Runners often ask me to give an example of an athlete with “perfect running technique“…
The reality is, that the concept of there being one ideal running form is non-sense. We’re all completely different, in so many ways.
When it comes to coaching running technique, it’s very important that we look only to implement changes that are appropriate given the individual’s unique collection of strengths, weaknesses, areas of restriction, mobility, stability and instability. Not only this, but we need to aim to develop an appropriate technique for their given goals… You wouldn’t necessarily coach a 14 hour Ironman athlete to run in the same way as a 1500m High School track star!
I also a firmly believe that pushing a runner to make big changes towards an unrealistic (perceived) perfect form is often enough to cause injury. There’s normally a mechanical reason why we each run the way that they do.
Instead, as coaches we should be looking to help the runner benefit from a sum of marginal gains in running form. This involves improving individual elements of technique, within athlete’s own set of physical limits.
The long-term goal can of course be to redefine these physical limits. Maybe through improving plantar flexor strength-endurance, glute activation, hip extension… the list goes on. But in the short term, any conscious work on changing the movement patterns that constitute running form needs to respect what the individual’s body currently can and cannot do.
Try These Simple Running Technique Cues:
While all runners are different, with hugely varied needs, there are a handful of areas where almost all runners will stand to benefit. I like to look at these areas from a coaching point of view as ‘easy wins‘…
Try the following cues to find some easy wins on your next run:
1 – Hold Your Hips High
We’ve all seen runners bent forwards at the waist, sticking their butt out behind them as they run. This can often be indicative of tight hip flexors, posterior chain / core weakness, or simply a habitual poor posture (usually a combination of each of these factors).
Rather than telling the runner to consciously bring their pelvis back to a neutral position (a rather abstract concept to try to feel on-the-run), or indeed telling them to run tall, which often results in excessive lumbar extension and feeling of ‘leaning backward’, I like to use this simple cue: Run with your hips held high.
The idea being to get you holding your hips and pelvis up and forwards as you run, bringing your centre of mass closer to over the landing foot as you strike the ground.
Many runners will immediately feel a lighter, quicker contact-time and slightly increased cadence (stride frequency) as you reduce any tendency you may have had to over stride.
2 – Keep Your Upper Body Working
We’ve all seen 100m sprinters. It’s obvious to see how the quick, powerful motion of the arms is integral to the ‘whole machine’ as the sprinter powers down the track. The speed of the arms helps to set and maintain leg speed. The powerful drive back with the elbow (shoulder extension) happens in-sync with the powerful extension of the opposite hip.
Most of us can appreciate this link between arm / upper body action, and leg action when looking at sprinters, or sprinting ourselves. But often the link is lost when ‘running easy’.
Don’t get me wrong – obviously I’m not suggesting running 9min/mile pace with Usain Bolt arms. That would be stupid! Rather I want to challenge the common tendency for endurance runners to clamp the arms to the sides of the chest and therefore add nothing positive with the upper body throughout running gait.
Active use of the arms in running gait (in terms of size of arm swing and power) is dependent on speed. The faster you run, the bigger and more powerful the arm swing. The slower, the smaller and more relaxed.
BUT here’s the important bit, the arms never ‘switch off’. No matter how slow you run, there should always be at least a slight drive back with the elbow, with the subsequent forward motion being forward mostly elastic recoil. Just don’t allow your arms to drive forwards across the midline of your body.
The passive, rotational action of the upper body is also responsible for dampening and countering any excessive rotation from the lower body.
Thus, we don’t want to cut upper body rotation out completely. Just keep the rotation in check, under control and at a rhythm that works effectively for the desired pace!
Learn more about Running Form…
For more information on running form, including a structured six week coaching program to improve technique, check out this online course (50% Discount – Click Here).