Saturday, March 1, 2008
Brain Training for Runners
The last thing I need is another book on running. However last night I was at Barnes and Noble looking to use up some gift cards. I got a book on improving my teaching, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 and a book I always wanted to read Between a Rock and a Hard Place about Aron Ralston getting his arm stuck under a boulder while hiking in a canyon and having to cut it off in order to survive. On my way out I saw on a table of new books a running book, "Brain Training For Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results". I had never heard of it so I gave it a glance. It had a lot of pages and it seemed 1/2 of them were training tables (not something I am usually interested in). But I saw some interesting stretches and read a bit to see what the "brain training" was all about.
I decided it was cheap enough and picked up a copy, particularly because some of the ideas I noticed in the book were similar to some of the things I have been exploring in Z-Health as to the importance of the "brain" in regulating stride form. Since this blog is titled "Recover Your Stride" I think this is an important subject.
I skipped through a lot of the book to get to the important stuff that I wanted to explore. First I liked how the author, Matt Fitzgerald, started the book, "Other runners think I am weird..." and then he goes on to explain how he is incorporating his studies and thinking into bettering his own running performance by doing out of the ordinary techniques.
Chapter 5 is entitled "Pursuing the Perfect Stride" and in here he begins by writing, "The stride is everything...it's truly amazing how little attention has been given to stride development in the training of distance runners." Whereas other coaches will tell you not to play around with your stride, he is all for it! His brain training approach has 3 components: emulation (study elite runners), proprioceptive cues (thoughts and sensations to focus on while performing), and technique drills (to enhance good running form).
I like how he analyzed runners to come up with 5 characteristics of good running technique. These are explained well in the book: stiffness (that allow you to spring as you run), compactness (of stride), ballistic action (allows push-off), stability (prevents joint collapse), and symmetry (something I don't have in the least). This chapter is worth the cost of the book alone. There is a lot to digest, yet it is simple and precise in presentation.
I tried one proprioceptive clue as I did my treadmill run today (more snow!). Because it sounded the most fun (actually because it says it will maintain greater stability in the hips, pelvis, and lower spine) I tried the "Butt Squeeze". Basically the idea is to contract the muscles of the hip and butt on the side of the body that is about to hit the ground and then maintain that engagement through the stride. As silly as it sounds I tried it and well it wasn't easy. However when I got it right my stride evened out and in particular my bad left side felt like the femur was setting in the hip much better and even the whole hip reacted differently then the usual collapse it does as I run. As I looked down my legs seemed to be running straighter.
There are other proprioceptive drills to concentrate on (only do one per workout) and that gives you something to think about and try while doing any workout. There are also some core conditioning drills that seem like some of the "best of" exercises of what I have tried in various programs. I am also excited to see the "Dynamic Flexibility Exercises". Static stretching has never worked for me, in fact I think some hamstring stretching I did this week affected my progress with the Z-Health and my running. These drills have to do with relaxation and tension of the muscles (something else I have seen written about elsewhere but haven't yet begun to explore). Dynamic flexibility is also referred to as mobility exercises (ah- similar to what I have been exploring with Z-Health).
I think these couple of chapters alone are well worth rereading and studying again and again. It may be awhile until I get to the rest of the book, because there is a lot of food for thought as I train my brain.