Bodywork, May 1997

By Jim Harmon

The original aerobic activity, running produces strong yet lean, sinewy legs. It develops the outer quadriceps and strengthens the hamstrings and calves. Since we typically run for endurance rather than power, the resulting muscle definition tends to be subtle — devoid of bulk. But as you run faster, you'll develop other muscles, namely your glutei maximi.

To make running really work for your legs, you'll want to do it correctly. After all, pounding the pavement with good form can be the difference between loving it and loathing it. Even if you've been at it for years, a few pointers from Jack Daniels, a visiting professor of exercise physiology at Arizona State and running's preeminent physiologist, provide something fresh to consider. Be sure to keep your feet landing parallel to one another, synchronize your breathing with your legs, and most important, run relaxed. "Take a mental inventory from head to toe," Daniels says. Are your jaw muscles clenched? Are your shoulders bunched? Are your hips tight? Are your ankles stiff? They shouldn't be.

As for your pace, Daniels recommends that you count your strides and, regardless of ability, aim for 180 steps per minute. If you come up with 160 or fewer, you're likely bounding too high and thus landing too hard, which isn't any good for your legs. Save the pounding for a pickup hoops game. "I tell people to imagine running across a field of eggs, trying not to break any," Daniels says. "You want shorter, quicker, lighter steps. Focus on your turnover, and as you get stronger your stride length will take care of itself."

The Routine
Monday: Run a distance you can cover in 30 minutes at a standard pace, approximately two-thirds of your maximum heart rate.

Tuesday: Jog two easy miles to warm up, do five 20- to 30-second intervals at a pace you'd run if you were racing one mile, and then jog two more miles to cool down. Between intervals, jog or walk for a full minute to recover. "Runners who've spent the winter on treadmills may have forgotten all about what it's like to run fast," Daniels says. After two weeks, replace this workout with the initial workout for Friday.

Wednesday: Repeat Monday's run.

Thursday: Rest.

Friday: At the track, jog ten minutes to warm up, stretch (especially the hamstrings), and then do one and a half to two miles — up to 5 percent of your weekly mileage total — of repeats: 12 to 16 reps of 200 meters or eight 400s at your one-mile race pace. Feel it in your glutes? In between, take four times as long to recover as it took to run. Finish with a ten-minute jog to cool down. After three weeks, up the ante by exchanging the 200- or 400-meter repeats with five repeats of 1,000 meters at a fast pace that will still let you maintain a breathing rhythm of two steps per inhalation, and two per exhalation; take the same approach for recovery.

Saturday: Repeat Monday's run. After three weeks, increase your running time on these days by five to ten minutes.

Sunday: Take a long, easy run of up to 25 percent of your weekly mileage. Again, after three weeks, up the mileage.

Photograph by David Roth
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