Running form has become a hot topic in recent years. Because running injuries are so widespread, runners look to change their form in hopes of avoiding injured downtime.
But whether you should really try to change your form depends on your goals. If you are looking to break the injury cycle, changing your form may be helpful. But if you’re trying to improve your performance, the jury is still out on how helpful form modifications are. Chances are changes to your overall training will be most useful.
WHY IS RUNNING FORM IMPORTANT
When we discuss running technique, the most important thing to remember is there is no perfect form.
Running is a repetitive sport that places a great deal of stress on your body. If you’re not prepared to handle that stress efficiently, you may suffer an injury. Some variations in form can place added stress on areas of your body that might eventually cause you to break down.
The more efficiently you run, the faster and farther you’re able to run with less effort. While some of this is a result of muscle memory that comes over months and years of training, changes in form can expedite this process.
CONCEPTS TO FIND YOUR BEST FORM
If there was one form that was ideal for everyone, runners with “perfect” form would never get injured. We know this isn’t the case! There are concepts, however, that can help you to find the most efficient version of your own form. Just don’t try to make too many changes at once. Implement them gradually, focusing on one cue at a time.
Here are a few cues that may be useful:
RELAX AND RUN TALL
Tension anywhere in your body makes you less efficient. Relax your shoulders and arms, and avoid clenching your hands into tight fists. Focus on running tall, almost as if someone is pulling a string from the top of your head.
One mental cue is to pretend you are running on hot coals to keep your feet moving lightly and quickly. Running quietly helps you increase your cadence or the number of times your feet hit the ground over a given period of time.
DON’T FOCUS ON FOOT STRIKE
Despite all the hoopla over footstrike, this isn’t the best place to focus your efforts. Instead, think about letting your feet land underneath your body. Don’t “reach” with your lower legs — try to keep your stride short and your feet underneath you (rather than out in front of you) as you run.
SHORTEN YOUR STRIDE AND INCREASE CADENCE
When you focus on your feet landing underneath you, your stride naturally shortens and your cadence increases. You may have heard 180 steps per minute is the “magic number” when it comes to running efficiency. Try counting your steps over the course of a minute and see what your baseline cadence is. While everyone varies, if it’s well below 180 try to work on increasing it 5–10% using some of the cues above.
RUNNING DRILLS TO IMPROVE ATHLETICISM
Running-specific drills can also improve your form. While they may feel a bit silly at first, they are a great way for runners of all levels to improve their overall athleticism. Drills can also help improve communication between your legs and brain to increase efficiency.
Drills should be performed on a soft surface, such as a track or grassy field. Make sure you have warmed up properly — drills can even be done in the middle or end of a run. In all of the drills (except in one case where noted), maintain the same arm motion as you use when you’re running.
- High Knees
This looks similar to your running stride but with a more exaggerated motion as you raise your knee toward your chest. Think of pressing your foot down and letting it “spring” back up, rather than just lifting your knees up high.
Picture yourself skipping just like you did when you were young, but in this variation you skip with high knees. When you lower your leg, picture a “pawing motion” as your leg returns to the ground, and focus on using your glutes.
Like high knees, this is similar to your usual running motion, but focus on pulling your heels up as your knees come up, rather than kicking back behind you.
Moving sideways, cross one leg in front and then behind the other. Start with your arms out straight to the side, but once you’re comfortable with the movement keep them in the same position as when running.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Staying healthy and running consistently is the foundation for continued improvement. Add these form cues and drills to your running routine to maximize your efficiency and long-term success.