Improve your form, master efficiency and go further faster!!
Make no mistake, to run well is a skill! Those who make it look easy very rarely started out that way, but have reaped the rewards of applying diligence with their technique and practicing patience towards building endurance.
Efficiency is EVERYTHING
When running where we are fighting against gravity with every step we take, efficiency becomes everything. Once you add fatigue into the mix, you can understand why running well is a difficult skill to master. Stand at the 35km mark of a marathon or an Ironman marathon, and you will see what fatigue does to running form. It can humble even the fittest athletes. Make no mistake, fitness will only get you so far, but being able to hold form and “check in” with your body when under fatigue is where the real benefit and speed will come from. So, let’s look at some practical and simple tips to make a difference immediately.
The two key things with great running form is posture and cadence.
Poor posture in running terms is to have poor body alignment and this is often fixed by maintaining a good hip position. There are tons of articles written about foot strike, and whilst not landing heavily with the foot extended too far in front is important, you will find, with better posture, that foot strike will largely take care of itself.
All your running power comes from the hips being stable and upright and increasing your awareness of how tall your body needs to be. This can be hard to grasp particularly for those that spend a long time sitting at their desks with weak glutes and tight hip flexors. An alignment check through your body is one of the easiest and most valuable things to do:
- Head on top of shoulders, not craning forward (tuck your chin in a bit) and relax the jaw. There is so much benefit I have found in relaxing the facial muscles
- Shoulders down and relaxed (not rounded forward)
- Spine straight and think of it being long (stand tall when you run)
- Chest out (open up the cavity) with arms hanging relaxed bent at 90 degrees with a loose fist
- Hips high and driving forward (feel like you have a rope tied around your waist pulling you forward)
Running these alignment checks through your body whilst you are running will go a long way to improving economy and speed. From this nice tall position, you initiate a slight lean using gravity to fall forward slightly, focusing on running as light as possible. I used to love the analogy of thinking you are running through quicksand, be light and fast. For the most part, from this tall position foot landing will mostly sort itself out, but ensuring that the foot does not extend past the knee is an easy check to perform to confirm a good landing.
Cadence will largely be determined by height and weight, lever length and running experience. The clear majority of people have too slow a cadence falling around the 160 – 170 spm range where the ideal sits around 180spm. With some patience, you can change your cadence, the easiest way by using a metronome.
This higher cadence is worthwhile in improving rhythm and helping you to land far lighter on your feet. This is where the treadmill can be such a winner. Devoting one session per week (perhaps a speed or tempo session) to running on the treadmill with no incline will pay big dividends on improving cadence. Combined with a big mirror to help you adjust form as well is a bonus.
Trying to improve cadence will invariably mean you will run faster, so it is advised that you try it for small periods during your run and increase over a period of 8 weeks or so. Start by trying it for 1 – 3 minutes, then extend to 1km on and 1km off, then 10 minutes at a time and so on.
When you are running well, it feels effortless. We have all been there, where the k’s are just ticking by and it seems so easy. Good running has no tension in it. Movements are compact and aligned as you move over the ground. Foot strike is light and fast regardless of pace.
Perform these alignments checks regularly throughout your run and you will notice improvements almost immediately in economy. Work on your cadence to improve speed. Coupling these checks with a good focus pre or post on good core strength exercises will provide even more bang for buck and improve your feedback that your body gives you, allowing you to fine tune your running form.
Some Resources I love
Brad Beer – You can run pain free – a terrific all-encompassing read on how to improve your running link here.
James Dunne – Kinetic Revolution – A British physio and running coach with literally hundreds of YouTube videos on running form and exercises to improve form You tube videos here.