Project Ultra’s running form is well and truly scrutinised by the innovative new system from SHFT
“Hello Tim, I am your coach for today”, she said, dimming the volume on my music as she spoke.
I already had mixed feelings about this run. A pleasant sounding young lady was about to assess my technique. She was going to analyse my every move and quite bluntly tell me what I could be doing better. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, what would Robbie Britton, my coach for over a year, think about me stepping out with someone claiming the title of ‘coach’ for herself?
This was my first outing with SHFT, an innovative new product that is designed to analyse your running performance and guide you to better running form. On paper, this product seemed like a game changer. Our first impressions are positive – this is exciting technology with some very useful functions and real potential for future development. If you’re keen to improve your running form, run more efficiently or just make those long runs more interesting, read on…
What’s It All About?
SHFT has spent the last three years developing a virtual running coach to help reduce the risk of injury and improve running technique. In their own words “this is done by eliminating unnecessary and inappropriate movements in the running pattern and instead, focus on how every body movement can be more efficient, contributing to the maximum propulsion possible.”
It’s an exciting prospect. The ‘coach’ comes in the form of two tiny Pods (one to be worn on a chest strap and the other clipped to a shoe) and a smartphone app.
Once you’ve paired the Pods with your phone and signed into the app (which is all very easy to do), you’re ready to go.
My new coach instructed me to run at a steady pace as a warm up. After 5 minutes, she screened my running form for a further 2 minutes and then passed down her Judgment: I wasn’t taking enough steps per minute for an optimal running form.
For 3 x 6 minute windows with 2 minute breaks, we would work on just that. She set me a target zone of between 164 to 169 steps per minute. What came next was a very focused session, with lots of positive feedback (“you are running in your target zone”; “well done, Tim, keep it up”, “your steps per minute have increased. Good work”) and some, let’s say, more constructive words (“try to straighten up and swing your arms more”, “to increase your steps, make sure your foot lands below your knee”).
The result was twofold: first, I was running better. My back was straight, my arms were moving and my landing position was midfoot or forefoot but never heel. The second result was distraction. I’d run for well over 30 minutes and had focused entirely on my form. I had more to do, as this was my long run, but my mind was now fully focused on technique and the miles flew by.
The feedback was useful and encouraging and by the end of the session, after some more words of encouragement, a full assessment of my progress and a preview of what she thought we should work on in our next session, she signed off and left me to my run.
Future sessions have followed a similar pattern. Cadence is often the focus for me but each session builds on the last and the coach is able to compare those sessions and comment on any improvements.
The SHFT app is where the magic really happens. Not only does it record your route and give you the coaching mentioned above but, once you have completed your run, you get a huge amount of data. Landing position, landing angle, cadence, efficiency – all of this gives you a sense of how you can improve your running form and some measurables to monitor your progress. You can choose to focus on particular areas as well. Here’s some screenshots from my first run with SHFT:
Running the app without the coaching is possible – in fact SHFT encourage you to do this – and you get all of the data from every run as a result.
At the moment, the coaching function seems to work best when you are on a steady flat run. One thing we noticed was that it didn’t take account of other types of sessions. This could be an interesting area of development.
There’s an obvious reason for keeping things simple, of course – the focus is running form. If you nail that, you will be able to then focus on speed or hill work. The technology is clearly there, though, and we’d love to see some specific coaching sessions that allow you to work on form when doing a hill session or a tempo run. If, for example, it was possible to set up a specific session – like 6 x 1 minute uphill sprints with jog down recovery – it would be fascinating to have the SHFT coach work you through those sessions focusing on efficiency. That would really compliment a weekly training plan.
This is a truly exciting bit of running tech. Rather than giving you data that is hard to relate to, which is often the case with exercise gadgets, the information is very easy to read and to apply to your running. It’s a relatively expensive product but, if you are serious about improving your running efficiency, it’s well worth considering the investment – after all, a few sessions with a personal trainer or physio assessing your running form will cost you a lot more.
Time will tell how useful this is in the long term and whether the sessions become too repetitive but we’d like to think that the clever people at SHFT, having developed such an excellent product, will have lots of ideas up their sleeves to keep things interesting.
We will continue to test this product and will update this review as we discover more.
Now I just need to find a way to tell Robbie that, whilst I still want him to coach me, I’m also occasionally going to be running with SHFT. It’s not him, it’s me. It’s not that she’s better, she’s just different. Wish me luck!