When Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon distance in under two hours, no stone had been left unturned in the pursuit of shaving off vital seconds. While his fueling choices and carbon plated running shoes got a lot of attention, his super-efficient running form was a vital piece of the success story.
While some runners are blessed with naturally better running form than others, we can all improve the way we run. And you’d better believe that the elites are spending a good portion of their training time working on improving theirs.
Why is good running form important?
Running is hard work. Running a PB is even harder. So we want to make sure that all that the energy that we’re using actually goes into moving us forwards. Developing good running form will help to make you a more efficient runner so that you get the maximum forwards motion out of every bit of energy you expend.
For example, if your arms are swinging across your chest when you run, this is less helpful to moving you forwards than if they’re swinging by your sides. Your arms should be by your sides with your elbow bent and driving back as this will help propel you forwards. But without tall posture, it’s difficult for your arms to do this – so there’s another piece of the puzzle to work on.
Better running form to avoid injury
Most running injuries are caused by overuse issues – doing too much running, too soon or building up your mileage too quickly without enough recovery. However, poor running form can lead to some muscles overcompensating for others.
So if your running style means your glutes aren’t fully involved in moving you forwards, your calf muscles might have to pick up the slack and this, in turn can lead to those muscles overdoing it.
Is heel striking bad running form?
A lot of runners heel strike (landing on their heel first) without any issues. While it may not be the most energy efficient way of running, as long as you are not over-striding (where you foot makes contact with the ground too far ahead of you) it’s probably not doing you any harm.
In fact, consciously trying to land on the ball of your foot if you naturally tend towards heel striking could do you more harm if you try to change this suddenly.
As you run more and focus on other areas of your running form, you may find that, over time, you naturally transition from heel striking to mid-foot striking.
How to improve your running form
If you have decided to change your technique then you’ll need to have real commitment. Running is usually a natural action, one that you do without consciously thinking about the way your limbs are moving. Changing that means forming new neuromuscular connections – the ‘muscle memory’ that helps your body do things without constant conscious input. You reinforce these connections by repeating movements over months and years, both through drills designed specifically to change the way you move, and through consciously running differently.
Warm up before you run
A good first step is to incorporate a good warm-up before every run. Runners often skip their warm-up because they just want to get going, but a warm-up is a time when you can focus on some drills that will kelp your form. High knees, butt kicks and skipping can all help.
Cues to remind yourself of the run
If you’ve identified areas that you need to improve, think of some simple cues to remind yourself each run. Most of us could benefit from reminding ourselves to ‘stay tall’, especially towards the end of a run when we’re getting tired.
Each time your watch beeps to tell you you’ve done another mile or kilometer, take this as a prompt to check your posture.
Build strength to improve your running form
Building strength in key areas is going to help support better running form. Good core strength will give you a solid foundation and help you maintain good, efficient posture even when you’re getting tired towards the end of a race.
There are other key areas that you can work to improve such as your glutes and calves with some strength exercises to promote good running form.
When you should leave your form alone
If you’re new to running and just starting out with a 0 to 5k plan, it’s best to focus on building your aerobic fitness first. As you get fitter, you may find that your running form improves naturally as you have a little bit more energy for picking your feet up a little bit more. However, you can still incorporate some running drills into a warm-up.
For more experienced runners, it’s not a good idea to make major changes to technique within a heavy training block. So if you’re marathon training for example, don’t make any drastic changes to the way that you run.