Understanding Proper Running Form
Proper running form is highly debated in the running arena. Some believe all natural is best, whilst others believe in numerous “1 percenters” to get a step up on their opponents. But for those of us just getting started with running or simply running to get fit and stay fit This blog will help with the basics. There are a few key components to proper running technique that can help improve your efficiency (ie. run with limited wasted energy) and help reduce your risk of injury.
There may not be one set outline of correct running form, and there certainly isn’t one technique that is perfect for every individual, however there are key focus areas which each individual can assess (or have assessed by a qualified health professional) to improve their performance and prevent injuries.
Running technique involves everything from the way your feet contact the ground to where you are looking to even the way that you breathe! Due to each individual person’s anatomy, physiology and running experience technique can vary drastically. Although this may not mean that their technique is wrong, there are often areas of improvement each runner can work on to run to the best of their abilities and continue making improvements! Proper running form corrections are often made via cues. Cues are small comments that can have a large impact! They help facilitate change to activate muscle groups at correct times, reduce ground reaction forces and change joint ankles to improve your running economy (ie. help you run without wasting extra energy). For some people running cues can be visual (watching a recording of themselves running for example), for others direct auditory cues such as “take smaller steps” may be used. Visual imagery is also beneficial to stimulate changes, “imagine a string lifting up from the top of your head” for example can help runners have a more erect posture when running if they usually struggle with hunching a or a lowered eyeline.
Why Proper Running Technique is Important
Running technique is important because it dictates how our bodies receive force, produce force as well as the amount of energy we exercert. Running technique is a key contributing factor to overuse injuries, thus tweeks to running form can help us improve our efficiency and reduce our risk of injuries. Developing good running technique allows us to recruit the correct muscles at the correct time, this is frequently referred to as motor patterning and motor recruitment. Enhancing and refining our motor patterning and motor recruitment is unique to each individual and their body, however having the best possible technique for you can reduce the amount we fatigue and hence reduce our risk of overuse injuries. This is super important if you are running more frequently and for longer!
Running technique can also make running more enjoyable. Most of us do not put too much thought into the way we run – we take what we’ve got and run with it (no pun intended). However, breaking down the way that we run, inclusive of our technique, form and habits, can be a highly motivating and enjoyable experience for all runners no matter your experience. Breaking down your running technique can help you develop a greater understanding of your body and bring awareness to your individual strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, the challenge of changing your running technique can bring a sense of excitement and achievement to what may otherwise be a fairly simplistic sport. These little gains and wins that come alongside analysing your running form and developing good form can make running a more rewarding and enjoyable activity – whilst also reducing fatigue and improving efficiency. (This may also help you run faster, increase you distance per minute, keep your cadence high, and run faster!)
The Basic of Proper Running Form
Proper running form includes everything from your head, shoulders, knees and toes (plus everything in between!).
For good running form your head should be in a neutral, upright position and your gaze should be looking forwards. Our head is are very heavy and having the best alignment on top of our spine is a step in the right direction to running form.
Our arm swing helps us generate speed when we run so they are a big part of correct running form. Your shoulders should be loose and free to move when you run to help carry you forward in space. Your arms should be bent at around a 90 degree angle and should move back and forth alongside your body creating arm swing. Here we want to avoid the “chicken wing” effect (or sticking your elbows out) to prevent wasted energy and tension in your neck and upper back.
Try to maintain a steady breathing rate, where you breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Your breathing rate will naturally increase as you increase your exertion levels (eg. running up a hill or increasing your speed) however try to avoid breathing too rapidly.
Your core strength and pelvic floor muscles should be lightly engaged to stabilize you throughout your run to help you achieve stable, good form and running posture.
It is only natural to twist our hips slightly when we run, this helps us achieve nice long steps, however, too much twisting at this hips can signal potential weakness of the hip stabiliser muscles, tightness of the hip flexor muscles or even causes overuse of the lower back (ouch!). If we notice a drop in the non-weight bearing leg whilst running this may be due to weak gluteus maximus and minimus. Weakness in your glutes may also result in tight or grippy hip flexors!
