Shuffle running can lead to great race times and can be good start to running life – but it’s holding you back and putting your body under strain!
Tight calves and trying to hit that magic 180 stride marker? You could be a shuffle runner. Although I’ve coached some runners with amazing times who have shuffled, there is so much room to improve your running and give those calves a rest.
- What is it & what is involved?
- Injury risk
- Technical efficiency
What is it & what is involved?
Shuffle running is easy to identify. Short steps, fairly bouncy, and a scuffing sound. It comes about by being over reliant on your calves to propel you forward and not using the rest of your leg muscles to form an efficient cycle. Some people have extremely strong calves which makes it simple, some people are trying to get to 180 strides per minute which is seen as a gold standard. THIS IS AN URBAN MYTH.
The 180 number is an observation from the Atlanta olympics and an average of cadence among runners from various distances. It is an average taken from professional runners at extreme speeds. This is not good advice. If your legs are half the length of Usain Bolts’, should you be running at the same strides per minute? It is impossible. First you need to maximise the efficiency of your leg cycle – using all of your legs. Then as you get fitter you will be able to implement each cycle at a faster rate, and your cadence will improve. But the number at the end of that minute does not matter!
The injury risk becomes self-evident in shufflers. You are taking so many strides and so many more impacts on the ground, your tendons and joints will really start to feel it. Shin splints, achilles tendinopathy and runners knee which is generic are just a few examples. It’s just too much impact for your body to take. And that strain is going into the ankles, calves and knees. Further, as you are rushing to take faster strides, you often become an over strider which increases the stress through your body.
Calves can be really big and really strong, but they should facilitate your run, not be the prime driver. Your quads, glutes and hamstrings are all larger and stronger muscle groups. Let them take the load! I know this is hard to imagine straight away, however it’s simpler by looking on youtube. Search for an olympic 100m sprint final, a 10 000m race, and an even marathon. Look at all the athletes’ legs individually.
- They push the floor away thus extending the hip.
- They then lift the heel, significantly higher than their knee (no matter what the distance).
- Drive the knee through to a minimum of 60 degrees.
- Land underneath their centre of mass.
Although calves are vital for controlling the landing process, they are not providing the bulk of your power. This comes from higher up the chain. What I have described to you is what we call a “leg cycle” and this is what we promote when coaching running and improving development. It’s a process and takes time, but when utilising these established muscle groups you will begin to run faster and safer.
Great news! A few steady changes can improve your leg shuffle and get you out of your regular patterns. The great thing is, you can do technique specific training in your intervals, or just incorporate it gradually into your long run. We break it down from four to two.
Stage 1. Push the floor away and lift your heels to above the line of your knee.
Stage 2. Drive your knee through and place your foot underneath you.
This completes a leg cycle, and will feel a bit strange to begin with. I recommend starting with easy lamppost runs and just one stage of the cycle. If you go for a long run, simply focus for 30 seconds of every 1-3 minutes picking your heels. Gradually increase the time your comfortable with – but this is the first stage of eliminating the shuffle run and using your posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). Once you have done a few long runs you can bring this to your interval, and using the drill for a full 400m or 1km, or whatever interval length your session is for the day.
You can do the same thing with the knee drive, just isolate your focus to bring your knees through with a little more effort, and control a strong landing. Again, start on the long run very gradually for no more than 30 seconds at a time and then begin to increase the time.
What this will do is lengthen your stride, and you will find you run faster. This is key to removing the shuffle. Expect to fatigue faster. And remember your body will adapt and overcome this fatigue. Your neural system will adapt to the larger fast movement and it will begin to feel natural.
Get out of the shuffle – use all of your legs and power into an amazing cadence which is your own, and suits your body!
Was it hard getting out of shuffling? Remember your cadence shouldn’t be the overall goal! You want to make the most out of your body, no matter what shape or size. Make your cadence unique to you, but use all your leg muscles to complete the leg cycle! Don’t cut it in half and only use your calves!
- Shuffle runners rely on the calves, ofter get overuse injuries and have a clear plateau in speed.
- Using your quads, glutes and hamstrings is safer, more efficient, and faster.
- Break your drilling into two stages of the cycle. Push the floor and lift, bring the knee through and land.
- Start your running drills and remember the 30 second rule! Then take it to your interval.
Build A Better Runner – Form is King