Human beings are born to run. Compared to every other species on this planet, we are unparalleled. While there are countless animals that can run faster than us, none can run for nearly as long, nor can they run for such incredibly vast distances. Aside from our big brains, this is one of the few traits that makes us unique among every other species on the planet.
But for such a quintessentially human ability, many of us are quite bad at it, and I’m not just talking about how physically unfit many of us have become in the modern world. There are some very basic techniques that you can apply to vastly improve your ability to run, and most people are never taught them. Here’s what you need to know:
Run on the Ball of Your Foot
There’s a native tribe in Mexico that in recent years, has gained a reputation for producing excellent long distance runners. Many of them routinely outclass Olympic marathon runners, and even their elderly keep on running into their twilight years. While there are several reasons why members of the Tarahumara Tribe are such fantastic runners, one of the most significant reasons is that they don’t run like most Westerners.
When most of us run, we instinctively land on our heels first, before rolling our feet along the pavement until we spring up from our toes. The Tarahumara on the other hand, never land on their heels. They typically have a shorter, faster stride, and they always land on the balls of their feet. This is much more efficient for long distance running, and it doesn’t put so much stress on your knees or shins.
Just remember that if you’ve never done this before, it’s going to leave you incredibly sore after the first time you do it. Running on the balls of your feet activates a few muscles that you don’t typically use so strenuously. Start out by only jogging short distances like this, and work your way up until you can do it for longer distances.
Fix Your Posture
There are two major posture problems that you’ll see with inexperienced runners. They’ll either be hunched over like they’re sitting in front of a computer, or they’ll be leaning really far back with their chest in front of them. Neither of these are conducive to efficient running or breathing.
Ideally your torso should be straight, and only leaning a little bit forward. You should be perfectly aligned from your lower spine to the back of your head, and you should be looking straight ahead at the horizon, like so.
Breathe Through Your Nose
This doesn’t just apply to running. No matter what exercise you do, it’s important to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, or alternatively, breathe in and out with both orifices together. Breathing exclusively through your mouth won’t do you any favors, even when you’re not exercising. Of course, it’s easy to forget that when you’re huffing and puffing at the end of a long run, but breathing through your mouth will actually burn you out faster.
Your nose isn’t just for smelling. The moisture in your nasal passages filters out particles and pollutants, and warms the air before it reaches your lungs. This not only reduces the irritation and dryness in your throat, but it helps your lungs take in oxygen more efficiently. Breathing through your mouth may put more air in your body, but it doesn’t necessarily put in more oxygen.
Another habit you’ll see with exhausted runners, is their tendency to give short rapid breaths. When you’re running hard it feels natural to try and breathe as fast as you can, but when you do this you’re actually making shallow breaths that fail to expel CO2. You need to take longer deeper breaths, even when you’re feeling exhausted. And the best way to do that is…
Breathe With Your Belly
I’m willing to bet that right now, as you’re breathing, your chest is moving in and out. In reality, that is not the optimal way to breathe, regardless of whether you’re running up a mountain or sitting on the couch. Most people never think about this because it’s hard to believe that there is a right and wrong way to breathe. The truth is, you should be breathing with your diaphragm rather than your chest. It should feel like your belly is being filled with air while your chest hardly moves at all.
Try it right now. Extend your belly as you breathe in and relax your diaphragm to let it all out. You’ll find that this is far easier than chest breathing, which is normally restricted by the weight of your chest and shoulders. You’ll also find that your lungs can take in a higher capacity of air. Belly breathing puts more oxygen in your body, and pushes out more CO2.
It’ll feel weird the first time you try it out on a run, but after a while it’ll start to feel natural. And doing this alongside the previous tips will make your running experience easier and more enjoyable. In a sense, they won’t make you a stronger runner. You’ll simply be removing the handicaps that have been slowing you down this whole time.