5 Keys to Great Running Form


Posted by Coach Mark as seen at www.bodyhealth.com


Contrary to what most people believe, proper running is technique based and is therefore, for most of us, a learned skill.  Learning proper running technique will not only enable you to run faster for longer with less energy, but may also bring a new found joy to this wonderful activity.  For triathletes, the longer the race, the more impact good running technique has on performance.

Certainly nothing I’m about to review is new.  However, I believe many amateurs get easily lost and confused with all the running “stuff” out there and wind up doing nothing at all to improve their run.  So below I’ve condensed good running form  into 5 Key things to think about next time you run.  Let’s work from the top down…



1) Upper Body (head, shoulders, arms).  While running, we want to keep our head upright and looking forward.  I don’t want to see your head angled down.  You eyes may glance down, but keep your head facing forward.  The shoulders should be relaxed.  While it’s true that we don’t want to run wasting energy by engaging muscles tensely when we don’t need to, there’s a more important reason.  Having good shoulder movement is KEY to good hip movement and, thus, good stride length.  By relaxing your shoulders, you allow them the mirror the opposite leg and hip flexor extension.  In order to get a longer stride (desired), we need to have relaxed shoulders.  And finally, arms.  We ultimately would like no more than 90 deg angle from upper to lower arm.  However, I’m more than OK with a more acute angle than that.  What I want you to avoid is lower arms greater than 90 deg from the upper arms.  It’s the pendulum effect: the longer the arm, the harder it becomes to “swing”.  This will use more energy and in turn slow your arm movement down, thus, slowing your cadence down.  Remember:  Head straight, relax shoulders and 90deg max arms.

2) Mid Body (hips). Ultimately, what we want is good hip rotation and extension.  This is achieved by a couple of key things: good shoulder rotation and glut, hamstring activation along with the hip flexor releasing and extending.  What I want you to think about is keeping your hips “forward”.  Practice during your Stride Outs (short 50-75+ meter “pick-ups”) by consciously pushing those hips forward. We can achieve better hip flexor extension by massage and stretching (single leg reverse lunges for example).  And we can achieve hip flexor extension faster off the bike by practicing “bricks”.  But when you practice bricks, make some of them fast immediately off the bike for short intervals of hard effort followed by easy effort.
Remember: Keep hips “forward” and promote hip rotation and extension.

3) Lower Body (where you strike, what part of the foot you strike and your “kick”).  Continuing down the body, let’s talk about your foot’s contact point.  This is where your foot strikes the ground in relation to your hips, chest and head.  In general, we want your foot to strike directly (or as close as possible) below the hips.  The goal here is to keep your forward momentum going by striking, absorbing and pushing off while avoiding breaking by “over striding” (which is essentially striking well in front of your hips).  And what part of your foot should strike the ground first? You’ve undoubtedly have heard: heel, mid, forward, toe and whole foot.  Honestly, it completely doesn’t matter.  You heard me, it does not matter what part of the foot strikes the ground first.  What matters is where this occurs in relation to your hips.  I just looked over the top 20 men’s foot strikes during the 2012 10K Olympic trials and they were all over the board with respect to what part of their feet struck the ground first.  However, they all were striking below their hips.  Lastly, we like to see a nice foot rise after the push-off in the stride.  Ideally, we’d like to see at least a 90 deg from vertical ankle to knee so that if you drew a line between the two after the push-off phase, it would be parallel to the ground.
Remember: Strike the ground below hips (don’t over-stride), anywhere on your foot and promote a good push-off and foot rise.

4) Running Stride (Push Off, Stride rate and length).  Often times athletes focus on the front portion of their stride: bringing the knee through, pushing down the foot, etc.  We want you to focus on the opposite: the back side – specifically the push off.  Think about “pushing” off your foot.  As your body moves over your foot, focus on pushing off the balls of your foot.  In turn, your opposite foot will come straight down without you thinking about it.  Stride rate (turnover) is vital for running economy. Focus on trying to achieve a 90-96 foot strike per side per minute.  Less time on the ground means more time moving forward.  And finally, stride length (along with increased cadence) is something that separates elite runners and triathletes from the rest of us. The longer the stride, the more distance you cover per foot strike.  Through drills, strength training and continuous stretching, you can lengthen your stride.  Image just increasing it by an inch per foot strike: that’s 90 inches per minute over a 5K, 10K, Half or Full Marathon…that’s a lot!  Remember, though, that we don’t want to over-stride! For triathletes, stretching our hip flexors is essential as we spend a great deal of time on the bike, in the aero position, and thus with closed and contracted hip flexors.  Massage, reverse single-leg lunges and any stretch that helps lengthen that muscle should be done daily.
Remember: Focus on “push off”, 90-96 turnover and lengthening your stride.

5) Overall body position (chest, hips, ankles and forward lean).  Ideally, we want your chest and hips aligned with your face forward and shoulders relaxed as mentioned above.  With this position, we want you to generate a slight forward lean – not from the hips, but from the ankles.  So once your foot is completely on the ground, we should be able to draw a line from your ankle to your ears giving us an angle of up to 10 degrees or so.  You can achieve this by thinking, “stand tall” and by NOT bending at the waist.  Two important things to remember: keep your chest in line with your hips and don’t bend from the waist.
Remember: Lean forward from the ankles and stand tall.

As you can see, there is a lot of technique involved with proper running.  Certainly, as with swimming, most people have some unique qualities to their form.  That’s OK!  But by focusing on some key areas of your run, you may be able to make some minor adjustments that will ultimately produce faster times over longer distances and increase your longevity and enjoyment of this sport.

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