Developing Running Coordination and Athleticism (Or, Preventing One-Dimensional Fitness)

by Jason Fitzgerald

Runners can be in great shape, but most of them aren’t very athletic. Two of the worst basketball players I’ve ever seen were three-season runners. Ask most runners to hurdle, dribble a soccer ball, or cut back and forth on a football field and you will see some of the most laughable movements.

This is unfortunate because runners need full body athleticism and coordination to handle the stress of high mileage and tough workouts. Balance, running coordination, and proprioception are underrated as markers for running longevity.

Let’s take a quick yes/no test. Can you:

  • Put on your shoes standing up without falling over?
  • Sprint at a maximum effort without pulling a muscle or looking like a goofball?
  • Run technical trails without falling on your face?
  • Adequately complete exercises that have you moving in multiple planes of motion?
  • Fall gracefully while running and pop right back up?

Runners who only run usually can’t do most of these things. They try a lunge with a twist and fall over. They’re clumsy when they sprint. When they fall, they get laid out for weeks with a weird sprain. It’s sad.

These runners lack the basic movement skills of any well-rounded athlete. If you’re not a good athlete you’re never going to be a good runner. That’s why I encourage people to train for triathlons, cross-train, and learn the right way to do body weight exercises.

Elite coach Jay Johnson claims many of his own injuries can be attributed to his declining athleticism once he became a three-season runner putting in a lot more miles. Other sports give you the ability to move differently. How can you get an overuse injury if you’re consistently using different muscles?

Athleticism, Coordination, Power

There are a lot of ways to inject more variety into your running program so you don’t fall into the trap of being a one-dimensional athlete. Run different types of workouts. Practice core, general strength, and dynamic mobility exercises.

Running coordination is a functional skill that has a direct impact on your training. It can make you more powerful and efficient. An agile distance runner who can sprint, move effectively in three planes of movement, and lift heavy weights will simply run faster.

Running fast is a skill - don’t let anybody tell you it’s not. Your success will depend on your aerobic capacity, muscle strength, mechanics, and coordination. If you lack coordination and muscle strength then you’re not a complete athlete and you won’t reach your potential as a runner.

Visuals are great motivators so I want to show you my favorite videos for developing well-rounded fitness and running coordination.

The Lunge Matrix is a warm-up I do every day that builds strength in all three planes of movement: the sagittal, frontal, and transverse.

Watching the Team Indiana Elite video two years ago started my (healthy?) obsession with core workouts and mobility exercises. Safely increasing your strength, flexibility, and capacity to do more work means you’re going to be a stronger runner.

Sprinting is another way to develop more robust athleticism. Keep it varied – my favorites include acceleration strides (100m efforts that build to a sprint and then taper down), surges during a run, and hill sprints. The goal is to be comfortable when you’re sprinting – if you can do that, your mechanics will definitely improve.

When I was in college, I could always tell who had never run trails in high school. They were the kids who would always be falling over every root and rock when we went running. Running coordination is vital, so practice your trail running. If you can run 8 minute pace on tough trails, imagine what you can do in a road race?

The point of this post is to encourage you to do different types of exercises. Hills, core, sprints, triathlons, general strength exercises, and dynamic flexibility routines can all help you to evolve as not just a runner, but as an athlete.

You won’t get injured as often and you’ll be able to run more and do faster workouts. That will make you race faster.

If you agree, then it would be awesome if you shared this article on Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon. The only way I can help other runners is with your help!

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