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The Importance of Good Running Technique

Is there a right way to run? If so, what is that way? A simple question with perhaps a less than simple answer!

It’s a fascinating area with lots of debate. Alberto Salazar has spoken at length about Mo Farah’s running action, which he says is too bouncy for the marathon, his right arm swings on a horizontal arc and he is looking to correct that.

Paula Radcliffe has her famous head bob, but If you look at her shoulders downwards, she was practically flawless! Haille Gabresellasie swings one arm slightly wider than the other, which was caused by running to school with books under this arm. Should we be trying to correct these little nuances? Even if we should, could we? These great runners have run their whole life this way, and set world records, so even if you wanted to, I’m not sure how much difference you could make anyway.

My answer to the initial question would be that there are principles you should try to adhere to, but we each have our own small nuances which might never be corrected.

Whilst I don’t think you can create one perfect specimen that we should all aspire to run like, I think there are a set of overriding principles we could follow as endurance runners:

  1. Body Position: should be upright, with a slight lean from the ground. Head and face need to be relaxed.

  2. Foot Position: your foot should be landing underneath your knee.

  3. Your arms control the rhythm, the movement is from the shoulder without side to side rotation

  4. You should Extend through your hip

  5. Speed and your rhythm is controlled through the arm drive and hip extension

There’s no mention of barefoot running, forefoot, minimalist, hitting 180 strides per minute or any of that, it’s just sound principles that we can all try and follow and it also won’t require a huge overhaul of your running.

There’s probably two types of people looking at improving their running form - those who come into running and want to get faster and those who come into it trying to fix injury problems.

Most of the time, injuries are caused by doing too much too soon. Too much running will injure you. By having a training plan that is progressive, allows for adaptation and recovery and includes cross training should mean that you can almost always avoid injury. There’s a minority of people who have inherent biomechanical issues that need fixing, but it’s a small number.

The right running form will make you more efficient, and faster, sometimes for no extra effort. If you come into this discussion with that mindset, then looking at your running form is for you.

The Fallacy of 180

There exists a whirling claim that 180 strides per minute is the optimum stride rate for runners. In short, this is absolute rubbish.

Consider this, if you want to run faster you have two options:

  • Take more strides per minute

  • Go further with each stride

If you’re doing all your running at this 180 stride optimum, the only way you can go faster is going further with each stride. This seems very inefficient, wouldn’t you rather use both tools available at your disposal? The other issue is the data this 180 is based on is from an average of runners in a 10,000m final in the Olympics. Two issues here;

  1. It is an average, so it means some people were above that, some below, you aren’t an average, you are an individual.

  2. The pace these runners were running at is almost incomprehensible for most runners, so you have different needs.

Looking at our principles above, a lot of runners will have poor body position and until they improve that, you can’t move on. However, once you’ve fixed that, the foot position becomes very important.

In the two pictures below, you can see the difference between the over-stride and having your front foot land below the knee. If we can do that, we reduce the breaking forces and can make you more efficient.

How to improve your running form

Once you know what you’re looking for, then it’s time to try and make changes to your form, but how do you go about it?

  1. Focus on one area at a time, you need to systematically work through the key areas, otherwise you’ll not take things in

  2. Get a video of yourself running, this way you can see the things you need to work on

  3. Run strides (short segments of running) getting cues from a coach and trying to improve the area you are focusing on

  4. Get feedback on how it is going

Once you’ve done that, you can start to take that feeling of better running form and ingrain it. This is the part that takes time. To begin, you want to focus on short periods of time, maybe the last minute of an interval, or some strides whilst fatigued. A set of 4 x 100m of strides at the end of an easy run is a great chance to work on your form, and it’ll make you feel fresher.

What this process requires is monitoring and it’s fairly intense to begin with. It’s all very well saying to yourself, today I’ll run taller. But after a while you’ll just regress to what you usually do. You've run that way your whole life!

It takes time

This process takes time, and it takes a long time to get this change to happen whilst under stress. Anyone that says they are feeling faster in a few days is just kidding themselves, because I can assure you they’ll be running the same way as they did before, especially towards the end of a race.

Not in isolation

Making these changes can’t happen in isolation, running differently will probably recruit muscles in ways they’ve never been used. To compensate for this, you need to reduce the amount of running you are doing, but also doing specific running conditioning exercises to compliment the work you’re doing.

Running technique is a very individual process, and that is why we haven’t said, do X, Y and Z and you’ll run faster, because X, Y and Z could be very different for you and a friend.

We've worked with a large number of runners and looked at their running form, making tweaks and giving them specific areas to work on.

This is our take on running technique, there are many schools of though out there but we stand by our philosophy and know it works. If you have any thoughts, questions or comments – get in touch either via email or twitter, we’d love to hear from you and find out what you think.

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