Running Mechanics: Improve Your Form to Improve Your Running

Coach Mike Broderick

Every runner has their own unique style of running which is a product of their individual physiological characteristics as well as habits developed over their lifetimes. Many physical characteristics cannot be changed, but there are some things that many runners can do to improve their running efficiency and economy by making slight modifications to their running mechanics, leading to improved running and racing performance. Here are a few suggestions for things to look at in your running form and areas in which you might make some positive changes.

Posture: Run tall and upright. Keep your head balanced over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. Try to avoid leaning forward and bending at the waist. Tighten your abdominal muscles and feel your hips move slightly forward. When running uphill, lean slightly forward into the hill with the whole body, not by bending at the waist. When running downhill, keep your body oriented at a 90 degree angle to the ground which will require you to lean slightly forward with the whole body.

Arm Swing and Carry: Try to run with your arms bent at a loose 90 degree angle at the elbow and use the arms to help your running by swinging them forward and back in a natural pendulum motion from the shoulder. On the forward swing your hand should come up toward the level of your shoulder and on the back swing your hand should come near the hip. Avoid excessive movement of the shoulders from side to side by keeping the hands and arms moving forward and back, not allowing the hands to cross the center line of your body on the forward arm swing.

Foot strike: Try to avoid striking with your heel first in running. Forget what you’ve read or heard about this, it is simply inefficient and will interfere with your running economy. If you are landing on your heel first, you are in all likelihood over striding and landing with your foot ahead of your center of gravity. The impact of your heel will create a slight braking effect with each footfall. Try to shorten and quicken your turnover and to bring the foot directly underneath your center of gravity with each foot strike, trying to land just behind the ball of the foot, allowing the heel to drop and then pushing off with the ball of the foot.

Stride Length/Cadence: It is pretty much impossible to actively control the precise length of your stride, but it is relatively easy to train yourself to run at a specific cadence, or beat. By this we mean the number of foot strikes per minute. You should aim for a cadence of around 180-190 foot strikes per minute, i.e. 90 to 95 per foot each minute. Most runners who over stride tend to have cadences which are a good deal slower than this and by simply shortening their strides and speeding the turnover they are able to improve their stride mechanics. This cadence will be the same at all running speeds. The difference will be that at faster paces your stride will naturally increase to match the greater speed of your body through space.

Be patient as you make some of these changes and incorporate them gradually. Your efficiency and pace should improve.

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