Born to run? Does it look that way?

Even in this modern word where every phone is a video camera seeing yourself cycling, or running, or swimming (especially swimming) can be quite a revelation.  And quite a realisation.  Normally a realisation that you don’t look quite like you thought that you do.

Once you’re past the realisation bit things become a little more tricky.  The first problem is working out what it is that’s ‘wrong’.  And that’s easy compared with working out how to change it.   If you’re doing something wrong several times a minute for hours at a time you can’t normally put it right just by thinking about it. Even if you can do it temporarily you’ll lapse as soon as you stop concentrating.

This is where the coach comes in.  As a coach I don’t normally need video to analyse running, swimming or cycling technique: they’re repeated actions.  Slow motion and freeze frames can be useful for confirming things but generally watching real people move in real time beats watching them on a screen. For me video is useful because I can use it to help people understand what they see when they’re looking at themselves and I can show them what I see when I watch them.

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It’s powerful stuff. People come to see me for bike fits and go away with a whole new appreciation of cycling.  Of course I’m a big believer in the importance of bike fit and setup – but I believe more in the importance of great technique. A good bike setup enables good technique, but does not enforce or ensure it. A bad set up doesn’t always prevent it, but it adds a cost – normally tension of some form.

For running and swimming there’s no contraption to hold you in (or out of) position. That ought to make them easier – but it doesn’t. For many people it makes them much harder.

We all know that swimming is a learned skill – kids go to swimming teachers for swimming sessions, but we tend to assume that running is natural.  Who ever heard of running teachers and running lessons?  We run how we run and we get faster and go further by doing more and becoming fitter.

But why should different people run differently?  We might be different sizes and have different proportionality – but fundamentally we have the same muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and organs.  Gymnasts and divers learn how to somersault and twist; tennis players learn how to serve, smash and volley; cricketers learn how to drive, pull and hook; high jumpers learn the Fosbury Flop. They learn and are coached to make the movement patterns that work best.  If you try to do those skills with the wrong technique they either don’t work at all or the result is… well, how high can You jump?

So why don’t we learn how to run?

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