When I’m going for an easy or recovery run I like to watch the running form of other runners. Although my own running form is not perfect and is something that I continue to work on improving, I often see ways in which running form could be improved in the runners I observe. So I wanted to share some tips on running form that could be beneficial to improve running efficiency and help minimize fatigue and injury.
1. Running tall – When you run your abdominal muscles, especially the transverse abdominus, should not be on vacation. These muscles should help you in maintaining proper posture and alignment while you run. When you run your abdominal muscles and stomach should be pulled in (your can check this by putting your index finger on your umbilicus or belly button).
Exercises that can help strengthen the abdominal muscles to help maintain proper posture and alignment include prone planks (up position of a regular pushup resting on your hands or forearms), side planks, and supine planks (start by lying on your back and then raise up on your elbows) See the beginning of this video. These exercises are designated as part of the pedestal routine. Hold each position until fatigue (probably 20-90 seconds).
Advanced: While still remaining tall, add a slight forward lean from the ankles. This will create a falling forward motion using gravity to pull you forward. I categorize this as advanced because it can be difficult to maintain the forward lean from the ankles only. The lean should not be from the waist.
2. Relaxed shoulders – The shoulders should not be hunched up when you run, nor should they be rounded forward. When running trying to keep your shoulder blades pinched together.
Exercises that can help include Y, T, and I in which you lie on your stomach and raise your arms a couple of inches off the floor with thumbs pointing up as your body forms either a Y, T, or I. Make sure that you keep your neck in neutral or normal alignment.
3. Appropriately using the arms – When running the arms should be bent at the elbow at approximately a 90-degree angle with the hands lightly cupped and the thumb gently resting on the index finger. The arms should swing so that the hands brush the top of the hips or the pockets of your shorts (if they have pockets) at the bottom of the arm swing and the hands should be in line with the nipples at the top of the arm swing. Be sure that your hands don’t cross the midline of your body or you will experience twisting of the hips, which can lead to injury. Also, you should focus on the backswing of the arms, instead of focusing on swinging forward.
4. Short strides with a cadence of approximately 180 steps/minute – Your feet should land under the center of mass of your body. If your foot lands too far forward you will heel strike, which creates a significant amount of force and stress on the ankle, knee, and hip joints, thus increasing the chance of injury. Landing on the forefoot can cause stress fractures in the metatarsals. Meanwhile, landing on the midfoot is beneficial because there are several layers of tissue for cushioning as the foot impacts the ground. Taking short strides with a high cadence will help promote landing on the midfoot.
5. Heel and knee lift – There are a lot of runners that I see who shuffle their feet or who have minimal heel and knee lift. These runners could benefit by activating more muscles, especially the knee extensor, glutes, and hamstring muscles to increase running efficiency and speed. You should exert force (push down) with the front leg and foot from where the knee is at it’s highest point to when it impacts the ground. This will create an elastic rebound as the foot hits the ground and will cause the heel to raise up towards the glutes. This will also cause the knee to be lifted as this leg comes forward. This elastic rebound reduces the demand on muscles and protects the legs from shock.
These are some of the areas that I evaluate when I perform stride analyses for runners that I coach. In many cases, I can tell visually if adjustments need to be made. I also use videotaping to identify additional areas that could be adjusted to improve running form. I would recommend a stride analysis with a physical therapist, biomechanist or experienced coach to help make your stride more efficient and help minimize the risk of injury. Also, the results of a stride analysis and additional assessments may indicate that there are muscles that need to be strengthened, or muscles whose flexibility needs to be increased to improve running form.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions that you have. I would love to hear form you!
See you on the road or trial.