A good running technique is crucial in making your running more efficient and therefore improving your performance as well as helping to prevent injury. Depending on how many kilometres you complete you may well get away with minimal issues not having a perfect technique but if you are looking at increasing your kilometres I would strongly recommend looking at your technique in greater depth. In this blog I am focusing on tips for improving running technique as well as a few running drills that highlight techniques that when implemented are beneficial as a warm up.
- There isn’t any clear evidence that running with a forward lean is more efficient in runners but it is thought that by leaning slightly forward you will be able to use the natural momentum of the body and gravity. The other positive of running with a forward lean is that there is less force on the foot, shin and lower leg if the foot lands under the body rather than in front. By leaning slightly forward this helps the foot to naturally land straight under the body.
- Running with a slight forward lean helps aid gaining more hip extension which allows your gluteal (buttocks) to be the powerhouse and drive the power and momentum.
- Often runners tend to run too erect and with a large arch in their lower back. This can be caused from weak core muscles and tight hip flexors which means they sub-consciously arch to try and gain stability meaning that they over use their back muscles! The other negative of this position is that you don’t get as much gluteal activation in push off or what we call hip extension. This can be benefited by running with a slight forward lean as it puts the gluteal’s in a better position to be able to fire and therefore push off in terminal stance.
- It is crucial that when leaning forward you are doing so with your whole body from your ankle to your head and not just tipping forward from your hips or slouching your shoulders forward. There are many running drills that can help with this technique that are better to do before a run rather than really thinking about leaning forward during your actual run session as consequences may arise if you are doing it incorrectly or overdoing it.
- In sprinting sports such as AFL football, soccer etc., this slight forward lean and extension through the hips, knee and ankle is super important for power generation and efficiency. This is often referred to as “triple extension”.
- After attending a course recently with the AFL Essendon Strength and Conditioning Coach they demonstrated how much focus they have on running technique and triple extension in their warm ups and strength sessions. The more repetition the more likely there will be a carryover effect in competition.
- – Ideally as you swing your foot through you want your knee to be bent at approximately 90 degrees. It may be a slightly larger angle if you are not running with much pace but by having the swinging leg bent you are carrying the weight of this leg through with a shorter lever which ultimately means less load on your hip flexors.
Minimal Head Movement:
- When talking about run technique you are ideally looking for minimal head movement. You do not want the head bopping up and down as this means you are more airborne with more impact and less efficiency.
Good core and gluteal strength:
- Having good stability as a runner is crucial for endurance running but also for sprinting in fast paced sports such as basketball and football. The deep core muscles (not your “abs”) are responsible for acting like a corset around your spine. They give the lower back and pelvis stability and if they are not working well you will find other muscles will compensate and get overworked and tight such as your hip flexors or lower back muscles.
- The Gluteus medius muscle also works in conjunction with these deep core muscles to try and provide stability to the pelvis and prevent the opposite hip from dropping when you land preventing torsion through the pelvis and back.
- This is an example of a friend and I running and one landing with a relatively level pelvis and the other (left) with a much larger drop creating torsion through their spine and pelvis and therefore potentially overloading the anterior hip flexor muscles or knee.
By correcting this drop in the pelvis by improving deep core strength and gluteal medius strength you will not only be less injury prone in your lower back, hip and knee but also a more efficient runner as your other muscles don’t need to try and provide stability. They can focus purely on speed, power and better endurance.
For more information on core and gluteal stability in injury prevention in sports follow this link to my blog on Pre-activation and Improving Warm up.
- Cadence is how many steps in a period of time usually measured per minute. If you have a large stride length your cadence tends to be smaller. This can encourage a larger stride that means your foot is landing out ahead of your body and as we discussed above this will put extra shock through your limb and require a breaking force before you can propel forward again.
- The recommended average cadence has been agreed to be around 170-180 foot strikes per minute but can vary slightly depending on your height, weight, leg length and running ability. Aiming to run at this cadence is a good start to help improve your foot strike position to under your centre of gravity but should be implemented slowly.
