It is not everyday that we come across something new for runners that can have such a positive impact on what they do. We have been fortunate to have the support of American Home Fitness in helping us get a Zero Runner at our store. The Zero Runner has been in our store for almost a year now and we are seeing some great results. There are two major factors that the ZR can have on one’s running. One is biomechanical and the other is physiological/metabolic.
When most athletes see cardio equipment they typically think of the physiological gains they can get from using it. At first glance, many compare the Zero Runner to an elliptical. Like an elliptical the Zero Runner allows you to train with zero impact but on the ZR you can actually run with the same stride that you do outdoors. Runners typically use cardio equipment when they can’t run due to an injury. The ZR is a great option for injured runners, but runners should also consider using the ZR while they are healthy and running well. There are many options when it comes to using the ZR for training. Long runs, recovery runs, tempo runs, intervals, etc. can all be successfully done using a Zero Runner.
Like cycling where someone can ride for hours because there is no impact, a runner can train for much longer on the Zero Runner. From a metabolic standpoint you can do a long run and be able to recover within a day or two. This has its pluses and minuses. A runner needs outdoor running miles on their legs to run well over long distances, but there is definitely a place for using the ZR to increase your metabolic fitness without the impact. You just have to figure out how to fit it into your training.
Above is an example of using the ZR for a run lasting 1-hour and 30-minutes. The runner kept their heart rate around 130bpm which would be a nice recovery run that would work on their ability to burn fat as fuel. The other HUGE benefit is that they worked on their faster paced running mechanics for this entire time while at an easy heart rate. To do this run outside they would have had to run at a much higher heart rate and the stress of that run would have been much higher, taking 3-4 times longer to recover from. This leads us to what might be an even bigger factor to why we believe the ZR has such great potential for all levels of runners.
We all look at elite runners and wish we could run as smoothly as they do across the ground. A common theme is that you should land close to your center of gravity and not heel strike. When we look at sprinters they land more on their forefoot and near their center of mass. Distance runners on the other hand don’t land as close to their center of mass. In distance running one wants to land with their foot under the knee. A slight heel strike is okay in distance running. This is all easier said than done. Runners can try and try to have perfect form, but typically the one thing they lack is the strength to run with good form. This is where the Zero Runner can have a huge impact on runners of all abilities.
Passive vs. Active Running
A lot of runners just run along and let their foot passively fall to the ground. One way to improve your running form is to learn to actively place your foot on the ground. When a runner learns to do this they land less on their heels, the braking force is reduced and their ground contact time is less. All these things make a runner faster. When on the ZR you can learn to shift from a heel strike (passive) gait to a more mid-foot strike (active) gait.
With just a little coaching on the Zero Runner we can see a runner learn to go from a heel strike to a more mid-foot landing. In frame #2 this is where the foot is the farthest in front of the runner. In the before image, the runner lets their foot get too far out in front of them. In the after image, the runner actively begins the process of placing their foot back on the “ground” sooner. With a little more work this runner can develop the ability to keep their foot flat as it begins ground contact. As runners develop this ability they should be getting a little sore after their ZR runs because they are using their muscles differently… in a good way.
Glutes seem to be all the rage these days. Some people claim that distance runners have weak glutes and they don’t use them like they should. As runners we need to be careful not to focus too much of our mental and physical energy on one thing. Don’t get us wrong. Glutes are very important, but they are only one piece of the puzzle to running well. Another great thing about the Zero Runner is that while you are working on other aspects of your running form you can also work on using your glutes and hamstrings to shorten your leg as you pull it through. This also increases your hip flexion and knee drive, which is important to running fast. Below we see a runner on the left that has not started to work on this and a runner on the right that is using their hamstrings and glutes to get their foot close to their butt when they pull the leg through.
Larry Schmidt from Octane Fitness does a nice job in this video of explaining the physics behind why this is so important to develop as a distance runner.
It has been great working with runners on the Zero Runner at the store. We are finding that runners who struggle with the coordination and skill it takes to master running on the Zero Runner will probably benefit the most from using it. Most people don’t just get on and start running with great form. There is a skill involved with running on the ZR and this is one of the reasons we love it so much. If you take the time to work on your running form using the ZR pay attention to the wear pattern on your running shoes that you use for running outdoors. It is hard to see from this picture but this runner has seen a change of the wear pattern on their running shoes they use for running (they don’t use these shoes on the ZR). Less wear on the heel and more wear on the forefoot. As this changes for a runner, you want to be careful because you will be stressing your muscles differently. You might get some new aches and pains as you adapt to running more efficiently outdoors.
Developing the coordination on the Zero Runner creates the muscle memory and strength to be able to run outside with better running mechanics. Just like anything else we do, the more we can practice something the better we will get at it. If you are interested in seeing if the Zero Runner can help your running stop by our store or American Home Fitness to get in a run on the Zero Runner. If you give it some time and work at it we are very confident you will see some pretty positive results in your overall enjoyment of running and performance. We are working on a few other Zero Runner projects so stay tuned for more info on how the ZR can help your running.
American Home Fitness has graciously offered Ann Arbor Running Company friends and family 20% OFF Zero Runners. Use the code A2RUN at www.americanhomefitness.com or mention it while shopping at their store.