How to Become a Better Runner without Running

I know you love running because you're here with me in this video and you're watching me talk about running all the time. But you may be wondering to yourself, is there anything I can do to be better at running that isn't running?
How to Become a Better Runner without Running


I know you love running because you're here with me in this video and you're watching me talk about running all the time. But you may be wondering to yourself, is there anything I can do to be better at running that isn't running? So that's what we're going to talk about today, how to become a better runner without actually running.

As always, if you haven't been with me here before, I'm Jesse Funk, this is a show I call Runner's High where we talk about everything running or in today's case, we're going to talk about everything, not running the things that you can do to help you be a better runner. Now, you may be thinking, but I've heard that the best thing to do to make me a better runner is to run more.

Generally speaking, that's pretty true. However, we all have our particular limits, and often we can run into these limits in terms of mileage where we start to run into injuries or we start breaking down because of overuse.

So in that case, where we're not able to tolerate more mileage, sometimes that's a point where you have to say, "Is there something I can do to get that kind of extra work in and become better at running?" This happened to me in college when we were running 60 ish miles a week, 50,60 miles a week, and I simply couldn't tolerate that for too long. So I actually added in a bike day, which is not just like sit on the bike and spin and don't do anything. It was actually hard work.

And then I also swam twice a week, two to three thousand meters at a time. So while I was effectively getting in done, there was a lot of aerobic work, which is what I was replacing with the runs. When I bike, I actually get off the bike and go run as well, so I would still be getting in some run. But you're getting a lot of aerobic work and that's what a lot of these activities will do is replace some of that kind of recovery time aerobic work that where if you did that running, you may end to run into overuse injuries.

So that first activity, you can do that, I believe, could you better running without actually running, as mentioned, is swimming. Now, so when you take a runner and you put them in a pool and you tell them to swim, it's kind of like a fish out of water. And I use that metaphor purposefully because I'm hilarious. Don't you think so? No, because I couldn't think of anything better.

But it's really a matter of time and effort to learn good technique and to actually begin maybe enjoying swimming if you don't know how to swim. Obviously, there's some motivation involved and you remember that, OK, maybe I don't like swimming, or maybe I don't like swimming now, but I want to be better at running and I can't tolerate quite as much mileage. So I'm going to do this, OK? And you have access to a pool.

So if you can get an instructor or you can get a friend that knows how to swim to teach you the basics, teach you how to put your face in the water and breathe, you know, get all of those things down so you can actually swim some laps. Then it's going to make the whole experience a little bit more enjoyable. I know when I began swimming in college or really kind of learning how to do the crawl freestyle, if you want to call it that. I couldn't make it twenty-five meters down the pool and then, you know, went on to try to earn a professional license in triathlon.

So with enough determination, you can get it done. I promise you can. And having somebody help is always going to be helped there. But suppose you have a pool, but just you're saying to me, Jesse, I really just don't want to swim. Well, you can still use it.

Aqua jogging if you've seen these things. The pool that is like belts that attach to the inner back. I don't have one with me, unfortunately, but they often see him. Like with all the equipment the aerobics classes will use. That's another option if you want to join them.

But aqua jogging is actually really good for injury rehabilitation, too, because you're using the same kind of motion you would running. So you're activating a lot of the same muscles and the same firing patterns. However, you don't have the impact from running, and you can actually get a lot of the aerobic working and again, those muscle firing patterns you're going to use for running and in the pool by aqua jogging.

So those are probably my top two picks swimming because of the aerobic activity and because you're not using your legs very much, can you give your legs a break but also get that blood flow through? We've talked about that before. How blood flow is good for recovery and then also jogging if you are injured or potentially have a high risk of injury. It's another good way to use those same firing patterns for running in the pool. Avoid that injury and still get in good aerobic work.

My next suggestion, and maybe this is my Ben as a triathlete, is cycling. Now, cycling comes with a caveat because it in particular is not going to make you a better runner. And in some ways, cycling actually could make you a worse runner. So why do I recommend it? Why am I suggesting it?

Well, first I'll. Cover the why might it make you a worse runner and that has to do with the muscle activation and the kind of muscles that you're working on when you're cycling. It's really somewhat opposite of what we're going to be doing when we are running. So running is very hamstring glute dominant. So it's the back of our legs versus cycling, especially if you're getting into triathlon and you're on time trial bike. It's going to be quad dominant. So in the front now, we obviously use all of our legs for both.

But what's the major movers are concerned and they are opposite. In this case, they're on the front and back side of our legs because they're used for opposite motions. So becoming better at cycling can be detrimental to your running. However, it comes back to that aerobic movement again, right where if we're getting in that motion, we're getting in our aerobic time, building our base as we often call it in, you know, running, then that's time that we can use for running fitness.

But there's something you can do on the bike that's actually very helpful. It's actually what I did this morning. And we do semi frequently. My coach and I have had me scheduled in for this and that is getting on the bike and doing high cadence intervals. So while high cadence is exactly as it sounds, you're going to be spinning your legs fast.

Now this means you're not going hard. It's a lighter kind of pedaling easiest done on a trainer instead of outside. But you could if you find the right environment, you don't have a lot of traffic to deal with or you've got, you know, clean road. You don't really have to be in a lane of traffic, but basically you're going to take a lower gear and then pedal at a faster rate.

So typical pedaling is going to be eighty-five to 90 revolutions a minute and then you actually want to go ninety five to one hundred and five. The reason is that again, remember I mentioned earlier using that firing pattern with your legs in the pool, with the ankle jogging.

It's kind of a similar idea here. You want a fast turn over to run, and sometimes we have a hard time running faster with a faster turnover without also pushing harder. This way, we can kind of simulate this faster turnover, get our muscles used to firing in a faster rate. And then that translates over to the run, where we can now turn over faster runners running and then run faster.

Because running, if you don't remember, is a function of power, how hard we're pushing off and how fast we're doing those push offs. So if you can't push any harder but you can turn your legs over faster, you've now increased your speed. My last suggestion is outside of the realm of my expertise in terms of really, really doing a deep dove on teaching it. But there are great resources for this specifically for runners like Jason Fitzgerald, who is the author of Strength Running. He's been on my podcast Smart Athlete Podcast, that comes out on Fridays. Also here on this channel. So subscribe wherever that button is. I think it's over here.

But strength training, it's going to be a key differentiator if you are doing it and your competitor is not. Why? Why is it a key differentiator? Well, for me in particular, my limiter is power so I can run all day. But maybe I'm not very good at sprinting, which means that my top end power is not very good.

I can increase my top end power by doing speed work, right? Yes, but there's a particular load that comes with that. I could also stimulate that process by doing strength training, so strength training gives me that ability to be stronger, have a higher power output and then translate that into running. There's also the benefits of it often being a preventive measure for injuries, which keeps you consistent, keeps you running longer and if you're, you know, running the channel for any amount of time, you know, I say consistency is key to speed.

So if you can be consistent more often, then you are going to get faster sooner. Right? So strength training, taking some time away from running to do this can be beneficial because you can prevent injuries and increase your maximum power output, which, as I mentioned earlier, the two functions of running power output, how hard we're pushing you off the ground and turn over speed.

So if you increase your turnover speed by spending a little bit of time on the bike every once in a while working on that high cadence? And then you also increase your push off speed by doing some strength work. Those things can translate directly into that running speed. So now you're faster without running. What questions do you have for me about running? What would you like to see in a future video? Please leave it in the comment below. I love to do a video just for you, and I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner's High.

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