every 7 to 14 days, restocks glycogen stores, builds strength, and reduces fatigue. If you are experiencing sudden weight loss, lack of sleep or dehydration it’s probably due to a lack of rest and maybe over-training. The body needs time to restore itself.

Although running may seem like a straightforward sport, and it really can be, professional assistance can go a long way in ensuring you approach it in the right way. The Running & Movement School has spent the last 30 years developing and implementing movement, rehabilitation and speed protocols. First, we teach you how to move, then we teach you how to move faster.