Nothing can show you the way to go better than an expert in the body’s biomechanics: a kinesiologist. But a lot of people think just like me: we’re too proud or too determined to let someone else micromanage our athletic development. We want to do it ourselves.
To do that, we had better start by understanding the principles that pertain to any dynamic system—including the human body. These are simpler than you may think. Consider the advice given to people that are trying to improve their social and personal relationships: the first step is to develop the channels of communication between parties. All future progress depends on that.
The very same applies to the body; it’s a dynamic system, just like a relationship. We want to improve the way in which the various parts of the body—organs, muscles, bone marrow, brain—“talk” to each other. They have to be in sync. But the problem with most of our bodies, (indeed the very reason for which we keep getting injured), is because certain parts are staggeringly more powerful than other parts, and certain systems are far better integrated than other systems.
The very first step, then, is to increase the integration of all these systems: we have to bring weak systems up to the speed of the strong systems. Injuries happen because, much like on the schoolyard, the strong ones shun the weak ones, and so the weak ones never have a chance to learn and develop. But the difference between the schoolyard and the body is that you don’t get to pick the muscles, organs, and bones that you want. We have to work with what we got. But that’s just it: we have to work with all of it—not just the parts that are presently strong.
But when we go out and run, we find ourselves running too fast, or too far. What happens then?
Our body starts taking shortcuts.
The brain—rather, the “central governor”—analyzes the activity, and tells the weaker systems, “you’re not cut out for this. I have to shut you off.” But all of the muscles are mechanically connected. For example, if your hamstring freezes, you won’t be able to close your knee. Even though that prevents the hamstring from becoming overworked, the knee won’t be able to work well; it’ll shatter with the repetitive stress of exercise.
So we have to begin at square one: a training technique that I call the Slow Progression. Let’s start by running just two minutes a day, at a speed that we find comfortable. At two minutes, even the weakest systems should be able to continue working. Weak hamstrings won’t have a problem firing for 300 steps. And they’ll learn.
The same will happen with our lungs, and our digestive system. We’ll be breathing easy, and the continued functioning of our lungs will become linked to our running stride. Like the saying goes: “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our brain will make a connection between these two processes; our breathing will never get shallow, because we’re not under stress. The same connection will form with our digestive system: no need to shut it down—it’s just 2 minutes.
The body is beginning to cohere. All of its processes are beginning to bind together, and they are remaining bound in a higher-than-usual level of activity. In my own personal jargon, I refer to coherence as “a global capability for comprehensive interaction”—when all the parts of a system, such as the body, work together towards the achievement of a goal, without any parts becoming sidelined, or detracting from the pursuit of this goal.”
We let our body become comfortable at this level of coherence. 2 entire weeks, we run for just 2 minutes. Remember, we aren’t training speed here. And we’re not really training “running” in the typical sense of the word. We’re training coherence. We’re training the body’s capability to express the ability of running more safely and consistently.
By removing the conditions for injury, we can ensure that our training will be more consistent—and therefore more effective and long-lasting.
With our bodies at that level of coherence, we up the ante: the next 2 weeks, we run for 4 minutes. And we keep increasing 2 minutes every 2 weeks, letting our bodies settle at increasingly greater levels of coherence. In addition, we’ll find that we’re running much faster. By setting the limit at time and not distance, we permit our bodies to adapt much more readily: if we’re tired that day, we just run slowly and cover less distance. The next day, we’ll probably be feeling better, and want to run faster.
The body has its own oscillations: our performance has natural peaks and valleys. When we try to control those peaks and valleys by always trying to run at the same speed, or the same distance, we put undue stress on the tired components. This forces the body away from coherence. The trick is then to make the peaks of our running performance slightly faster, and to make the valleys slightly less slow than before.
This illustrates a very important principle of training, and of life: make sure that there is madness to your method.
But there is also method to this madness: the fourth week, we’re increasing our running time by 100%: 4 minutes up from 2. The sixth week, we’re only increasing our running time by 50%: 6 minutes up from 4. The eighth, that goes down to 33.3%. Even though we can continue increasing our time indefinitely (at least in theory), one of the reasons this approach is sustainable is because, relatively, the increments get smaller and smaller.
By the time we’ve been running for a year, the two-minute increase will amount to 1.9% of our running time: 54 minutes up from 52. Because at the end of the first year, we’re running 52 minutes a day, every day.
Our athletic ability grows like a curve: at first we can develop at an incredibly high rate, but the more capable we are, the more difficult it is to make gains. When we’re running four-minute-miles, it’s much more difficult to get to 3:59 than it was to get to 4:59 when we were running five-minute-miles. The slow progression—which ensures that newer increments constitute a continually decreasing percentage of theoretical maximum performance—observes this principle of growth.
We’ll be able to develop our coherence gradually, and maintain it throughout our athletic growth. Soon, we’ll be training at a fantastic rate, and running at fantastic speeds, and yet the possibility of injury will be only a distant spot on the horizon.