Much has been written about running form over recent years, much of which spurred by the renewed interest of the media in barefoot or natural running.
I’d like to take a few moments to consider the fact that your running technique consists of far more than what you wear (or don’t wear) on your feet, or indeed how your foot contacts the ground. These are all part of the big picture – sure – but not the only important aspects to address when it comes to running efficiently and avoiding overuse injuries!
Here’s a list of five areas to consider when it comes to improving your running style:
If you head down to your local marathon for example, you’re guaranteed to see a menagerie of very different running postures. What we always look for is a strong ‘long’ posture with a forward lean from the ankles upwards rather than the common postural error we see athletes make – flexing forwards at the waist – essentially bending forwards in the middle!
The more fatigued these athletes who bend forwards at the waist get, the more exaggerated this forward flexion gets. Much of this is due to core strength, in particular strength endurance in the posterior chain muscles (Glutes, Hamstrings, Low Back). More about this below…
The lumbro-pelvic region is such an important cross-roads in the body. The position of the pelvis directly influences lumbar spine position, and thus global posture.
What’s more, many of the longest, most powerful muscles in the body attach to the pelvis directly. If these muscles are in a state of imbalance, pelvic position will almost certainly be compromised.
We’ve all seen those runners who visibly ‘stick their butt out’ as they run. With rare exception, this isn’t a conscious move! Usually this position is indicative of a significantly anteriorly tilted pelvis. In combination with the common tightness through the Hip Flexors and Quads that can cause this issue, often Glute function is impaired when such an imbalance and poor position is present at the pelvis.
Stride Frequency (Cadence)
Running form in terms of whether it is most appropriate to run as a heel-striker, or a midfoot / forefoot striker is entirely subject specific. What is right for one person, will not always be right for another. Even when considering an individual runner, their ‘ideal’ form over an ultramarathon will be very different to their ‘ideal’ 1500m form.
One constant however is the importance of not over-striding when you run – regardless of speed, distance etc… Landing your foot ahead of your centre of mass increases the decellerative loading your body experiences with every stride. Rather than over striding, you should be looking to land your foot under a flexing knee, close to under your hips.
A great means of training your body to not to over stride (if you feel you currently do) is to increase your running cadence (stride frequency) for a given pace. This will promote a slightly shorter stride with a quicker contact time.
Try first measuring your running cadence for a given pace, then increasing this by 5% for the same speed. I use a digital metronome with many of the runners I coach. Here’s more information on running cadence and metronomes.
Upper Body Motion
So many runners work on foot position when thinking about running form. Some also consider posture – but in my experience very few tend to address upper body motion.
Arm action in running is important for a number of reasons:
Rhythm: The timing of the upper body is inherently linked to the rhythm of the legs. The human body works best when working to one unified rhythm. However we see so many runners who hold their arms passively clamped to their torso, adding nothing to the ‘big picture’ of running form. The tendency here is for the legs to run to a slightly slower cadence than is we focused on a relaxed yet quick action of the arms, which would increase the tempo of the legs, increasing running cadence as described above. This becomes very important when fatigue kicks in. I get many of my Ironman athletes to focus on maintaining arm tempo when the legs start to give up.
Rotational Balance: Another major responsibility of the arms is to act as a dampening mechanism for the rotational forces created by the swing of the legs on the pelvis. If you were to hold your arms fixed across your chest as you run, you’ll notice that your upper body rotates much more, and very inefficiently. As soon as you start to use your arms in a back and forth manner, in time with the legs, they begin to balance out the rotational forces created by the legs and pelvis. This helps direct all the net forces in the right direction to keep you moving forwards.