Strength training is my personal favorite, but building a base of aerobic fitness has too many benefits to ignore.
Intelligent endurance training can increase cardiovascular and brain health, boost fat-burning, and do wonders for your work capacity.
And running is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to increase cardiovascular fitness, but most people do it incorrectly.
This week’s educational newsletter is all about increasing your endurance. The focus is mainly on running, but most of the advice also applies to other training methods.
Tip #1: Use a forward posture and forefoot strike
The biggest key to enjoyable, injury-free running is efficiency and economy of motion.
And your running posture and how your feet land on the ground are the biggest determinants of efficiency. When you lean back or your foot lands in front of your center of gravity (hips), a literal braking effect occurs that slows you down and increases wear and tear on your joints.
Instead, lean forward slightly as you run to keep your weight balanced over your front foot the entire time, and be sure to land lightly on the front of your foot (a.k.a. forefoot strike). A good cue to encourage forward lean and correct body position is “nose over toes” — never let your front foot pass or land beyond your nose.
For a proper forefoot strike, you’ll need to ditch running shoes with raised heels that promote a heel strike. But if you’ve never tried zero drop shoes before, ease in or you can get hurt. And don’t switch over to minimalist or “barefoot” shoes without any padding until you’ve gotten comfortable with zero drops.
When it comes to activities other than running, your posture and body position are equally important. Always look for the most economical form that allows your body to work with natural efficiency.
Tip #2: Increase stride rate to 180 strides per minute or more
Increasing your stride rate and decreasing your stride length is another great way to improve efficiency and reduce injury risk.
Amateur runners tend to use a lower stride rate with long, clumsy strides, while elite runners tend to use a higher stride rate, even when they’re training and not racing.
The reason is because a longer length between strides is less efficient, fatigues muscles more, and puts greater wear and tear on joints. Instead, try maintaining your usual running pace by moving your feet faster with shorter strides (which also makes it easier to land on your forefoot).
If you’re not used to a stride turnover rate of 3 footfalls per second, listening to music with 180 beats per minute can help you establish your cadence.
In other activities besides running, increasing your training cadence is usually effective in a similar way. For example, competitive cyclists often perform “cadence training” with a fast cadence in a relatively easy gear.
Tip #3: Relax
Strength training is the art of creating muscular tension, while aerobic training is more like the art of relaxation and efficiency.
Any unnecessary tension you carry in your muscles during running or endurance training reduces efficiency of movement, makes it harder to breathe correctly, lowers oxygen delivery to muscles, and increases fatigue.
If you don’t believe me, compare your heart rate and fatigue levels when running at the same speed with tense muscles versus muscles that are as relaxed as possible.
To maintain correct form, you’ll need to maintain some tension in your hips, core, and postural muscles. Play with different levels of tension and relaxation and see what happens.
Whether or not you plan to run, I’ve given you the secrets to highly efficient, injury-free endurance training. If you don’t like to run I recommend testing these concepts with hiking, sprinting (my favorite), rucking, heavyhands, swimming, or even sport-specific circuit training.
Below: A photo of Steve after doing some hill sprints in the woods behind my house. Don’t mind the ugly look of near death…I was gassed! Tell you what though…it’s a great feeling of accomplishment afterwards! Go do it.