Running better, from head to toe.
Whether you are in training for the upcoming local running and triathlon festivals, or simply just love to run, the following tips will be worthwhile reading. If you’re anything like me, you have probably opened your computer a few days after a race, only to be in absolute denial and shock to see the struggling ostrich pottering along is in fact you. Yep, the bib numbers don’t lie.
The struggle is real—and not just superficial. There are a few easy things you can practice to improve your form, helping you get faster and more efficient as well as prevent injury.
Instead of focusing on the overwhelming technicalities of running, stick to these simple, easy-to-implement, and actionable running tricks. Let’s break it down:
Head: Let your gaze guide you. Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, and scan the horizon. This will straighten your neck and back, and bring them into alignment. Don’t allow your chin to jut out.
Shoulders: For optimum performance, your shoulders should be low and loose, not high and tight. As you tire on a run, don’t let them creep up toward your ears. If they do, shake them out to release the tension.
Arms: Your hands control the tension in your upper body, while your arm swing works in conjunction with your leg stride to drive you forward. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with your fingers lightly touching your palms. Many runners have a lot of side-to-side action, most often in the arms which can be inefficient and exhausting. Picture your body split down the middle. The movements of each side shouldn’t cross the middle line.
Torso: The position of your torso while running is affected by the position of your head and shoulders. With your head up and looking ahead and your shoulders low and loose, your torso and back naturally straighten to allow you to run in an efficient, upright position that promotes optimal lung capacity and stride length. If you start to slouch during a run take a deep breath and feel yourself naturally straighten. As you exhale simply maintain that upright position.
Hips: Your hips are your centre of gravity, so they’re important for good running posture. With your torso and back comfortably upright and straight, your hips naturally fall into proper alignment, pointing you straight ahead. When trying to gauge the position of your hips, think of your pelvis as a bowl filled with marbles, then try not to spill the marbles by tilting the bowl.
Legs/stride: When you see distance runners in their zone, you can usually tell if they run a lot of k’s. That intuition comes not from visual cues like skimpy split shorts or compression gear, but something much simpler that most long distance runners share—shorter, quicker strides. Many new runners tend to over-stride and reach out with their foot to take a longer stride which sends far too much impact through the leg. However, efficient endurance running requires just a slight knee lift, a quick leg turnover, and a short stride. When running with the proper stride length, your feet should land directly underneath your body. As your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can bend naturally on impact. If your lower leg (below the knee) extends out in front of your body, your stride is too long.
Ankles/Feet: To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly (landing between your heel and midfoot) then quickly roll forward. Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground. You should feel your calf muscles propelling you forward on each step. Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running is springy and quiet. A slight forward lean from the ankles happens naturally without even trying. So don’t consciously try to lean forward. Instead, focus on running tall with a straight, erect posture.
Cadence: Cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. An average cadence of at least 170 for easy runs means you’ll reduce impact forces on your legs, cut your injury risk, and even improve your running efficiency. How? With a shorter, faster stride, you’re “bounding” less and not introducing the stress that accompanies longer, more impactful strides. In other words, you’ll get hurt less often and probably get faster. Focus on these fundamentals and you’ll reap the rewards: fewer injuries, more enjoyable runs, and maybe even some new personal bests.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to run tall or how short and quick your strides are, something is still not right- and that runners knee just won’t budge. If this sounds like you, follow these 3 simple stretches and exercises to find the missing puzzle piece.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch:
- Keep your spine and pelvis neutral thoughout the stretch
- Squeeze your gluteal muscles of your back leg and move forward from your hips
- Keep your pelvis squared off and tilt forward from your hips
Gastrocs (calf) stretch:
- Move forward as far as you comfortably can
Strengthening exercises for injury prevention
- Gently cpontract your pelvic floor, then contract your transverse abdominus
- Keep your feet straight ahead and your patella in line with your second toe
- Maintain your neutral spine throughout the movement
- Return to the start position
- Your knee will never pass in front of your toes
Single leg bridge:
- Set feet hip width apart on the floor, then lift one foot off. Engage core throughout.
- Press into half bridge using gluteals of thr grounded hip. Be aware to maintain square alignment of thigh and pelvis throughout.
Single leg squat:
- Gently contract your pelvic floor then contract your transverse abdominus
- Keep your foot straight ahead and your patella in line with your second toe
- Keep your chest upright and remain tall through your spine
- Return to the start position
Complete 3 sets of 15 reps for all exercises
Still in doubt about whether you’re “doing this right?” Seek the help of one of our experienced physiotherapist for advice on how you can perform your best running yet.