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Improve Your Running Form

There is no exact science that specifies perfect running form. Each human body is made differently and running styles vary. Good running style involves a mix of leg, arm and torso movements so that you move with optimal mechanical efficiency. For example, good form requires the correct combination of stride length and frequency. Good form looks smooth and relaxed. The main goal in running is to be more efficient, running economy, where you are able to run at a certain speed with less oxygen used.

A good running style doesn’t guarantee improved running performances because fitness also plays an important part in running faster over a long periods. However, we do know that bad running form detracts from improving one’s performance. There are top professional triathletes all around the world who run well even though they have less than desirable form. My response to this is “how much faster could they go if they improved their form?” Although we all have an “innate” running style, we can change that to improve running efficiency and economy. As in changing your swimming technique or cycling cadence, you know that with cognitive thinking and discipline, your body’s nervous system can adapt to change. It is not easy to do it on your own. It is best to have a coach critique your form on a regular basis and to have running style videotaped so you can visually see what needs to be corrected and, over a period of time, you can visually see yourself change. Here are some important visuals to help you improve your form.

The feet: Run straight. Running straight will reduce the rotation or twisting of the ankles and knees which helps in preventing a shortening of stride due to the turning of the foot. Keep the feet and legs moving directly forward with minimal twisting motion.

The ankle: Increase flexibility. Improved flexibility improves stride length. A muscle generates greater contractile force after it has been pre-stretched. The longer the heel is in contact with the ground while the knee moves forward, the greater the pre-stretch of the calf muscles. This increases both power and stride length.

The knee: Use proper knee lift. For triathletes, we typically race the run segment a minimum of 10 kilometers. We are also not as fresh since we have just swum and biked. My motto is to “always train the way you race.” We should concentrate less on a sprinting style with a high knee lift and more as a marathoner with less knee lift. Too high of a knee left, such as sprinting, increases vertical oscillation which expends more energy. Triathletes would more efficiently use that energy moving forward then the up and down movement.

The pelvis: Strengthen the major muscle groups. The pelvis area contains major muscle groups that generate the forward thrust of the pushoff as well as the forward thrust of the leading leg. A lack of hip mobility limits the stride length. You can never be too strong or flexible around the hip area.

Shoulders and upper arms: Keep them relaxed. They primarily provide balance, but they can assist the leg muscles more as you run faster and climb hills. Proper arm movement prevents your torso from rotating too much from side to side, which makes your running less efficient. Let your arms and shoulders relax. Contracting the muscles in this area is wasting precious energy stores for the lower half of the body.

Stretch: This was my downfall. I was too tired doing all three sports and weights. The sport is time consuming enough for us as it is. I was a decent runner in the sport; however, looking back at my career, I can’t help but believe that stretching for twenty minutes every other day would have helped my race performance, especially in the run segment. Running involves so many movements of the body; flexibility can only enhance those movements.

© Wes Hobson Performance Inc.