When we run our knees should track over our toes to point in the direction we are going. Sometimes if we have weak glute muscles or lots of over-pronation at the feet our knees can cross inwards putting extra stress and strain on the knee ligaments and muscles. Try to prevent this by increasing your cadence (number of steps), adjusting your foot strikes, stride, forward lean, quick cadence, supportive footwear, strength and orthoses may help realign your lower body. A soft bend in your knees will also help your stride length and prevent you from over striding.
Last, but certainly not least – feet. As with all the other parts of our body, our foot position and foot strike when running is highly individual. A typical gait may show someone first striking (foot strike – when your foot lands and foot hits the ground) the ground with the outside of the heel, rolling the foot in slightly as the full foot touches the ground then pushing off the big toe. However foot strike with a midfoot or forefoot strike might be better indicated for other individuals. In terms of pronation, often we consider a little bit of pronation (rolling in) proper running form as this helps shock absorb. When someone has a lot of pronation/over-pronation, we want try to improve this with strengthening, orthoses or footwear choices to reduce risk of injury.
More Ways to Improve Your Running Form
- Shoes are hands down my favourite part of running, as a podiatrist and as a shoe lover there are so many exciting and cool innovations going on in the running shoe space right now. But which ones are for you to use?
- The most important qualities of a running shoe are the fit and comfort. Your running shoes should have about 1 finger width of space at the front, shouldn’t be too tight or too sloppy around the rest of your foot. They should also feel comfortable on your feet seeing as you are going to go miles in them.
- You can also look at a shoe’s weight, support levels, foam types, tread types and more to find the specific shoe for your mileage, foot type and terrain.
- Supershoes are a really exciting part of competitive running, if you have a big race coming up and are looking for a “1 percenter” then shoes with carbon fibre spring plates and/or light weight runners like the Nike Next % or Saucony endorphin range may be worth the splurge!
- A healthy eating and a well balanced diet is best for runners. It is also recommended to stay well hydrated before, during and after your run.
- If you are doing a long distance run, refueling partway through may be necessary. Glucose Gels are an efficient way to consume energy on the go.
- It has been suggested that eating large amounts of sugar before a run may contribute to stitches, so you may want to avoid this!
- There are 3 types of stretching: Static, Dynamic and Ballistic.
- Dynamic stretching such as leg swings, arm rotations or ankle circles are a good way to increase mobility and get in the zone before a run.
- Static stretches such as lung holds, knee to wall stretch and touching your toes are often best done following a run to create length in the muscles whilst they are warm. Be sure not to over stretch as this may cause tears.
- Ballistic stretching, or bouncing stretching, isn’t recommended as it may force you into an excessive range of motion and risk tearing or rupturing your ligaments and muscles.
- Warm up is an important part of a run as it allows blood to pump directly to your muscles and helps you get in the zone for your run, so make sure you don’t skip it. Together this helps reduce your risk of injury! A warm-up may consist of 5 mins brisk walking followed by some dynamic stretching (eg. leg swings and ankle circles), the mental aspect is also important so positive affirmations and goals for your run may be set at this point too!
Injury Prevention with Good Running Form
Injury prevention is the new rehab! And is the best way to stay injury free. If we work to improve our running form we can reduce our risk of injury. Proper running form also helps improve our running economy by activating the right muscles at the right time to save energy and minimise fatigue.
To prevent injuries in runners it is best to first analyse running form. This is best done by an expert such as an allied health professional who specialises in running (these guys often love running themselves!), but you can also give it a go yourself or with a buddy by filming yourself running from behind, from the side and from front on. Watch your technique from head to toe looking at your head, arms, breathing, core, hips, knees, ankles and feet as stated above. Focus on these areas a few times each (it may even help to do this in slow mo) and try to identify any areas that might need adjusting or improvement.
Once these areas are identified, it is time to work on your proper running form. You may need to utilise strength and conditioning principles, Running cues and technical changes to improve your running form and prevent injuries.
If you are interested in more professional help, seeking advice from your podiatrist, physical therapist, a certified running coach for tips will set you on the right track!