1. Slow Cadence. Running speed is a result of stride length multiplied by stride frequency. That said, many runners will first attempt to increase stride length, which in turn reduces their stride frequency, which, under optimal conditions should be around 180 foot strikes per minute. The easiest way to count stride frequency is to count your steps for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. If you count 40 steps in 15 seconds of running–meaning your are currently taking 160 foot strikes per minute–gradually make the jump to 180 foot strikes per minute by focusing on increasing your turnover.
Take a few minutes to listen to your feet hit the pavement when you run. The more time your feet spend on the ground, the more energy is required to propel it forward. Focus on increasing your cadence, and in turn, your efficiency.
2. Heel Striking. Slow cadence often goes hand-in-hand with heel striking for many runners–or, as I like to think of it, your hips are behind your feet.
Imagine this: you cannot push off your foot when it is in front of your hips. Your hips must come over your feet in order to propel you forward.
Arsenault argues that “most people suffer from a poor sense of the relationship between timing of forward movement and foot contact on ground. This results in reaching the foot forward to land and pushing off too far from behind to propel.”
A lot of attention has been given to the barefoot and minimalist running movement. Arthur Lydiard, one of the most well respected coaches of our time, encouraged minimalist footwear decades ago. Why? To avoid heel striking. One of the advantages of running barefoot or in minimalist shoes is that it will hurt if you strike with your heel.
3. Lack Of Mobility. As mentioned earlier, stride frequency and stride length are the two components that determine running speed. The former American record-holder in the 10,000 meters, which shows how hip separation can help propel you forward, and consequently cover more ground.
Mobility trumps all else when it comes to running fast and staying healthy. If you lack complete range of motion anywhere in your lower body, you are going to be more susceptible to injury. A good way to increase running-specific mobility is through Active Isolated Stretching, a method made popular by stretching guru Phil Wharton. His techniques are focused on how to lengthen the muscles properly in order to prevent injury and improve performance.
4. Un-relaxed Upper Body. One of the most difficult things to teach a runner, beginner or experienced, is how to run fast AND relaxed. A good way to do this is by using the example of a world-class sprinter. If you slow the footage down, you will see how relaxed his or her jaw is, how effortlessly their knees drive up toward and through the hips, and how the shoulders are relaxed and hanging away from the ears.
Here are a few tips to ensure that your upper body is relaxed and you are carrying your arms properly.
* Keep the angle of your elbows at 90 degrees, and be sure not to release that angle in the back swing, as it will only waste precious energy.
* Raise your shoulders to your ears at each mile marker during a race, and then drop them back down into their ideal, relaxed position.
* Perform the “Hands on Head” drill. Start by interlocking your hands on your head. Focus on keeping your core solid and straight while keeping the hips and shoulders level and relaxed. Start jogging. This drill will help you to eliminate any left to right movement through the hips and help eliminate a criss-crossing, side-to-side arm carriage.