Why Make Technique Improvements?
We all want to be able to run faster, on this page we will explain ways in which you can do so by making changes to your running technique, sometimes called running form. This is about getting faster without having to improve your fitness, although it will take some regular practice and concentration to improve your technique. During and below the videos we have a discussion about the elements of running technique, provide running technique tips, look at some common problems and what we can do to run more efficiently.
To get us started, here are videos we've put together explaining the basics of good running technique so you can learn how to run better. They provide a step by step guide as to how to improve what you do as you run.
The first provides information on why we should want to develop our technique to run faster.
The second starts with the real basics of what we are trying to do as we run and some key elements we'll be looking at in our future videos. Things like where our foot contact should be, how to avoid rotations in the body and whether to heel strike or run on our forefoot.
In video three we look at what running technique consists of. Most running technique is similar, but we highlight a few differences between sprinting and longer distance running. How do we use our arms, what forces are we working against etc.
Cadence and stride length determine our speed. In this video we investigate the merits of each and what we can do to improve them and therefore our running speed.
This may be our most practical video of all. With a few simple imagery tips to follow you can great improve the efficiency of your running to run quicker and more injury free, with no extra physical effort, just a bit of brain work!
Many runners undertake running drills. They are a very important tool to use. However, they only have merit if you know why and how to perform them properly otherwise, at best, they are a waste of time and, at worst, reinforce bad habits.
Here we look at how the foot lands as we run. Do we want to land on our forefoot, or our heels? Is it different for sprinters and distance runners? Which running technique is quicker and helps us avoid injury?
Ground contact time is the amount of time we spend on the floor on each step as we run. It is a critical part of the action in terms of improvements, we have to use this time to generate force, but spend too long doing so and your technique is compromised and you run slower.
Later we'll look at common problems runners have with their technique, you may recognise some in your own running, so can work on removing them.
To run fast any athlete need to run efficiently, allowing their body to use as little energy on each step as possible, whilst maintaining the required stride length and cadence.
To improve your time you must lengthen your stride, increase your cadence or both, using a combination of improved strength, fitness and better technique.
This has to be done properly, for example simply increasing stride length to run faster is not an ideal way to improve as this often leads to overstriding, which is counter-productive. Instead, working on technique improvements through drills, in combination with a structured training program such as our Online Coaching, will help you get the most from your sport. Our Head Coach, Richard Holt, is considered very much as a running technique coach, it is fundamental to all the other elements of training he does and he instils this in all the coaches working with us.
Running is Running
No matter which distance / speed you are trying to run, the following rules apply. It is just the effort that will change according to your fitness / race distance etc.
There are differences in biomechanics seen in athletes running at various speeds, due to the differences in effort exerted (e.g. amount of vertical oscillation), but most of the facets of good technique are always the same.
How do I improve my Technique?
Spending a few minutes reading about running technique improvements may well be the best investment you've made in your running in a while.
There are five basic parts to a running action, which need to be considered. Some coaches may simplify this or break it down further, but here we'll consider the actions listed.
Try to remember these elements with the mantra below and then learn how to apply each one in more depth here
Toe up, Heel up, Knee up, Reach out, Claw Back
It is actually best to consider "heel up" and "knee up" as happening concurrent, despite them being two different actions, as this reduces the time taken to pull the leg through.
It is extremely difficult to work on each of these effectively whilst running which is one of the reasons why Drills are so important. We can perform drills to isolate different techniques for parts of the action and improve it before putting it all back together as a proper complete action.
It is also important to make sure you are strong enough to do what you are asking of your body. This is done through strength and conditioning.
With respect to running at different speeds it is relatively simple - if you wish to run faster (ie. sprint) you do each phase more aggressively than if you are running longer slower distances. An athletes cadence (number of strides per minute also increase in sprints - but are very static from 800m upwards)
Below, Momen"Tom" is shown running with a good technique for fast striding pace. We have slowed him down so that it is easy to see what he is doing.
Note how the movement is done by his arms and legs - there is little wasted energy in vertical movements of his head and hips. Coaches often achieve this aim by telling athletes to keep their hips up high, to avoid them dropping and the athlete then having to use valuable energy to lift their bodies back up again.
Common Running Technique Problems
When athletes use poor technique this results in two problems:
Moving at a slower pace
Increased risk of injury
(Sometimes you are at an increased risk of injury if your running shoes or spikes are too worn out. It might be worth checking this - we have pages of advice to help you choose the best running shoes for you.)
There are a variety of things that runners will do that cause one of the two problems above, here we try to address some of the common ones that stop athletes having the running efficiency they desire:
Heel Striking - This is when our footstrike acts as a braking action to your running as you will be striking in front of your centre of gravity. You then have to work on getting your weight back over this rather than using the "claw back" momentum of your foot to propel you forwards. It also increases the stress on joints as you will tend to land heavily as you do this. To avoid a heel strike we can look at running a bit taller, reducing the length of our stride or trying to land lighter on your feet. A good tip is to try running without shoes - as it hurts to heelstrike when you do this - and then put your shoes back on and run in the same way. Forefoot running (as we term what we are looking at here) isn't about running "on our toes" as your PE teacher may have told you - but about putting the weight of your body through the ball of your foot as you land.
Leaning Backwards - Ideally, your whole body leans slightly forwards (not bending at the waist), if you don't you again brake your action and put strain on your lower back.
Lateral Arms - Your arms should swing through in the direction you are travelling, not across your body. Our trunk naturally rotates as we run, and our arms are used to minimise that rotation and keep the torso as still as possible. If there is excessive lateral movement you will be amplifying that rotation and twisting your whole body through your shoulders, causing problems for your joints. It is also important to drive backwards with your arms and not too far forwards as this has been shown to lead to more excessive overstriding.
The height at the front and back of the arm swing will depend on the speed you are moving. For sprinting, you should bring your arms up to about chin height at the front and so your upper arm is almost parallel with the ground at the back. The angle of your lower to upper arm should be around 90 degrees (just less at the front and just more at the back). For longer distances the range of movement is simply, again decreased, with the emphasis being on relaxation and balance, as opposed to drive.
Sitting as you run - If your hips are not held high enough you will tend not to extend your stride as you should. Also, it is harder to get significant knee lift and you'll probably run fairly flat footed, relying primarily on the strength in your quadriceps and not using hamstrings and calves to their full ability.
Pendulum Legs - This is where you don't lift your feet far off the floor as you don't use your hamstrings much initially. This makes knee lift virtually impossible, resulting in a short stride length and in the later part of the action as your leg is relatively straight, you will actually put more stress on your hamstrings. One way of avoiding this is to imagine having a small twig sticking out of the insides of your lower shins - to avoid a low swinging action, imagine trying to step over these twigs on each step.
This is not meant to be a lesson in physiology, but more some practical advice for runners to help them improve their performance - hence some of the terminology may be a little loose for the more scientific reader.
Updated 15th June 2020