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5 Tips Every CrossFitter Needs to Know to Become a Better Runner

For the same reasons that we drill and practice every other movement that shows up in a WOD, we must also take the time to practice efficient mechanics in our running.

Running is one of the most basic human movements next to walking and crawling. It is how we get from point A to point B the quickest when we don’t have access to technology to help us along. You’ve been running since you were a toddler and able to pick up more than a slight trot. You obviously know how to run, right?

If I showed you a loaded barbell and asked you to explain to me how to pick the barbell up in the safest and most efficient way possible, you would tell me how to deadlift. You would instruct me how to efficiently position my body and lift the object without bringing myself to injury. 

Now, what if I asked you to explain to me how to run? And no, just telling me to “go run” isn’t explaining.

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Imagine I had amnesia and you had to explain to me how to position my body and move my limbs to run efficiently. Not as easy? It should be just as easy to explain how to run as it is to deadlift, but sadly, running isn’t often talked about as a skill that needs to be taught and practiced because its something that we all do anyway.

For the same reasons that we drill and practice every other movement that shows up in a WOD, we must also take the time to practice efficient mechanics in our running. Just like deadlifts don’t hurt the powerlifter, running itself doesn’t cause injury. Poorly performing an exercise over time causes injury. Without knowledge of how to run with proper mechanics, you are almost guaranteeing yourself injury at some point in the future.

1. There is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to run

This may be obvious to some, but there is a way to run that is not only efficient, but also safe. If you have never heard of the “Pose Method”, invest some of your time into studying the work of Dr. Nicholas Romanov. He is the inventor of the Pose Method of running, and has created a mechanical checklist to break down how to run. POSE-FALL-PULL were the 3 words he used to describe running in the simplest terms.

  • POSE – meaning the position your body starts in.
  • FALL – referring to literally falling forward to allow gravity to drive your momentum (not pushing off with your back foot).
  • PULL – refers to pulling the foot underneath the hip using the hamstring.

2. A longer stride does not make you run faster

Despite popular belief, striding out as far as you can doesn’t correlate to more speed.

In fact, an elongated stride slows you down and is the cause of those horrible shin splints and lower back pain you’re feeling after a run. A long stride where the foot strikes in front of the knee causes the foot to strike on the heel. This can lead to discomfort, pain, and sometimes serious injury. To add perspective, start jumping up and down landing smoothly on the ball of your foot like you are jumping rope. Now try jumping up and down on just your heels. The latter is what you’re doing when you’re running.

3. Technique>Intensity>Volume

This concept is often lost among the masses. No matter what you’re doing, whether it is running, a gymnastics movement or a weightlifting movement, learning proper technique for the movement takes priority over building intensity – especially before building any type of volume into the training plan.

Runners don’t get hurt because they run. They get hurt because they don’t know how to run.

Learn the proper mechanics before hitting that 5k or building to the 50 miles a week that your online training plan gave you.

4. Breathe through your diaphragm, not your chest

I’ve had athletes come to me with questions about how to breathe while they run. A common complaint is they just can’t breathe during the metcons with running in them. More likely than not, you’re breathing through your chest and taking short, shallow breaths that are jacking your heart rate up in the middle of the WOD.

This takes practice, but try to push your stomach out as you breathe in. Pushing your abdomen out will open your diaphragm and allow you to breathe easier.

5. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

Prepare for injury free running. Don’t just expect it to happen overnight.

Utilise regular running drills, daily mobility exercises, and dynamic warm ups pre WOD to keep on track. Don’t think it will just happen. It takes work to be good at anything else, so why would running be any different?

Obviously just having these 5 talking points won’t make you automatically better at running. You’ll have to put in the skill work and drill proper mechanics over and over to see any results. Start taking running mechanics as serious as you do about your snatch mechanics, and you’ll start to see some progress.

As you work towards becoming a more efficient runner, remember to video yourself. Video doesn’t lie.

After you’ve been practicing for a while, test your newly learned skills with a couple of common WODS. First, go after a time trial of pure distance. 1 mile for time or run a 5k for time. If that doesn’t do it for you and you want to mix up the movements, take on the benchmark WOD Helen. For those that haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this WOD, it is 3 rounds for time of:

  • 400-meter run
  • 21 Kettlebell Swings (24kg)
  • 12 pull ups

If running is a weakness, or if you’ve experienced injury in the past from running, the only way to get better is to treat running like a skill that must be practiced. Practice proper form and hit new PRs. This isn’t something you need to do alone. Find a knowledgeable coach to help guide you through the skills and drills. The time you put in will be valuable. You won’t regret it.

Try this advice from the top Crossfit Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw:

Chris Hinshaw: How to Build a Bigger Engine for Crossfit