When I first got back into running, having not run more than a few miles since university, I simply put on my running shoes and headed out. Since then I’ve had my fair share of injuries (shin splints, IT Band issues and a labral tear of the hip) as I’ve slowly added the miles. I have had to see a physiotherapist, podiatrist and an osteopath and have done a great deal of research myself into proper running form and ways to improve it. In addition, last month I hired a coach and one of the things he is currently focusing on is helping me improve my form through various exercises.
Running form doesn’t just affect injuries, it is also directly linked to run efficiency which if you do a lot of endurance events such as Ultra’s or Ironman events will make a massive difference to energy stores at the tail end of an event. The less energy that is wasted due to form flaws, the more can be spent in getting you to the finish line faster.
Even in shorter events when you are fatigued your form can collapse. When I saw the above pictures of myself running during a standard distance Duathlon I raced at the weekend I realised that my form had completely collapsed for the second run (I was completely shattered to be fair to myself).
Four major run-form traits:
Hunched Torso: My podiatrist explained that the best place to start is to look at your posture. As you can see by the picture I, like most people during the later stages of a race (during the second run in the duathlon) lean from the hips too far forward. This causes a runner’s foot to land in front of their centre of mass and it causes breaking force. That increases the risk of foot, lower leg, and even hip injuries. Tiring runners with a weak core tend to hunch forward when they run. You should maintain a tall, straight back without slouching and there should be a slight lean forward that happens from your ankles, not your waist, but this happens naturally without effort.
Arm Swing: Something else you will notice from the second picture is that my arms are swinging across my chest. This will not only waste energy but will also twist my torso and take my hips out of alignment. Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees or less. When you swing your arms with your stride, pretend you are pulling something out of your pocket to keep your shoulders relaxed and not tensed. Make sure your hands are loose and do not cross your midline in order to maintain proper gait.
Stride Rate: Runners often increase or decrease their stride rate especially when fatigued. ‘Ideal’ stride rate may be slightly debated but aiming for 180 strides-per-minute has been widely recognised as optimal. When running, periodically check your stride rate and make adjustments depending on where you fall. Here is where running drills can really help: A-skips, B-skips, straight-leg runs, butt-kickers and high knees are all examples of drills that reinforce good mechanics and help you get your feet off the ground with explosive power. Check out this link for an explanation on how to perform these various drills.
Leg Cycle: This is another major cause of injury. Make sure your foot strikes under your knee, not in front of it, which can lead to injury. Through my research it has been proven that it actually does not matter what part of your foot hits the ground first, forefoot, midfoot, or heel, just be sure that your foot is not in front of your knee. Pay close attention to foot strike, with excessive pronation or supination usually indicating a sign of weakness in the glutes and hamstrings, or tightness in the pelvic region. Making sure your foot is hitting the ground squarely every time it strikes the ground, along with a corrective strengthening exercise routine, can help to smooth out inefficiencies.
The problem many runners can get into with any adjustments to training, form included, is making the shift too drastically. It is crucial to gradually make small changes in order to lessen injury risk. Pick one area of weakness at a time, such as arm swing, and focus only on that issue until you’ve made improvements.
Implementing exercises, drills, and consciously adjusting your form during running also needs to be done gradually. But the more I have practiced various techniques, the more I have realised the importance of doing it right. Focusing on improving running form will help cut your risk of overuse injuries so you can run more consistently. Through years of practice, coaching and research I have determined what works for me.
Bodyweight Squats With your feet hip-width apart, slowly lower your body downward as if you were sitting down. Keep your knees aligned with your ankles and feet, avoiding bending over your toes. Once you reach a 90-degree angle, stand back up. Do 10–12 reps.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold your hands comfortably to the side of your body. Keep your balance and lift one leg and lunge, or step out in front of you. Make sure your back is straight up and down, Bend your knees and lower your body to the ground. Your front knee should be directly over your ankle and your back knee should only be a few inches above the ground and you should be on your toes on the back foot. Do 10–12 reps.
Get into pushup position on the floor. Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Hold the position for as long as you can.
Bridge Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your arms at your sides, lift your butt off the floor, keeping your back straight, and hold for 20 seconds. Do 4–6 reps.
Donkey Kicks Get on all fours on the floor. Stabilising your body, kick one foot back and up before returning the knee to its starting position. Do 15 reps per side.
Russian Twists Sit on the ground with your knees bent and lean back slightly so you feel your abdominal muscles engage. With a medicine ball or dumbbell, carefully rotate right to left. Do 20–30 twists.
Heel Raises Standing, slowly raise your body up onto your toes and back down. Do 20–30 reps.