How to improve running technique

Why good running technique is important


Gillian McGhee
@AVogelUK


20 July 2017

Why do I need good running technique?

Poor running technique can result in tension in the joints and muscles which can lead to injury and make running harder than it needs to be. Good technique does not only focus on the feet, but the whole body and the way it moves while running. Good running technique is important as it helps to prevent the body from wear-and-tear injuries.

Tips for improvement:

Body position
Posture and torso
Maintaining an upright posture with a natural slight incline will support the back and prevent the curling in and collapsing of the spine which can cause back pain. While your posture is upright, make sure it is relaxed rather than holding tension and putting pressure on the joints. Running tall will open up the front of the torso giving you more room to inhale and exhale efficiently.

Head position
Don’t look down at your feet, keep your head and gaze lifted straight ahead, in the direction that you are going. Not only will this prevent neck strain, but it will also save you from hitting lampposts, trees and other people who might cross your path!

Shoulder position
Every so often give your shoulders a little roll up towards the ears and back towards the shoulder blades, as this will encourage them to relax. You don’t want to be carrying any extra tension in the body; the shoulders should be low and loose rather than tense and up by the ears.

Arm position
Watch out that your arms are not crossing over your centre line of your body when you run. If you run like that you are spending more energy twisting and going against your natural body mechanics rather than sending the arms back in a straight line to help propel yourself forwards.

Hip position
With the correct torso and head position your hips should naturally fall into alignment. If you lean too far forwards, or backwards, your hips and pelvis will tilt as well, which puts pressure on the lower back and throws the lower body out of alignment. Think of your pelvis as a bowl of water that you don’t want to spill by tilting too much one way or the other.

Legs
Small strides are generally more desirable than longer strides; if the stride is smaller the foot is more likely to land under the hip. Longer strides, on the other hand, can result in overextension of the knee and your foot landing way out in front of your body. Often this results in the heel-striking running which means that the impact of hitting the ground, as well as the weight of your body, is entirely absorbed in the heel and is more likely to cause strain to the ankle and knee joints.

Feet
While heel-running is generally deemed a big no-no in the running world, it isn’t so much about which part of the foot hits the ground, but where the foot hits the ground in relation to the rest of the body. Whether you are a fore-, mid-, or heel-striker your foot should land directly beneath the rest of your body. If you are more comfortable running heel-first and your foot lands below the hip go for it! Let your body be the boss and tell you what feels right!

Rhythm
The majority of runners hit the ground running at 160 bpm (beats per minute) whereas the correct rhythm is closer to 184 bpm.  Try running with music and timing your running rhythm to the beat. There are lots of playlists tailored to running that have high bpm scores. Check out our motivational running songs playlist for some ideas!

Uphill running form
When you are running uphill it can be very tempting to lean forward from the waist into the incline of the hill, but running like this makes it harder for you to use your hip flexors and raise the knees. If you run with an upright posture not only will you find it easier to push off the ground, but you will also find that you are more balanced because your centre of gravity is aligned with your body.



Downhill running form
Running downhill we often want to shift our weight backwards to slow ourselves down, but leaning too far back sends your centre of gravity way off. If you feel you need to slow down then a slight backward lean is fine, but be wary of how much of your weight gets carried behind the rest of your body. As with running uphill, when you run downhill you want a tall posture.

Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is the most efficient way to absorb oxygen and help your body to relax. For more information on breathing and running check out our article breathing tips for long distance runners.

Minimalist and Chi running

Minimalist running
Minimalist running is running with minimal support for the feet – essentially running barefoot. Before the invention of running shoes humans were designed to run barefoot like animals do. Many advocates of minimalist running (also known as natural or barefoot running) suggest that running without the aid of footwear is actually safer and more comfortable.



Running shoes with a bulky heel encourages pronation (the degree your foot rotates inwards as you run) which can eventually lead to flat arches and injuries in the ankle and knee joints. Running with a lower heel helps to naturally build strength and flexibility in the ankle so that dorsiflexion and plantar flexion (extension or flexion of the foot at the ankle) is easier. Running barefoot also helps to provide support to the foot and ankle joint by building flexibility and elasticity in the Achilles and the soles of the feet.

Minimalist running shoes are now being developed which encourages the body to strengthen on its own without the aid of running trainers. The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research describes it as “footwear that provides minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.”  However, if you decide to make the transition from running trainers to minimalist shoes or running barefoot do so gradually to allow your body to adjust to the change.



Chi running
Chi running is based on movement principles of T’ai Chi. It is a mindful way of running that focuses on relaxation and connecting the mind and body to prevent injury. Chi running engages the core muscles, uses a gravity-assisted forward lean and encourages landing with a mid-foot strike while running.

Hydration

Whilst keeping hydrated isn’t necessarily a running technique, it can impact on your running performance. According to research, blood flow to muscles while exercising is significantly reduced when we are dehydrated, due to reductions in blood pressure and perfusion pressure. The same study found that significantly dehydrated people are more likely to suffer from delayed-onset muscle soreness.

Drink plenty of water before, during and after your run to replace the water lost in sweat. For an extra boost try our Balance Mineral Drink to help replace electrolytes lost during your run.

While there are many different types of running techniques, rhythms, postures and footfall patterns, it is important that, ultimately, you do what feels right for your body. Every single person has different injuries, body types, and muscle memory, so different running techniques will work for different people. Listen to what your body has to say – it will tell you what is comfortable and what feels right.

1 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2014/jul/31/running-technique-why-form-matters
2 https://jfootankleres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13047-015-0094-5
3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1421497/

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