Read time: 4min.
By Coach Yan Busset
Unlocking Speed: The Top 3 Hidden Barriers Triathletes Face in Running Faster
Are you looking to improve your running speed but find yourself hitting a wall? There can be many different limiting factors, but there are three in particular that I often encounter among age group triathletes. Let's review these together, you'll likely find some that you can relate to. At the same time, I will give you with some actionable tips on how to address these issues:
1. Too High Ground Contact Time
Improving ground contact time is crucial for triathletes, especially those used to smash the ground the same way they smash for hours on the pedals in cycling. In French, we refer this low ground contact time skill as "avoir du pied."
Ground contact time is the duration a runner's foot stays in contact with the ground during each step. Triathletes often have a higher ground contact time due to their strong leg movements from cycling. This can translate into a heavy running style, leading to inefficiency, increased fatigue, lower economy, and higher risks of injuries in running.
The goal is to develop a lighter, more efficient step that allows for quicker turnover and less energy spending.
How to Lower Your Ground Contact Time?
Fast Intervals: Incorporating fast running intervals into your training can help develop a quicker, more efficient running cadence. These intervals train your muscles and nervous system to contract and relax faster, reducing the time your foot spends on the ground. This is especially beneficial for busy age groupers who don’t have much time for drill sessions. "Overspeed fast strides" can improve your running economy even if your race pace implies much lower speeds. you can do some reps of fast strides on a slight descent to help you to go over speed.
Running Drills: If you can dedicate more time to improving your run, specific running drills can improve form and efficiency. There are zillions of running drills but here are three examples of drills, which are alternatives to traditional high knees or butt kicks:
"The Little House in the Prairie" skipping drill (Sorry for the name but that what it reminds me, this corny TV show opening theme…) is a simple and playful skipping exercise. Begin with a light jog in place. Transition into a skipping motion. The skips should be light and carefree, varying in height and intensity. Let your arms swing naturally with each skip.Focus on keeping your movement light and rhythmic, as if you're skipping effortlessly across a prairie ^^.
A-Skips: A variation of skipping emphasizing high knee lift and quick ground contact.
Quick Foot Taps aka "happy feet" drill: Rapidly tap your feet on the ground as if marching quickly, training your feet to spend less time on the ground.
Plyometrics: Exercises involving rapid and powerful movements to improve muscular power and explosiveness, therefore this can help to reduce ground contact time. Running itself is a form of plyometric exercise. Examples include rope skipping and "Reverse Lunge with Knee Up." For the latter:
Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart.
Step backward into a lunge, then explosively bring your back knee towards your chest.
Alternate legs each time.
Box Jumps: Jump onto a box with both feet and land softly, focusing on explosive leg power.
2. Running Always at the Same Speed
Running always at the same speed can not only plateau your progression but also restrict your range of motion, much like strength training in always a limited range of motion can limit your mobility. This is especially true for middle-aged and older athletes. If your goal is "just" to run longer distance a the same speed that’s ok, but if your goal is also to improve your running speed you need to incorporate variation in stride pace into your training regime. here are some tricks to do so in addition to Interval training:
- Include some faster strides at the end of long runs (even after long rides)
- Choose more challenging terrain, like forest paths, to naturally vary your gait length.
Remember, while lower pace Z2 training is crucial for developing metabolic capacities for race day, keeping your legs ready for a better range of motion is important too bio-mechanically speaking if your goal is to improve running speed.
3. Poor Hip Mobility
"Sitting is the new cigarette," a silent killer. It’s a significant threat to both metabolic health and mobility. We all know that extended sitting and general sedentary behavior can lead to weakened core stabilizers and tightened hip flexors, resulting in increased stress on your low back and reduced spine flexibility. But do you do something about it? To combat this, at work, discipline yourself to move or change positions every 20 minutes. Alternating between standing and sitting desks, and taking walking meetings when possible, can help. Additionally, a daily routine of mobility exercises can greatly improve flexibility. Here are four exercises to perform daily:
Start on all fours.
Slide one knee forward toward your hand on the same side.
Stretch your other leg back, keeping your hips facing down.
Sit up straight, then lean forward for a deeper stretch.
Hold each side for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Do once for each leg.
Standing Hip Circles:
Stand up straight.
Lift one knee and rotate it in a circle.
Do 10 circles in one direction, then switch and do 10 in the opposite direction.
Repeat for each leg.
Start on hands and knees.
Arch your back up and then dip it down.
Alternate between these positions for 1-2 minutes.
Focus on smooth, continuous movement.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat.
Lift hips by pushing through heels, squeeze your glutes.
Lower back down.
Do 10-15 reps, 2-3 sets with 30 seconds rest between sets.
Looking for More Tips?
Check out some of my past articles that are in connection with this article:
Thank you for reading and see you next week!
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