How to improve your running technique
Is your running form correct?
Everyone has a different running technique and style. Because we all come in different shapes and sizes and learned to walk at different times and in different ways, it is inevitable that these factors will all influence our running gait. Having said that, experts now agree, when once they didn’t, that you can learn to run technically well and improve your times as a result. However, the best place to start is to have someone analyse your running style and flag up what you’re doing right and what you’re doing less well.
Running gait video analysis
Running gait analysis is a chance for us to have the way we run analysed by an expert. Running gait analysis helps us understand what it is we are doing properly and what we’re failing to execute. For many, the clues about potential issues will already be there in the form of persistent injuries and niggling aches and pains. But it is often when a runner increases the intensity of their training and the duration of their training sessions that muscular imbalances and postural problems come glaringly into focus.
A weakness in one muscle can cause an over-reliance on another, which can then have a cascade effect and cause an injury elsewhere. Video analysis will help you identify exactly these kinds of issues and what else is going on with your whole body.
Once you’ve done that, the work can start on correcting any issues and weaknesses. Look for this service in your local area. Some gyms will offer it, as will specialist running shops and outlets. Cost will vary from place to place, but think of it as money well spent, especially if you are planning to take on a long distance or endurance event.
Check in with your running form
Self correcting a poor technique is another valuable tool in the runner’s box. Learning to sense check your technique on a regular basis during sessions will help avoid persistent bad habits and possible injury problems. Every five to 10 minutes on a long run, tune into your body from head to toe and check what is going on. Is your head upright and are your eyes fixed at objects in the middle distance? Or is your head down and are you looking at the floor? What are your hips doing? Are your arms pumping correctly? There are a huge variety of questions you can ask of your body and if you are running with poor technique, you can instantly self correct.
In broad terms there are several things you need to be doing when you run. One of them is to keep your body as elongated as possible by making sure your spine is straight and your head is upright (not lolling around on top of your chest). Thanks to the advance in computer technology people are increasingly spending prolonged periods slumped at a desk, which leads to weaker core strength. This can have a negative effect on running posture as a strong core will help drive the torso upwards and support your upper body correctly. So try to remember to stick your chest out and make yourself look and feel as tall as possible. A hunched running style will put a strain on your glutes and hamstrings, whereas the taller you are when you run, the less chance you’ll have of sustaining an injury. And remember the longer you make your body, the more air you’ll be able to suck into your lungs.
Your shoulders need to be relaxed and hanging as low as possible. This can be tricky, especially when you are midway through a 10-mile (16km) run and your body is starting to protest. That’s the time when tension can creep in and it is easy to slip into the bad habit of running with shoulders hunched up around the ears.
The trouble is that tension will transmit itself around the rest of your body and muscle tightness tends to only ever end one way, and that’s with an injury. Remember your hands and arms should also be relaxed. Keep your hands loose in a relaxed fist and let your arms, which should be bent at a 90 degree angle, naturally synchronize with your leg stride. Your arms need to help drive you forward and definitely not be dragged across your body when you run. That will only encourage your torso to twist which can cause injury issues.
Hips and pelvis
If you can maintain a tall running posture, your hips should be in the correct alignment when you run. The problems start when you hunch forward. When that happens your pelvis has a tendency to tilt forward and place an additional strain on your lower back. If your pelvis is in the right place, your foot plant should take place directly underneath it and all will be well in the world of body alignment.
There is a huge debate about what is best in terms of landing area when your foot hits the floor. A lot of runners land heavily on their heels and this can have a braking effect on the stride, as well as overemphasising the impact on the knees.
However, those who hit the ground in the mid-foot area can tend to take a greater impact on their achilles and calves. The reality is that all runners will have their own style and sticking with it or not will probably be determined by how prone to injury you are as a result. If you heel strike but don’t have problems, then that works for you. If you heel strike and do have problems, then maybe a rethink is required.
It is certainly true to say that most elite athletes, especially those competing up to the 10,000m mark, seem to float down the track and appear to have this springing effect by landing on the balls of their feet. Some experts recommend running barefoot for a few minutes every week (on treadmills rather than outside) to get a feel of what is the most natural point of impact when you run. This can help refine your technique and cure any landing problems. The larger part of expert opinion points to mid-foot landing, but bear in mind that it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. That said you really must always aim to have your feet landing directly under the knee. Over striding will definitely be a problem in terms of knee injuries and ankle wear and tear.
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