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Economic Movement, Automatic for the Uninitiated but not for the Rest of Us

Did you know that you can become a better runner just by running more?

That’s what this article says. It came into my Google reader inbox this morning. It was reporting on the results from a training program for beginning women runners that had been published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Is this new news? Actually, ironically, yes. Because these women didn’t become better trained (they weren’t more fit at the end of 10 weeks than they were at the beginning, poor things), but they became more efficient runners.  Their bodies, in response to the continuous and repetitive motion of running, taught themselves to run in a more energy-saving, more kinetically sound way. One wonders if the body, in survival mode, says “Oh my goodness. what we doing out here? Better snap to!”

So, of course, I had to try this out on the roads. I laced up my running sneakers and jogged on out the door. I’ve logged lots of miles on the roads. Would these hips, knees, legs, feet become more cooperative if I just left them alone to do what they knew how to do without my interruption?

This idea made me think of a book I was fascinated by many years ago called, The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey. He’s still coaching and teaching the inner game. Gallwey posits that our bodies know how to accomplished what we want them to do, but our thinking/trying gets in the way. I was on the high school tennis team when I first read the book so I tried several of his focus/performance drills on the court. I was never a consistent server and the harder I tried, the worse I got.  Gallwey’s drill had you put an empty can of tennis balls in the corner of the service box. Then, you just started serving. You saw the can but you didn’t aim for it. I hit it three times in a row.

So, there’s something to this, letting the body do things on its own. But can my body find a better balanced, biomechanically sound running stride? Sadly, not today. For me, here was why:

  • strength and flexibility imbalances – compensation happens but it means my hips sway wide left to compensate for my still weak left hamstrings (result: functional, not efficient)
  • old injuries/surgeries that have reduced my sensation or created a right to left imbalance – my right foot is stiffer than my left
  • bad habits – years of running have ingrained movement patterns that are chunked. I have taught myself “bad” habits and they are now what I default to.

So, I respectfully disagree with the conclusions of this article. More doesn’t mean more efficient for most of us. It does, I expect, kick us into survival mode. And the body definitely knows how to do that.

Funny, survival looked a lot different when I was in high school and my big worry was whether my tennis serve landed in the service box.

Now, going through the motions, even with a laser focus, will not put me on target. Intention and awareness of my imbalances and bad habits will likely yield a whole better approach.

As for the young and uninitiated…the beginning runners I can influence…there is a clean slate I can work with. Hey, it worked for me at 17. I must remember that external instruction is not closely related to performance. It has much more to do with a realistic belief in themselves  – and a whole lot of hours on the court, the field or in the pool.

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