Obstacle Race Magazine – How to run faster Part 2

Obstacle Race Magazine Interview with Michael Cohen
Obstacle Race Magazine

How to run faster Part 2

By Michael Cohen

Issue 5 July 2014

Coach Michael is back with Part 2 of ‘How to Run Faster’. He shares with us some great insight as to how he has transformed his elite racers into some of the fastest runners on the OCR circuit. Now here is your opportunity to follow his running drills to make your running more comfortable. more efficient and faster.


In Part 1 published in edition 4 of Obstacle Race Magazine you did a self evaluation of you current running form, to determine how comfortable your running is, and most importantly how efficient it is.

From there we started to look at your posture and in particular your spinal alignment by elongating the spine from the crown of your head. Just to re-enforce the importance I need you to consider how mindful of elongating your spine during your normal day as well as in your running. Without exaggeration it is probably the most fundamental aspect to your running.

Moving Forward

Holding onto that thought about posture we know need to look at the other aspects to your running technique, by way of breaking down your existing running form. This way you can fine-tune, tweak and re-program your body and mind in order to develop your running technique, comfort and performance.


Having done a warm up and some dynamic stretches it is time to start some drills focusing on different elements to running. Find a flattish grassed area, trail or gravel path for the drills. Mark out a stretch that is around 75-100m. Each of the following drills you are going to run the length of the drill stretch, make a large circle and run back to the start point. This is a single drill.

General Drill Notes

1.Each drill here on will start with you elongating your spine and jogging on the spot before running the drill.

  1. Each drill you will run 75-100m and back
  2. Once you start working your way through the drills don’t focus on everything from all the previous drills otherwise you will end up to much in the head and trying to remember everything. Instead just foucs on elongating the spine with every drill and on the current drill.
  3. Just remember drills are focused on technique and not speed. So hold yourself back!

Run Evaluation

First off all run the drill stretch as you normally run and observe how heavy or not your legs and feet are, similarly how much body weight is weighing down on your hips.


Drill 1 – Elongating the Spine

Elongating the spine as we discovered in Part 1 enables you to:

  1. Be taller, alert and confident.
  2. Go anti-gravity i.e. not having your entire body weight bearing down on your hips, legs and feet.
  3. Helps you to breath, as your neck and chest are more open.
  4. Naturally brings your hips forward.
  5. Encourages you to be more on your balls of your feet.

Jog on the spot; elongate the spine from the crown of your head (don’t let your jaw rise up). Then run the drill. Keep reminding yourself on elongating the spine as much as possible.


  1. Did your legs/ feet feel lighter. Were you are of less weight on your hips?
  2. Were you aware that your throat is more open and therefore it is easier to breathe and get more oxygen?
  3. Does you body feel straighter?
  4. If you are not sure drill again.

Drill 2 – Letting go of the shoulders

As humans we are very stiff with our joints and in particular our shoulders are very tight, raised or stiff from lack of movement. This normally means neck and shoulder aches and pains. Unlike animals and in particular cheetahs and leopards, who have very distinct shoulder movements, we need to take inspiration and learn to open up our shoulders.

Standing on the spot, focusing on the elbows moving the arm forward and back. Let the shoulders go and lets oil and grease them. Don’t control the arms from the shoulders, its all from the elbows. Now jog on the spot and then drill.


Did you shoulders an neck feel more relaxed. If not sure drill again.


Drill 3 – Arm direction

Most runners think that running is just about the feet and legs. Well, they are wrong. Running is a whole body experience, that is powered also by the arms. That is why the likes of Usain Bolt and other Olympians have upper body and arm strength.

The key factor about the arms is which direction are they arms going. For a moment visualise that your body is a car. Your legs are the back wheels and your arms are the front. If your arms are not aligned with your legs, then your car is not going to go in a straight line.

Most racers I train are not ware of there arms either mving in different directions, inward, or even running like a bulldog with elbows out to the side. This is because what you consider to be right is the norm for you and not necessarly good alignment for running. So we need to break the muscle memory patterns.

The easiest way to realise your arm movements is to video yourself running or getting a friend to watch or get a FREE Running Analysis (see offer).

Standing on the spot, with an elongated spine check your arms are moving in the direction you are running. Remember to move the arms from the elbows not from the shoulders. Now jog on the spot and then drill.



  1. Could you tell the difference? If not sure drill again.
  2. Because your arms are now going straight notice how it naturally opens up your chest. This will enable your lungs, heart and diaphragm to function better.
  3. Have you noticed how relaxed your neck and shoulders are.
  4. Do you feel that you are taller, alert and more confident.
  5. If not sure drill again.

Just to say I was out with an OCR runner today, and I asked him to self assess his arm movement. He was convinced they were going forward and back. I then had to demonstrate to him that his right arm was moving in the way that he was stirring a pot. He still couldn’t see, it, and this is so common as his body was programmed for so long that he was oblivious to it.

Drill 4 – Angle of arms

Most runners consider 90 degrees as being the optimal angle of your elbows whilst running. I prefer a variable 85-95 degrees. This way we avoid locking the elbows and keep the energy flowing from your finger tips to your brain. It encourages better communication, blood flow and increased oxygenation to the arms.

Stand on the spot, and adjust your elbows so they are variable between 85-95%. Move them back and forward. Once again keep shoulders relaxed and let the movement come from the elbows. In regard to your fingers they should not be extended or flexed into a fist. Instead the fingers should be relaxed so that if you were holding a crisp then you wouldn’t break it. Now jog on the spot and then drill.


  1. Can you feel your arms, shoulders, hands and fingers relaxed?
  2. Do you arms move rhythmically with your legs?
  3. Can you experience your whole body running?
  4. If not sure drill again.


Drill 5- Hammering Back

As mentioned in the previous drills all the power of the arms comes form the elbows. Now if we learn to hammer the elbows back then gravity will bring them forward just like a pendulum. The pendulum comes about only if you allow your shoulders to be relaxed, greased and oiled balls and sockets. Focus on your entire arm movement coming from the elbow.

The more you hammer back the more the pendulum will bring your arms forward without you trying to. Using gravity this way id free energy and on a communication level allows free flow. The fewer muscles you have inadvertently activated the less energy is wasted keeping them activated. Plus less aches and pins in the neck and shoulders.

Stand on the spot, and adjust your elbows so they are variable between 85-95%. Hammer them back and feel the pendulum bring them forward. Once again keep shoulders relaxed. Now jog on the spot and then drill.


  1. Can you feel the pendulum working?
  2. di you really run much faster?
  3. Does it feel like a whole body experience?
  4. If not sure drill again.



Putting it into action

Now it is time to practice these 5 drills before your run.

Remember like any new techniques, you can’t do them over long distances from day one. It has to be progressive as your body has been used a life of running the old way. You need to allow time for your bones, muscles, ligament and tendons to adapt. So start off with 10 minutes practice and slowly building up in minutes rather than miles.

After your drill go for a short run of say 10 minutes and try to incorporate the techniques into it. Remember always focus on elongating the spine and thereafter every 30s-60s focus on ONE of the techniques we did in the drills. Then move on to the next. This will start to program you and increase your mindfulness to your running technique. Just remember DO NOT try to implement all the drills in one go, as you will be too much in the head. Then as you near the end of the run don’t think at all, just enjoy running.



  1. How much better was that?
  2. Was it easier?
  3. Was it less painful?
  4. Was it faster?
  5. Was it more fun?


In Part 3 in Edition 6 of Obstacle Race Magazine we will fine tune and develop your running further with new drills.

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