Most of us who run never think about HOW we are running which included myself until 5 years ago when I attended a running technique instructor course.
I now, after turning the ripe old age of 40, have found a new lease of energy with my running, beating a personal best in the marathon two weeks ago that I’ve found agonisingly difficult to come close to over the last 5 years and its partly due to a gradual change in my running technique.
In this offering, I’ll be looking at three main focus points to think about with regard to your running technique; foot strike, rhythm and posture, together with some simple drills to help make you a more efficient, injury-free runner.
1. Foot Strike
There has been extensive research on this area carried out at Harvard University by Daniel Lieberman.
The study’s suggest that at least 30% of runners get injured every year, and many of these injuries stem from problems that arise in the foot or lower leg.
Interesting. So what’s the main cause?
The majority of people who run heel strike – the collision of the heel with the ground has been found to generate a significant impact force, about 1.5 to 3 times your body weight (depending on speed) within 50 milliseconds of ground contact. This force sends a shock wave up through the body via the skeletal system putting stress on the knees, hips and back.
Research suggests that approximately 75% of shod runners heel strike.
Many running shoes make heel strikes comfortable and less injurious because they slow the rate of loading considerably, reduce the force by about 10% and spread this force out over a greater area of the foot. But they do not eliminate the impact force.
However, if shod runners are asked to run barefoot in laboratory conditions (a treadmill), a switch occurs to a fore- or mid-foot strike.
Fore-foot striking has been shown to elicit a very slow rise in force with no distinct impact transient. There is essentially no impact transient in a fore-foot strike . The same is true of some (but not all) mid-foot strikes.
It has been shown that forefoot or midfoot striking can help avoid and/or mitigate repetitive stress injuries, especially stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner’s knee.
What’s the mechanism behind this?
Fore- or mid-foot landing engages the ‘spring mechanism’ in our feet and ankles, using the elastic recoil of the plantarfascia and achilles tendon to dissipate the impact force and provide an efficient, low-energy propulsion forward.
You can see this in perfect motion in ‘running specialist’ animals like horses and dogs.
Heel strikers, on the other hand, do not engage this mechanism and so in order to propel themselves forward, rely on the large muscle groups in the legs and hips, hence giving rise to the notion of ‘jogging’.
This can lead to high impact forces and injury, even in well cushioned trainers, and also cause muscles to fatigue quickly and impair performance.
Changing your striking pattern overnight is unrealistic and may cause injury in itself.
Try implementing a gradual progression from heel-striking to mid-foot at first, with an intermittent focus during your runs.
The main focus should also be on strengthening the ‘spring mechanism’ of the plantar fascia and achilles tendon in addition to increasing cadence or rhythm during your run.
For optimum cadence or rhythm to harness the elastic recoil of the foot, your strike rate to the ground should aim to be an efficient range of 160-180bpm, reflected in a bouncy running style with shorter strides.
If you can gradually build this rhythm into your technique, there will be no chance of heel striking and although it may seem harder work at first, it will preserve energy stores in the long run.
Keep your head and chest upright with arms in the T-rex position. Hands should be unclenched, fingers should ‘shake-out’ as you run and shoulders should be as relaxed as possible.
The key sign for correct running form is illustrated by feet landing directly under your body as opposed to in front, with a rapid uptake of the foot as the mid-foot or heel kisses the ground.
If you really want to see results, devote at least one session per week to running technique drill training and proper form should be adhered to during your routine runs whenever possible. Remember running technique will not change overnight but gradually overtime.
400m intervals – focus on the three elements of foot strike, rhythm and posture during 10 x 400m bouts of running with 200m walk recoveries.
Focus on using the balls of your feet with the heel just kissing the floor lightly but don’t use tiptoes.
Keep bounces small and light, maintain good posture, aiming to reach an optimum rhythm of 180bpm.
Two-legged jump – start with 5 x 30 seconds at close to 180bpm and increase gradually to 5 x 120 seconds.
One-legged jump/hopping – running is essentially a series of one-legged jumps. Try to maintain a cadence of 90bpm, start with 3 x 30 seconds on each and increase gradually to 5 x 60 seconds.
Skipping – an excellent warm-up before a run to prime your foot strike, rhythm and posture or integrate into a technical session. Start with 15 second bouts over a 5- minute period, extending the time skipping until you can skip continuously.
I hope these adjustments to your running regime will benefit your performance as they have mine.