Good Running Technique

Posted on: May 8th, 2013

Good Running Technique

The one thing that makes the biggest difference in enjoyment and efficiency of running is our running style or technique.

If you are constantly recovering from injuries it will take away the enjoyment you get from running and cause frustration.  Not only can good technique prevent a lot of common injuries, but it can also enhance running performance by improving efficiency and speed.

The body is biomechanically very well designed for running.  It is important to strengthen our bodies and give it time to adapt to what you are introducing to it, especially considering our very sedentary lifestyles.  So do take your time with this when you are a new runner.

Let’s look at the best running style and then dissect it from the ground upwards, also looking at common injuries in these areas.

The style I want to describe has been called name like pose / chi running, if you would like to research these further.

IMPACT ON THE GROUND

Running happens on the mid to forefoot – the faster you run, the more forward on the foot you will strike the ground.  Sprinters run on their toes.  Walking happens with heel strike, running should NEVER happen on the heel.   

If you do run on your heel, it means that you are braking.  Your bodyweight will be behind your foot, so you will be working directly against momentum.  This means that a force of about 6X your bodyweight has to be absorbed through all your structures on every step – even more with downhill running.  This is one of the main causes of shin splints, knee and lower back pain associated with running.

So for the best absorption of impact and use of momentum you have to make impact with the ground on the mid or forefoot and directly underneath/ inline with the hips.

PRO AND SUPINATION

Pro and supination is the inward and outward rolling motion that happens in the ankle.  This movement is crucial in shock absorption.  Unfortunately the muscles that control this motion become very weak due to our feet being in shoes so often, and once again our sedentary lifestyles.

If you are a new runner, you might find running shoes with more cushioning and arch support helpful.  In some cases orthotics might be necessary, but please consult a physio and get a few opinions if you think you need them.  Too much control from orthotics can be worse than too little control.   If you are a seasoned runner your muscles would have strengthened and should be controlling the motion well to optimise shock absorption.  If you find you have some issues, some physio will shed the light on failure of load transfer, which is often the case where there have been ankle sprains in the past.

CALF AND SHINS

The calves are surely the most common area of pain in new runners.  Make sure you stretch and massage them a lot, they work very hard.  When the calf muscles are overly tight, it decreases the amount of dorsiflexion needed to propel your body over the foot effectively.  In this case the knees will often roll inwards to find an easier path.  Our bodies are clever and will always follow the path of least resistance – which is not always the optimal path.

Shin splints are a global term for a few different conditions.  The main cause of shin splints is increased impact or the inability to absorb shock efficiently.     It is important to give your body time to adapt whenever you introduce something new, or increase distances.

KNEES

In a good running style, the knee will use momentum to flex to about 90 degrees at the end of the swing phase.  This bending of the knee shortens the leaver and makes it easier for the quads to bring the knee and foot forward from the hip.

The most common knee injury is called runners knee.  This happens when there is a mal tracking of the patella, which causes friction, pain and inflammation around the knee.  It is important to solve the cause of the problem and not only address the symptoms, as these will just return after rest.

HIPS

In good biomechanics there will be a small amplitude of movement from side to side in the hips, as this needs to be stable and well controlled to ensure wellbeing of the lower back.  When the hip drops during swing phase it is called a Trendelenburg gait.  This gait makes for great losses of energy in sideways and up and down motion, instead of being propelled forward.

ARMSWING

Armswing should be well coordinated, very relaxed and combined with good rotation in the torso.

We are looking for symmetry and rhythm.  This will also help set your rhythm of breathing and your cadence.  Often when asymmetry is noted, it is pointing to a problem lower down in the chain, so use this as a measure for your style.

There should be very little movement of the head.

POSTURE 

Your posture in a good running style should be ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle aligned on the weight baring side with a slight forward lean in the whole body due to the momentum of your run.

It should feel like there is a piece of string running through the middle of your spinal column, all the way from your lower back out at the top of your head.  And it must feel like someone is pulling you up and forward by this string.  To make optimal use of the momentum, there should be a sensation of falling forward while running.  It also helped me to imagine that I have bubble gum on the bottom of my trainers, and I am trying to get it off with every step.  Landing should be soft and easy though.  This is best achieved when the core is optimally used throughout.

BREATHING

Cardiovascular fitness can be improved most effectively with interval training like sprints or hill runs, which should be worked into your program.  It is important to make use of your full lung volume.  That means breathing into the whole 360 degrees, into the abdomen, back and chest.  It is possible to control your breathing and heart rate well this way for longer distances.

Cadence can also improve efficiency.  Over longer distances a cadence of about 30 steps in 20 seconds gives a good rhythm that’s maintainable up and down hills.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IS TO ENJOY EVERY RUN.  ENJOYMENT IMMEDIATELY IMRPOVES THE POSTURE AND TECHNIQUE DURING RUNNING OR ANY OTHER ACTIVITY.

Imagine a person going for a run.  He is tired, not feeling well and had a bad day at work.  His posture will reflect how he feels.  His footfall will be heavy, shock absorption poor and strain on his body more.

The same guy can go out and really enjoy his run.  His posture will be better, footfall light and all the feel good hormones will flood his body and mind.  That’s the way to do it!!