Technique Threshold, the key to unlocking run potential?

I feel a little like I’m getting a little repetitive with blogs relating to run technique, but I don’t think I stressed the ‘technique threshold’ significantly in previous blogs. Based on that,  I decided to give it an article all to itself..

What is the technique threshold?

The technique threshold is the running speed at which good running technique starts to falter. The simplest way to understand this concept is to find a flat 100m stretch and conduct this simple test. Start by jogging the first 10 metres and then gradually increase running speed every 10 metres, getting faster and faster. The key to this test is starting slow and making gradual increases every 10 metres, most people just sprint flat out and by 30 metres, it’s all gone very ugly..

At some point your ‘good technique’ will start to falter and you may feel the following changes:

1. Tension rather than being relaxed, things start to feel ‘strained’ rather than ‘effortless’.
2. Changes in general posture (some people twist, other lean back and stick their chest out.. to name but a few).
3. The arms start ‘pumping like a sprinter’ rather than being ‘relaxed like a distance runner’.
4. Your stride starts to feel uncomfortable and uncoordinated (however you wish to describe, it certainly isn’t smooth and fluid).

Examine a little deeper..

Try the test and see how far you get, if you have a ‘high technique threshold’ you’ll be able to run very fast and still remain relaxed and smooth. If your technique threshold is ‘low’ then you’ll have a ‘technique wobble’ at a relatively slow speed. The main impact of a low technique threshold is that runners simply are not able to change pace whatsoever. They commonly increase their speed over the first 30 metres and then hit a ceiling, with no further increases in speed. They simply can’t run fast.

What’s the meaning of all this..?

Consider this simple fact: ‘It doesn’t matter how big your car engine is when you’ve got flat tyres’

What if you’re engine was actually pretty big by comparison with other runners who beat you in races? All this time you thought those other runners were ‘fitter’ than you, had a bigger VO2 max, and actually that was never the case at all. It is very possible that you have a bigger engine than many of the other runners ahead of you, but unfortunately, you just can’t move your legs properly. Your flat tyres mean that you just can’t roll along efficiently, no matter how hard the engine tries.

*Fact: the above scenario is 100% realistic as we’ve tested hundreds of runners in the lab and there are plenty of people with high VO2, poor running style and subsequent poor 10k time.

How does this impact upon my running?

If you can’t move your legs properly and you run with an uncoordinated style then it has 2 negative consequences:

1. It stops you running quickly as explained above
2. It’s uneconomical and leads to greater fuel usage

Its important to point out that if your technique threshold is low, it will impact on all distances ranging from 800m runners right through to ultra runners. It limits you moving quickly but it also impacts significantly upon your economy when running at slower speeds. It will come as no surprise to hear that if you spend lots of time running at slow speeds, your technique threshold will drop, impairing your ability to run at faster paces.

Coordination and speed just don’t go together..

Any skill which require coordination is easy to do when it’s done slow. Hitting the right notes on a piano keyboard, playing a computer game, or learning new dance moves are much simpler when you do them at a slow, step by step speed. It’s when you try to speed up those movements that your coordination tends to let you down. Running is no different, placing one foot in front of the other at jogging speed is simple, but it’s an altogether different challenge coordinating limb movements when running at top speed. Even if you are able to coordinate your limbs at speed, can you actually make them move fast enough? Does your neurological system fire a nerve signal to the muscles and create movement fast enough for you to run quickly?

2 simple questions:

1. Can you physically move your limbs quick enough?
2. Can you coordinate them when doing so?

I’d stick my neck out and say that technique threshold is perhaps the key to unlocking running potential for the majority of ‘stuck in the rut’ club runners. All runners, no matter what their ability should spend some time developing technique threshold if they aspire to improve their performances.

previous blogs and video posts have discussed correct running technique so I don’t intend to discuss that again. What you shouldn’t do in response to this blog is traditional speed work (1 mile repetitions etc) as that’s not the point. If your technique threshold is poor you’ll run them slowly, whilst still working that big engine and nothing will change. The answer is more simple, you just need to learn the skill of running fast before you attempt intervals. Start with ‘acceleration strides’ after 10 minutes of warming up, do them before and after each session. Find a 50m flat stretch and gradually build your pace (as during the test described earlier) and learn to run quickly whilst remaining smooth, efficient and in control.

It may well open a whole new world of personal bests!!

Please share if you found this useful.

Marc Laithwaite
The Endurance