The Alexander Technique can help every runner
raise their performance
We all think we know how to run. After all, it’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
For many of us, though, an activity which should be fun and fulfilling leads only to frustration and injury. Instead of reaping the benefits of improved fitness and well-being, physical and mental barriers mean we fail to realise our potential.
Every year the London Marathon and other running events serve as inspiration to get us off the couch and into our running shoes. Yet once the initial enthusiasm wears off, poor technique can prevent us finding our flow and discovering the feeling of free and easy movement. Just as importantly, treating running as a task – another item to be ticked off a daily to-do list – is a likely route to boredom and bad habits.
Alexander Technique offers a response to these issues. The Technique is a way of developing good use of the body and greater awareness of the way it functions. By applying its principles to sport and physical activity, we can approach running as an art rather than purely a technique. The emphasis becomes less on targets such as running a set distance in a pre-determined time, and more on the process of exploration and enhanced awareness that running offers.
‘Running should be a constant journey of discovery,’ says Alexander Technique teacher and running coach Malcolm Balk. ‘If you’re new to running, don’t start off by setting yourself fixed goals. The danger of trying to run without stopping for 20 minutes, for example, is that you might fail – and lose the motivation to try again.
‘Instead, ask yourself: can I run from my house to the trees across the park? And if I can, what might it feel like to run back again?
‘On your first few outings, you may find yourself walking as much as running. This is absolutely fine. As your fitness improves, you can vary the times spent walking and running until you reach your first achievement: being able to run for longer than you walk.
‘What matters most of all, though, is this: is the experience enjoyable and stimulating? And are you looking forward to doing it again tomorrow?’
5 STEPS TO RUNNING WELL
Runners of all standards can benefit from Balk’s five key principles based on the Alexander Technique:
- Think about ‘running tall’ so you lift your torso up out of your hips and sense your body ‘lengthening’. This will prevent you lapsing into a slouch and ‘running heavy’, when you pull your body downwards and passers-by 100 metres away can hear your feet slapping on the pavement.
- Your head weighs around 4.5kg, so don’t drag yourself down by staring at the ground. Cast your gaze forward, so your head is nicely balanced on your neck and spine. The scenery’s better, too.
- By keeping your body upright, you will be able to land with your feet directly underneath your body rather than shooting out in front of you. This reduces the braking forces caused by ‘heel striking’ and also promotes a more efficient stride pattern.
- Try to ensure that when you land your weight is towards the front of each foot rather than towards the heel. This will help you to run lightly.
- Use your arms. It’s amazing how many runners plod along with their arms held stiffly at their sides. Running like this is like driving with the handbrake on. Instead, keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees, your wrists and hands neither floppy nor rigid, and move your arms backwards and forwards slightly across your body. When you use your arms in this co-ordinated and rhythmic fashion, they are a wonderful source of power.
Oprah Winfrey once said that running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it. It’s a view that Balk fully supports.
‘We run because it gives us pleasure,’ he says. ‘Very few of us will ever be champions, so our aim in running regularly is to challenge our body to go beyond its current level of fitness and to feel good about ourselves.
‘By making small, steady improvements to the way you run, your enjoyment of the activity will only continue to increase. Running with greater ease, efficiency and grace is the key to sustaining this wonderful physical activity throughout our lives.’