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Physics, physical therapy propel running concepts

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The following running tips from Maj. David Sanchez, physical therapist at the Maxwell medical clinic and triathlete, are designed to help improve speed, fitness and reduce the chance of running-related injuries.

Major Sanchez is teaching a running class, currently filled to capacity, the last Wednesday of every month, as well as unit classes. For more information, contact him at 953-5867.

Start off by taking easy runs. Think of running as a five-speed stick shift. Gear 2, or 85 strides per minute, is the speed at which runners should spend most of their time training. A person's running speed equals cadence times stride length. "These runs don't take too much out of you, but they lay the foundation." A gear 2 run strengthens the body, ligaments, tendons and bones, burns fat and helps decrease the waistline. For runners seeking to lose weight and burn fat, the key is to run at gear 2 for longer, rather than running harder, as harder runs burn glucose instead of fat. "You don't need to wipe yourself out for fat burning," said Major Sanchez.

Do months of easy runs before you try to run hard endurance-type runs. "Most people think they need to run harder than they need to," said Major Sanchez. An average training regimen for a conditioned runner should include 25 percent hard running or speed work, also known as gear 4, and 75 percent easy runs. When running a gear 4 run, the runner should reach 85 percent of their exercise heart rate. "If you want to go fast, you have to practice faster running," said Major Sanchez. Faster runners should try running more than 100 strides per minute to improve their speed.

Most of the time, runners should avoid gear 3, cautioned Major Sanchez. "I call gear 3 the mushy middle," he said, because it's too fast for fat-burning and too slow to help increase your speed. Gear 3 is good for increasing the conditioning of those runners who haven't yet tried any speed work. Once a runner is conditioned, they should proceed from gear 2 to gear 4.

Use a proper stride. If, during a stride, the runner's foot hits the ground from the back, the forces of physics can help propel the runner. Major Sanchez finds overstriding counterproductive. Though an increased stride length may increase the ground covered, "your cadence in essence slows down, which negates the advantage of covering more ground." When a runner overstrides, the "body will decelerate, coming to a quick little stop," he said. The runner then has to reaccelerate, which requires more effort.

"Kangaroo running" or bouncing when one runs is also inefficient, said Major Sanchez, as it requires a runner to use force to produce the vertical motion against gravity, and puts more shock and stress on the body. Also, do not run in a side-to-side motion. Keep your center of mass along a straight line. Arms should be swinging forward and backward, not side to side. To absorb and reduce shock, runners should keep their knees bent, stay light on their feet and be easy on the ground. "Too many people attack the ground," said Major Sanchez.

Eat right, and think recovery after training. "If you don't eat right, you don't recover well," which can lead to injury, he said. Work hard, but then cool down and stretch. Apply ice if something hurts. To help recover from a run, eat protein and carbohydrates 30-45 minutes after a hard session in a one to three ratio - one portion of protein and three portions of carbs. Make sure the body has recovered before starting the next exercise. Get eight hours of sleep. To promote recovery, conditioned runners should do a gear 1 run the day after a hard run to increase circulation. Beginning runners should take a day off of running the day after a run. Runners should know the environment in which they are running and adjust accordingly. In a hot environment, run times need to decrease. Runners need to keep their hydration level appropriate.