The Fun2Run program was developed by Michael Stashin and the Healthy Active Living and Obesity (HALO) research group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario as a non-competitive running program for elementary school students grades 4 through 6.
The Fun2Run program promotes the concept of running as a fun easy activity based on the application of efficient running techniques. These techniques are designed to allow the participants to run in an efficient manner where the primary focus is on consciously relaxing the muscles in the legs and feet. Over a 6-week period, running is taught as a means to maintain health and provide the participants with a short term goal to build their confidence and reinforce the concept that it is possible to have fun while being physically active. A run-walk strategy will be a key component, and as the student’s running fitness develops, he or she will be encouraged to decrease the percentage of walking and increase the percentage of running.
According to the 2014 Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth Canada receives passing grades in the availability of facilities and programs for physical activity such as parks, outdoor spaces, pools, arenas, sports leagues and physical education curriculums within the schools. However Canada receives failing grades on actual physical activity levels.
The physical and mental health benefits of physical activity within our children are well known, and even though facilities and programs are well developed in Canada, our children are still not active enough. Physical activity needs to go beyond organized events and be an integral part of a child’s everyday life. Running is one of the most easily accessible forms of physical activity requiring little more than a proper pair of running shoes and comfortable clothing. Often safe running routes are available within close proximity to a child’s front door or school.
However, the problem is that many children do not enjoy running especially those who are not normally active. One of the primary obstacles to running enjoyment is the belief that running is a strenuous activity where you need to run fast and far to be successful. This perception is promoted by competitive-type situations such as timed races where a slower runner’s self image may be adversely impacted as no one wants to look bad in front of their peers.
One way to promote running as a fun activity is to teach a relaxed efficient technique in an environment where participants can progress at their own level and pace without fear of negative comparison against their peers. The goal is simply to use running as a means to increase the physical activity level of each child. Any increase in physical activity implemented in a gradual and progressive manner will introduce health benefits, especially amongst normally inactive children.
The Fun2Run program promotes running as a fun easy activity based on the application of the following fundamentals:
- Aerobic training
- Run/walk strategy
- Efficient running technique
- Goal setting
The students will learn the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise and how to recognize when they are running in their aerobic range based on their breath rate. All fun2run running will be performed at paces and distances that ensure students remain within their aerobic range.
Running in the aerobic range is important for a number of reasons:
- It is the range of training that anyone beginning an exercise program should focus on first
- It is less stressful on the body and therefore safer than training in the anaerobic range
- It allows the student to cover greater distances with less fatigue, therefore building their running confidence
- It allows the student to overcome problems with pacing (not feeling like running is about going as fast as possible.) Instructing a child to only run in their aerobic range ensures they don’t run too fast and fatigue too early
Some of the health benefits of running within the aerobic range include:
- Stronger muscles – the muscles used become more efficient in extracting oxygen from the blood supply generating the energy needed to support muscle contractions, which leads to increased running performance
- Stronger heart – the heart muscle is exercised during any physical activity that raises heart rate. As the heart grows stronger it becomes more efficient and doesn’t need to work as hard to pump blood throughout the body
- Stronger lungs – the lungs are exercised as breath rate increases and they work harder to supply the extra oxygen demands of the muscles. As the lungs grow stronger they become more efficient and don’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygen to the body
- Stronger immune system – the immune system’s ability to combat simple bacterial and viral infections (e.g., colds and flues) is improved
- Better mental health – endorphins (released as hormones from the pituitary gland) are the body’s natural painkillers that can create feelings of euphoria to help combat depressive moods. The release of these endorphins continues long after the exercise session is completed
- Weight loss – the two types of fuel used by our muscles during exercise are fats and carbohydrates. Aerobic training trains the body to predominately use fats as the main fuel source to help promote weight loss and avoid the negative health impacts that can result from excess weight. The body’s fat burning levels are increased long after the exercise session is completed so weight loss continues following the physical activity
Students will learn to transition from running to walking whenever they exceed their aerobic range. Once they recover into their aerobic range they transition from walking back to running.
For a child that does not possess the fitness level to run the entire length of the training session the run/walk strategy will result in:
- More cumulative time running, compared to just running continuously as far as possible from the start and walking the remaining part of the session
- Less mental stress and anxiety associated with not being able to run the entire session
As the child’s fitness levels improve, they will be encouraged to decrease the percentage of time spent walking. However whether walking or running the child is still physically active for the entire session, which is beneficial to their health.
The students will learn a low impact and highly energy efficient running technique that minimizes braking while running.
Braking occurs whenever a runner’s foot contacts the ground ahead of their body. This applies a forward force into the ground where the ground reacts by pushing back with a rearward force of equal magnitude that slows the runner. To compensate the runner needs to expend extra effort to push off at the rear of their stride to speed back up. The greater the braking, the greater the effort required to compensate.
To minimize braking, students will learn how to first relax the hip flexors and quadriceps to avoid bringing the leg in front of the body and straightening the knee. Second, how to relax the calf muscles and hamstrings to avoid pushing off from the ball of the foot. And third, how to avoid actively lifting the foot off the ground (the push-off can only be eliminated once braking is minimized.)
Once all these muscle groups are relaxed students are essentially running with a passive leg and relying on elastic energy stored and released in the Achilles tendons to propel them forward. This low-impact highly efficient running technique decreases the potential for running injuries.
As their fitness levels increase and they successfully incorporate the relaxed technique, students will notice a progression in the amount of total time they are able to run within a single training session or series of sessions (e.g., within a week). Students will record their own progress in a private logbook and will be encouraged to set greater goals for future sessions including the goal of participating in and completing a non-competitive running adventure.
The Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy (CAPL) developed by HALO, specifies four separate domains of physical literacy. These domains are listed below along with specification of how the Fun2Run program activities contribute to development within each domain:
- Knowledge and understanding – the child will (1) learn aerobic versus anaerobic physical activity (2) learn skills required to run efficiently with proper warm up and cool down (3) improve their fitness level
- Motivation and confidence – the child’s motivation and confidence will grow by viewing progress recorded in their logbook. Their motivation will also be fueled by training to participate in the non-competitive running adventure
- Physical competence – the child will participate in and successfully complete a non-competitive running event
- Daily behavior – as specified in the CAPL, “A child who possesses adequate knowledge, understanding, motivation, confidence and physical competence would be more likely to lead an active, healthy lifestyle”