- An enjoyable way to implement this change in your running is the use of apps with music specifically tailored to have the beat at the same tempo as your ideal cadence. You can also download a metronome that will beat when your foot should be hitting the ground. I have also recently found on Spotify that under “Workout” and then “Run” tracks you can input what cadence you want to run at and the tracks will accordingly be selected automatically.
Foot Strike Position:
- Most issues tend to arise when people overstride and their foot lands out ahead of their centre of gravity. This causes much more ground reaction force to go up through the foot, shin, knee and hip. Therefore, you are essentially breaking your force before you can propel again. This is inefficient. In terms of reducing injuries such as shin splints having your foot land under your body will reduce the loading on your joints and shock absorption required.
- Ideal foot mechanics would include landing at initial contact followed by slight pronation (roll in) and then rolling back out to neutral before push off and slight supination (roll out) on terminal push off to facilitate the windless mechanism. This helps in shock absorption in the foot as well as propulsion.
- Often people are told they pronate. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is actually important for shock absorption but if you over-pronate or stay in pronation for too long this is when you can overload the medial (inner) foot, shin, knee etc.
Heel strike vs Forefoot strike.
- The debate seems to be over on this one and the general consensus is that as long as your foot lands under your body it doesn’t matter. As I discuss above if your foot lands under your centre of gravity you will reduce the loading on your joints and shock absorption required.
- The other reason we tend not to change a person’s running style completely is that most people have had a natural running style for years and to change from a heel striker to a forefoot runner is actually quite difficult and really requires strength development in muscles that are not often used in the current style. Overall, it can take up to 12 months if done correctly and if this step is not completed with an experienced running physiotherapist or running coach you risk getting injured in the new style.
Here are a few drills I like to use to help implement the technique pointers from above that can be completed within your gym session or as a part of a run warm up. Some people also like to team up running drills with interval running sessions.
A Skip: A well known running drill which is also good to help knee drive, foot placement and core activation. This picture is not ideal as my foot in the swing leg should be pointing upwards to mimic running more.
Lunge with Power Knee Drive: Great as a running drill to help with firing up the gluteals and calf in push off phase as well as core stability with the higher complexity and stability required. Also a great exercise as warm up in dynamic jumping sports such as basketball and netball.
- Focus on gently activating your deep core to help with balance, powering up from the lunge with your glute and lifting your knee at least to 90 degrees when coming up from the lunge.
Claw Toe: Another great running technique drill to help activate your stabilising glute (glute med) as well as focusing on foot placement under your centre of gravity and knee bend (90 degrees).
- Start with a slight bend in stance knee with a slight forward lean from your hips. Then cycle your foot through a high knee position, butt kick position with your foot dragging through under your centre of gravity to ensure foot placement is correct.
Triple Step with Band: Great to help promote forward lean, triple extension and knee drive.
- Set up with a partner holding an assistance band, lean forward into band with your core on and complete three knee drives. Progression from this exercise would be to come away from the wall and use your arms as well.
Sled Running: Great power strength exercise for running and sprinting in sports such as football and basketball. Big focus on getting your glutes and quads to power you forward and is in a nice forward lean position with triple extension mimicking running.
– If you have access to one of these it’s a great exercise to add in at the end of your gym strength session or between exercises.
Great drill to improve quick footwork in sports such as soccer and netball. Also great for running technique as it encourages good knee drive, glute and calf power and is good for the foot landing under the body’s centre of gravity.
Running Drill Tips:
- For long distance runners try to jog back after each rep of running drills and for short distance/sprinters it’s best to walk back so that you can go at 100% when you do complete the drill. Specificity in training is always important.
- These drills are great as a warm up for a run or training. For more information on how muscle activation exercises can enhance performance check out my blog on pre-activation exercises and improving warm up.
- Most of the drills are designed to focus on the technique points from above so try to implement these pointers whilst completing the drills such as: minimal head movement, foot landing under body, hamstring activating to bring knee to 90 degrees etc.
- For a good in depth assessment of your running I would recommend finding a physiotherapist or running coach who can complete this and provide you with specific feedback. Videoing is great for this as with technology you can slow the video down to better analyse and learn.
I hope these technique tips are useful and you are able to find a way to potentially use these drills to help improve your running efficiency and reduce your risk of injury. Happy Running!