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When fine-tuning the intensity of walking and running, people tend to spend too much time focusing on the legs and ignoring the feet. But this is a bug. Your feet are your interface with the ground. Learning how to increase their exposure -- a concept called turnover -- can make a big difference to your stride.
Running coach Pete Maggill writes in his new book, Speed Runner: "Developing fast feet is when we train the nervous system to better control the muscles in walking and running." The result? Walk and run faster, easier and more comfortably.
Walkers and runners tend to think that quick turnovers stem from the speed at which you move your feet in the air and get them back to the ground. But research shows the opposite: It takes about the same amount of time for everyone to reposition their legs in the air; the difference between a jog and a record-breaking sprint is how long your feet stay on the ground. "Fast footwork is about the speed, power and efficiency with which you're pushing forward on the ground," says Magill.
Reducing time on the ground requires rapid power generation. According to Magill, the three factors that contribute to faster feet are: muscle strength (especially in the legs and core), a reduction in muscle inhibition, and elastic recoil. Muscle strength produces the force that pushes you forward. Restoration improves coordination between opposing muscle groups, resulting in smoother, faster movements. And, as Magill puts it, elastic recoil is the ability of tendons and other connective tissues to store energy when they stretch and then release it when they shorten -- providing free motion.
So how are these accelerators developed? Magill recommends three workouts, one for each element. Incorporate them into your daily activities one to three times a week, depending on your training and experience level.
3 exercises to help develop fast feet
1) Quick jump
Improvement: Muscle Strength
Jumping trains your body quickly, combining powerful, rapid muscle contractions with the spring-like mass of tendons ("elastic recoil") so you can get back into the air as quickly as possible after each jump. This reduces the time your feet stay on the ground when walking and running, resulting in increased steps per minute and faster and more efficient strides. Focus on your form. "If you start to lose form, it's time to jog back to the starting line," Maggier said.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Imagine you are on the side of an invisible line. Bounce your feet forward parallel to that line, focusing on horizontal movement rather than vertical movement. Once on the ground, jump again, keeping the tempo fast.
3. After jumping forward 20 to 30 yards, jog back to the starting point and immediately sprint 20 to 30 yards at 90% of your strength. (This helps incorporate the practice into your stride.)
4. Go back to the starting point. Repeat twice.
2) walking on flat feet
Improvement: Muscle inhibition
This exercise reduces the confrontation between the thigh muscles. It allows for a higher knee lift and a smoother leg fall back to the ground, which allows you to apply more force faster. Your hamstrings learn to close as your quadriceps and glute flexors lift your knee, and your quadriceps learn to close as your hamstrings and gluteus maximus pull your leg back to the ground. Learn to close.
1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Keep your feet flat (so your calves can't move). Move forward quickly (but not extremely fast), raise your knees to waist or higher, and push your feet down like pistons. Avoid stepping on the ground.
3. After going 20 to 60 yards, turn around and jog back to the starting point.
4. Immediately sprint to the finish line with 90% effort.
5. Go back to the starting point. Repeat twice.
3) Ankle bouncer
Improvement: elastic recoil
"Running without a stiff ankle is like driving a car with a flat tire," said Dr. J.B. Moran, a professor of exercise science who studies human movement and performance at the University of Sofia Antipolis in Nice, France. "Ankle elastics will help increase tendons." The firmness allows your body to react and bounce back quickly instead of squeezing and rolling with every step.
1. Keep your left leg balanced, bend your left knee slightly, lift your right leg forward, and bend your right knee about 90 degrees.
2. With your arms at your sides, jump up and down with your left leg for 15 seconds, focusing on speed and height.
3. Switch feet and repeat 2 to 3 times with each leg.