There are lots of motivational running quotes buzzing around the internet, we’ve all seen them on Facebook and Twitter. One of my favourite quotes goes something like this: “Excellence is not an act, but a habit“. This concept is what I want to focus on with this post.
How can your running form be improved by reinforcing a number of good habits?
After all, once we hit a fatigued state, habit is all we have left. We revert to default mode!
So how can we improve what our default running mode looks like? Below is a list of my top five areas to work on, to develop your running technique.
1. Feel Every Step
Don’t worry. I’m not talking about Barefoot running! Even in conventional running shoes, we can tune-in to the feedback the body receives with every contact with the ground. The feeling of impact we experience with every step, from the soles of our feet, upwards through the knees, hips and back, will intuitively tell you a lot about how you’re running. You just need to learn to notice the subtle differences as your running form changes.
Think about it – You’ve probably noticed how, at the beginning of a long, run your footsteps seem lighter and responsive, compared to the heaver, more sluggish steps you might make when fatigue really sets in and the legs feel heavy.
The goal is to become more aware of the feeling your feet make as they strike the ground. Work on staying relatively light and quick with your contacts, even when fatigued.
2. Use Your Upper Body When Running
It’s a big misconception that distance runners should minimise arm usage to conserve energy. In fact, holding your arms passively to the side of your body – which so many runners do – has a significant negative impact on your running form. You should use your arms when running.
Watch children as they grow up. From a crawling movement pattern in early development, to walking, and then running. Our arms and legs move together as parts of the ‘same machine‘. However, something seems to happen to us as we become adults, many of us stop using our arms as we run.
There are a number of drills I use with runners to remind their body that the arms and legs work best when working to the same rhythm. The arms should work to actively maintain a rhythm for the legs.
Again, as we fatigue this becomes important. If you’ve developed the correct arm action, you can focus on keeping the upper body ticking over in a relaxed manner, which will keep the legs ticking over, and reduce the drop in running cadence that usually comes with fatigue.
3. Think About Your Running Posture
I don’t like the cue of telling runners to “run tall”. This often makes runners run too perpendicular to the ground. We want a little forward lean to make use of gravity, to develop some momentum and free speed! Thus, I use the cue “run with a long posture”.
Lengthen your body from ankles to head, maintaining a straight line from top to bottom, when viewed from side on. Then take a slight lean forwards from the ground upwards – not breaking this straight line. You’ll feel gravity wanting to pull you forwards slightly.
You’ll know when you see a runner doing this wrong. They’ll be leaning forwards from the waist, looking like they’re sticking their butt out!
Keep this long posture in mind as you run, and don’t allow yourself to slouch as you get tired.
4. Find & Maintain Your Rhythm
As mentioned above, running cadence (stride frequency) is key to achieving and maintaining good running form. Shorter, quicker strides at a given pace, reduce impact and braking forces when compared to longer slower strides, at the same running pace. This is all thanks to the way in which these quicker steps land the foot closer to beneath the runner’s center of mass.
For many runners, a small increase of 5% in running cadence from “natural” will reduce impact loading and improve running form.
The challenge then is to maintain this slightly increased rhythm as fatigue kicks in. At the point of fatigue, most runners will slow their rate of turn-over and start to over stride – the beginnings of their running form falling apart!
5. Stay Relaxed & Breathe
Easier said than done, at first. Many people run very tense in their shoulders and upper back. This all links in with the point above about use of the arms. I find that those who are the most tense, are also those who hold their arms clamped to their sides, not using them.
Try to feel a relaxed arm swing, with your shoulders back and down – rather than up by your ears!
Having spoken to many runners, it seems that much of the problem with staying relaxed stems from the fact that they haven’t developed a comfortable breathing pattern for the pace they’re trying to run at.
There is conflicting advice available from different coaches. I usually recommend breathing through nose and mouth combined, to maximise air flow. I use the rhythm of my foot steps and fit my breathing in with this rhythm.
For a steady running pace, up to interval pace I recommend a 2 in : 2 out breathing pattern. When trying to hold the pace back and run easy (recovery run), I find that a 3:2 or 3:3 works well – it makes you slow down!