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Total Quality Management - Boosting The Economy
by: John Kellogg, AKA JK
September 18, 2007

(Part 2 in a series, Part 1 can be found here)

As stated previously, running economy can continue to improve with running experience even if other physical indicators associated with performance have stagnated or are in decline. Some of this improvement may be a result of learning how to balance stress and recovery in daily life as well as in running, but some improvement is a result of repetition of the activity, which cultivates minimized tension and preserves energy through efficient movement.

To understand why repetition assists in developing efficient movements, it is helpful to note the properties of the muscles involved with precise motor control. Smaller neurons, which innervate the muscle fibers responsible for fine motor skills, such as balance and stability, are of the slow twitch variety, meaning they have a low threshold for synaptic activation and generate lower force output than their fast twitch counterparts. The associated muscle cells also generally have a high mitochondrial density. Such motor units initially respond best to training stimuli consisting of low-intensity, high-repetition activities, but higher-intensity aerobic exercise is normally required at later stages of development for further mitochondrial proliferation.

For a given running velocity below the ventilatory threshold, higher stride frequency with lower power generation recruits more of the Type I (slow twitch) motor units and results in increased running economy, partly because more of the muscles which contribute to stability and control are contributing to the cause, partly because vertical oscillation and orthopedic stress are kept to a minimum, and partly because the Type I fibers (even those contributing to gross motor movements) are highly oxidative, so ATP energy production per unit of substrate is maximized.

Extremely high repetition in as relaxed a state as possible cultivates a subconscious sense of position and balance through continual involvement of the motor units which control fine movements. Therefore, practice of low-intensity and high repetition is fundamental tenet of many skill sports. In martial arts, for example, it is important to learn to do a movement correctly and with minimized tension before doing it with a combination of precision, full speed and full power. Attaining such precision of movement while separately developing explosive power before combining the two characteristics is what allows a martial artist to kick an apple off the tip of a sword while blindfolded. A master might say of this feat, "It is not 'done;' it is 'experienced.'"

The same can be true in running. A large volume of easy running with a reasonably quick stride frequency (one which promotes smooth, alert, snappy stride mechanics rather than lazy, sloppy mechanics) is invaluable to improve precise motor control at that particular cadence, channeling movements toward maximized efficiency. Note that the prime movers are not the only muscles which affect running economy. High repetition also trains muscles responsible for respiration, posture, arm carriage, et cetera to become more efficient at performing their duties. This will fine tune the effortless - almost floating - state that experienced runners can zone into when in shape. This sense of weightless euphoria in which endorphins are plentiful and effort is negligible is a state in which the pace seems to carry the runner, not vice versa. As the default fitness level improves over time, a faster pace can be employed more often to further the mitochondrial development and improve synchronization of movements in the motor units which are involved in making imperceptible corrections in balance at the faster pace.

Part 3 will look at the mechanics of the plant phase of running and how this transitional stage of movement affects running economy. Later installments will deal with methods of training to improve economy.

John Kellogg is a full-time, professional running coach. It is his passion in life and career of choice. John has logged over 70,000 miles in 28 years of running, with a highest week of 156 miles. He has experimented with as many combinations of training procedures as is possible in the course of a human running career while still devoting enough time to each mixture of techniques to ascertain their effectiveness. While he never reached the elite level himself, he was able to train himself effectively enough to run 14:22 for 5,000 meters while possessing a best time of only 57 seconds for 400 meters. John also has a Cross-Country 10,000 meters best of 30:46, and was nationally-ranked in the marathon as a Junior (under age 20).

He has trained in America and in Europe with runners of all ages, abilities, and nationalities, including world-class athletes, and has coached runners of all ages for 15 years, producing results at the state-class, national-class, and international-class levels.

LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson trained under Mr. Kellogg's guidance in middle and high school and credits his return to Mr. Kellogg's training with his huge post-collegiate improvements. A 30:13 10,000 meter runner in college, Weldon recently has run 28:06 for 10k, has finished 4th at USA Nationals twice at 10k. One of JK;s most popular articles was "How I Became a Guide"


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