There are many much-discussed variables that affect running performance but one technique that’s often overlooked is ground contact time. In other words, the amount of time your foot stays in contact with the ground on every stride.
When doing gait analysis (you know, when you get on a treadmill in a running shop and they video how you run), this is called stance time. Basically, the fastest runners spend more time in the air, so it’s worth thinking about and seeing how it can help you improve your own running technique. This all makes sense because when you run, you’re propelling yourself forward in the air. When your feet are in contact with the ground, you are static.
So how do you train yourself to spend less time on the ground? Simple – add some sprints into your training programme and away you go. Doing a few sets of 50-100m sprints at the end of a shorter run one day a week will add power to your strides and translate into the rest of your runs. And doing these sprints on a hill reduces the risk of hamstring injury (yes, hill sprints are crazy tough but no pain no gain, right?).
Another way to increase air time is to build up more muscle in your legs. The stronger your legs are, the more power you have to push off the ground with in every stride. Both weight training and plyometric (or jump) training help to achieve this.
Here’s how to do it. Incorporate these exercises into a run, so for example, after every mile, find the nearest park bench or low wall and do three sets of ten box jumps like this with 30 seconds of rest between sets, then continue running.
There’s also a significant link between ground contact time and the position of a runner’s foot when it comes into contact with the floor. A study conducted on a half marathon by researchers from Ryukoku University in Japan found that heel strikers tend to get less air time than midfoot strikers.
Such simple changes to your routine could be the key to improving technique. It’s worth investing some time optimising your training and focusing on form, especially when you’re chasing new personal bests.