You only have to head to your local park to see that everyone runs differently. Turn on the TV and watch the elites race the London Marathon and you might see less variation in running form, but there will still be differences.
Perfecting your running form is not an easy task – taking months of consistent practice to achieve it – yet it can be a rewarding challenge. There are always ways you can improve your form, tweaks to save a few seconds per kilometre, and changes you can make to allow your body to run further and more comfortably.
In the run-up to your summer races, we’ve done the research for you! Below, we’ve compiled all the information you need to achieve a better run form.
The Perfect Run Form
When you’re running, you should look ahead and at the horizon, about 10-20 feet ahead of you. Looking down at the road or your feet can add a significant amount of weight to your body (after all, your head is the heaviest part of you), which means you’ll be running with extra weight that you don’t need! Even when trail running you should look up, and glance down every so often to check the terrain underfoot.
Your shoulders should be level and under your ears. Rounding your shoulders can result in your chest becoming tight, which will make breathing feel harder.
If you find that your shoulders tend to make their way up to your ears, try these 3 methods of keeping them at bay:
- Focus on relaxing them by lifting them up and then letting them fall back down into a natural position.
- Imagine you’re squeezing a pen between your shoulder blades, which will keep them down, and keep your chest open to allow for easy breathing.
- Ensure you have good posture throughout your daily tasks; when you’re sitting at your desk, driving to work, and even making dinner.
When it comes to your arms, there are a few things you can alter to ensure all the power and energy you’re producing is put into moving forwards.
- Your arms should have a 90-degree bend at the elbow and should swing from your shoulders like a pendulum.
- Your hands should sit at roughly waist height to achieve a natural and relaxed swinging motion. Holding your hands by your chest may increase the tightness and tension that you feel, especially in your neck and shoulders.
- Keep your arms swinging back and forwards, rather than crossing over your body. Swinging your arms from side to side can cause you to slouch, reducing the effectiveness of your breathing. Ultimately, if you’re breathing less efficiently your running will also be less efficient – making your running feel harder should never be the aim!
- Your swinging arms, coordinating with your rotating legs, will often set the rhythm for your run. Therefore, it’s important to match them to your footfall (especially if you are trying to improve your cadence!), to allow you to propel your body forwards as much as possible.
- Your hands should be as relaxed as possible. Try not to clench them into fists as this will increase the tension in your shoulders and neck too.
When you run, you should lean slightly forwards to help propel your body in that direction. To lean back would essentially put on the brakes and make it harder to achieve the most efficient stride length and cadence. Your back should remain straight and tall to avoid curvature of the spine.
Having a strong core can be the difference in maintaining a strong form whilst you are tired, and slouching becoming your go-to when the run gets tough. If you struggle with slouching or bending from the hips, imagine you are a puppet, and someone is pulling on the string that runs up your spine and out the top of your head, ensuring you stand tall.
Top Torso Tip:
Drills to improve your general torso strength include glute bridges and side plank. Why not build these into your weekly strength sessions, or even do a few reps before you run to activate those muscles!
When it comes to your legs, they are the main drivers of your forward motion, although improving their efficiency (and therefore your speed or endurance) can seem complicated. That’s why we’ve split up the following information into brief summaries of the concepts you should know about and work on; cadence, vertical oscillation and elasticity.
Experts say that you should aim for a cadence of around 90. The average runner sits slightly below this between 70 and 80. When you try to get your cadence closer to that magic 90, you might experience an initial increase in your heart rate, making your running feel harder.
But don’t worry! Once your body gets used to this new cadence, your heart rate will decrease, and you’ll find that you’re running more efficiently. You might also find that increasing your cadence helps to reduce your heel striking and overstriding. Therefore drills that focus on a shorter stride can be helpful in more ways than one.
Often runners are told they shouldn’t be bouncing when they run, however, vertical oscillation and stride length directly impact each other. If you don’t spend a lot of time in the air you will have a short stride length, meaning you’re putting your body under more stress over the same distance, in comparison to a runner with a longer stride length, because of the increased number of times you come into contact with the floor.
Therefore, vertical oscillation should not be something to be afraid of! If you have a correct foot landing, the force will be absorbed into your body, just as your feet were made to do.
Elasticity is the elastic energy produced by your muscles as you move which helps power you forward. Runners should be doing some form of daily stretching to help increase and maintain their elasticity and therefore increase the efficiency of their running.
Your feet are the biggest sources of information your body has when it’s running. They tell you about the incline, the terrain, and how the rest of your body is fairing up above. Therefore, it’s important to improve the balance and stability that your feet generate every single step you take. Try to incorporate the stork exercise (make it harder by standing on one leg on your tiptoes!), and single-leg reverse deadlifts to put some movement into your stability training.
There’s been a lot of research looking at the effectiveness of different foot strikes, most of which say you should aim for a mid-foot strike. Heel striking can often be a result of overstriding, and essentially ‘putting on the brakes’ – imagine how much energy you are wasting! A mid-foot strike can also help reduce the impact on your ankles, shins and knees, decreasing the likelihood of you picking up an injury.
Think about landing your foot beneath your body, keeping your ankle below your knee rather than extended out. Reducing your heel striking should result in several improvements including a mid-foot strike, a higher knee drive, a more forceful take-off phase, and ultimately a faster and more efficient running style!
When it comes to your breathing, it should be relaxed and natural. You shouldn’t have to think too hard about it. Try and breathe in through your nose and mouth, coordinating your breathing with your footfall. Essentially, you’ll naturally find what works best for you.
Don’t strive for perfection! Pick one or two points you know you need to improve on and focus on them. Consistency is key so take those thoughts into your long runs, track warmups, easy runs, drills, strides and group runs too – there’s always an opportunity to practice good running form. Check-in with yourself during your run, going through each of the body parts listed above and asking yourself ‘Am I moving in the most efficient way I can?’.
To conclude, if you’re looking to improve your running form, it’s a long-term goal – there really is no overnight, quick-fix solution!