The Running Lab is the brainchild of Tim Bransdon, a specialist in human movement and biomechanics. Tim’s purpose is to reduce our dependence on orthotics and modern running shoes by focusing on posture, strength and efficiency.
This interview was originally published in The Hundy Journal Vol. 1
The purpose of The Running Lab is to make running less scary, less hated and less difficult. Why do you think CrossFitters hate running so much?
Running is not a sexy movement like a muscle up or snatch. It is more of a chore and an uncomfortable grind that gets in the way of the fun movements. Think about the relentless chase of your first muscle up.. Or finally nailing double unders consistently. Time and effort is invested heavily in these movements. Very few crossfitters invest time learning HOW to run. Running well does not involve simply running more in the same way endless squatting with poor technique does not help you squat better. Any gains with poor technique will be destroyed by niggles and injuries from moving poorly.
You just completed the Open barefoot, why did you do that?
Small disclaimer.. despite leading the 2016 Barefoot Open Leaderboard (of which I may have been the only competitor entered), I finished with a disqualification on 16.4. The rower made me dust off my Metcons and incarcerate my feet so my heels would not slip out of the stirrups.
That small detail aside, I move and lift better without shoes on. I have spent years experimenting with my feet.. taking them from orthotic wearing slaves to Performance Enhancing Springs. The strength, stability and elastic spring I have trained in my feet make squatting, deadlifting and lifting more stable, and double unders, jumping and running more efficient without the interference of shoes.
We saw you worked with Khan and Ben in 2015, what did you change about their running techniques?
Running is no different to any other Crossfit movement. It is a skill. And when the skill is broken down into drills to train efficient movement patterns, running performance goes through the roof.
For running, I teach that every step is a repetition. As such, there is exponentially more repetitions of running at the Crossfit Games than any other movement. Not all events will be won on the run component of a WOD but they certainly can be lost with poor technique that taxes your muscles and energy systems to the detriment of the other movements in the event.
With Khan and Ben, I worked on making each step.. each repetition.. as light and effortless as possible. When repeated thousands of times, even a twenty percent per step improvement in running efficiency adds up to a huge performance gain.
I also taught the boys how to run in different scenarios. In the world of Crossfit there are times to push hard in a run, using your strong technique to attack the WOD.. But other times when energy conservation and complete heart rate control is needed to perform well. To coach this, I used a comparison between the workouts Nancy and Murph. In Nancy, attacking the 400m efforts should be the aim of the game. The 95 pound overhead squats will not cripple elite Crossfit athletes like Ben and Khan, so moving powerfully through each run is the key to performing well in Nancy. However, attacking the brutal one mile efforts of Murph will crush anybody whose name does not begin with Sam and end with Briggs. Running in Murph is about each of the running repetitions (upwards of 3,500 steps) being smooth, light and efficient, maintaining good posture from the first step to the last.
As luck would have it, Murph was announced as one of the events at the Games. I sent Ben and Khan a message to remind them how to tackle the runs. Ben, not known for his love of long, grinding workouts, was genuinely excited to tackle Murph. This headspace, along with him soaking up 100% of what I shared with him in our sessions, saw Ben finish 9th. This amazing result reinforced my work in teaching running as a skill that, when broken down and trained, is not as ugly and horrible as many think.
What’s the difference between running on the road and on the trueform? Does the Trueform favour any type of athlete.
You cannot hide from inefficient technique when running on a Trueform treadmill. There is a small sweet spot on the treadmill belt that you want your foot to contact in order to keep it moving efficiently. If you overstride, which is extremely common among runners, your foot will land in front of this sweet spot and the Trueform will destroy you.
The Trueform does not favour a “type” of athlete.. It rewards efficient movement. It also helps if you have spent some time becoming comfortable on the machine.
Why do nearly all podiatrists recommend orthotics and you throw them in the bin?
I cannot speak for other podiatrists.. But I do not believe in wearing a corset for weak core muscles or injecting insulin so you can drink soft drink. Orthotics do not solve the cause of a problem. There are 33 joints in each foot.. designed to move. If you stop the joints moving feet will only get weaker. Whereas, if you train your feet to be strong and powerful they will yield huge rewards in walking, running, skipping, jumping and lifting. There is no other body structure we brace, support and forget about. Why should we treat feet differently?
Put another way…
You cannot out-engineer the human foot.. You need to harness the power of what you were born with
Metcons of Nanos? What’s most important to look for in training shoes?
Training shoes are a personal preference. Nano’s need to be judged on the individual version as each year they are made very different to the previous. The current 5.0 Nano’s (soon to be superseded by the 6.0) are very stiff and rigid, which is good for lifting but not great for dynamic movements like running and double unders.
When not barefoot, I wear Metcons.. But I take the super thick inlay out of them, which makes the shoe very thin and flexible, allowing me to use my feet more.
Professionally, I prefer to focus on work shoes rather than training shoes. Most crossfitters spend one hour each day in training shoes but 10+ hours in work shoes. Work shoes are where foot gains and losses are made.
I hate lifting without my weightlifting shoes. There seems to be a trend to squatting barefeet, why are we being recommended to use them as little as possible?
There is no hard and fast rule on this. I ditched my lifting shoes as I was wearing them mostly because my mobility was well below what was needed for a strong, stable squat. Similar to my thoughts on orthotics and supportive shoes, I prefer to go after the root cause of the problem rather than support the dysfunction. My squat has improved tremendously through training my bare feet to be a rock solid base on the ground, along with working on my hip and ankle mobility.
If you choose to wear lifters to squat, it is not the end of the world.. but I will charge you double (in my clinic) if you are running or doing double unders in lifting shoes.
In general should CrossFitters be running longer distances to supplement their training.
Any well rounded training program would be mad to exclude running as, along with squatting, it is the most natural of all Crossfit movements. I have worked a lot in the lead-in to Regionals with Luke Starr and the Crossfit Active Teams, as well as spent time with Crossfit East Tamaki in New Zealand. Both these squads understand the importance of running in their training and, more importantly, running well.
My weekly work at Crossfit Active does not involve long, monotonous runs. I work on technique, pacing, controlling heart rate, loaded carries with odd objects, and challenging the athletes with varied work:rest intervals each session. The overriding feedback is not just improvement in running but improved performance in WOD’s also.
We spend hour after hour going through the minutia of our snatch technique, but no one ever talks about running form. Should we be spending the same time time correcting flaws in our running. What can we do to improve our running?
Yes, investing time to learn the skill of running will pay huge dividends. It is also way easier to learn than a snatch.
To improve your running my biased answer is get in touch with me…
But the surefire way to improve your running without my direct help is to always have your head on your shoulders (a forward head lean, staring at the ground in front of you, is the biggest posture fault in runners and destroys efficiency) and run QUIETLY! The less noise you make when your feet contact the ground, the less energy you are wasting and the less injuries you will have.
Finally, some people say they love running, what do these people know that the rest of us don’t?
They have learned the SKILL of RUNNING and, if truly well coached, the mastery of Performance Enhancing Feet.
Find Tim and The Running Lab at http://therunninglab.com