Become a stronger and faster runner by adopting good running posture – improving efficiency and reducing injuries in training and racing.
Running technique is often an alien concept to non-runners – after all, why do we need to re-learn something we’ve all been doing since childhood? But just as triathletes need time to hone their swim stroke, they also need to build a strong foundation of sound running mechanics. In fact, even many experienced triathletes and runners could run faster and more efficiently as well as protect themselves from injury by improving their technique.
Like any change to your technique, transition slowly without altering too much too quickly. After your warm-up, do a few drills that focus on changes you’re going to make to your running form – you’ll find some of these below – and then concentrate on just one change during the main part of your run. This keeps the goal of each run clear in your mind, allowing you to concentrate on perfecting one aspect of your form. If you feel any twinges or discomfort when implementing new running techniques, walk for a while and stretch before continuing – it will take time to adjust.
The Forward Lean
A slight forward lean can drastically improve running efficiency and help you maintain momentum as you run by aligning your centre of body mass over the foot contacting the ground. This forward lean should be a head-to-toe posture, keeping head, shoulders, hips and ankles in line. Many people adopt a lean with their upper body only, creasing at the waist and sitting into the hips and losing efficiency, so push your pelvis forward to avoid this.
Practise standing straight and tall on tiptoes, abdominals supporting you, then gradually lean forwards until you have to take a step to avoid falling. Repeat this drill, stepping forward on alternate feet, then begin adding a gentle 10m run after the initial lean, concentrating on continuing that posture. Visualising a bungee cord wrapped around your waist and gently pulling you forward can help achieve good alignment.
Once you’ve transitioned to this position, you will find that it’s easier for your gluteal muscles to fire, providing extra power and stability. While your core will also be better utilised, allowing you to maintain good posture for longer as your body starts to adapt over time.
Our heads are heavy things and wherever we point them, the spine often follows. Tipping the head downwards is one of the causes of an arched-over bend at the hips, exactly what you’re trying to avoid with your new forward lean. Therefore, maintaining a comfortable, neutral head position with eyes looking forward is key to good technique.
imagine a balloon attached to the top of your skull, gently pulling you upwards
Due to the head-forward neck postures that many desk-workers adopt, you may need to move your head backwards to achieve this neutral position. It might feel odd at first, but this can also reduce neck and shoulder tension. Ask a friend to photograph or video you before and after to see the difference and ensure you don’t over exaggerate this positioning.
A great way of keeping your head up is to imagine a balloon attached to the top of your skull, gently pulling you upwards and keeping your body nice and tall as you run – without forgetting your forward body lean.
Foot Striking and Cadence
A good forward lean puts your centre of gravity above the foot on landing, but you should also pay attention to your foot strike and cadence (how many foot strikes you make per minute). While there are lots of arguments against heel striking (leading with the heel first) because this applies braking forces in your stride, these braking forces are only present if your foot is landing out in front of your body, rather than landing under your hips.
A higher cadence isn’t necessarily about running
Achieving this under-the-hips foot strike is often as simple as increasing your cadence to shorten your stride and goes hand in hand with your forward lean. Listening to music with a high BPM can help you run to a faster beat, while a free metronome MP3 track from Metronomer is cheaper than buying a dedicated metronome. If you don’t want to use a metronome, count your footstrikes over a 20-second period, trying to hit 60 steps in this time.
Ideal cadence differs between athletes but aiming for 180 steps per minute should give the right balance of stride length and low ground contact time needed to improve efficiency. To increase your cadence, work on 20-second intervals where this is your focus, using a slight downhill to encourage a fast turnover. Arms and legs work in unison while running, so your arm speed will also need to increase to match your faster legs.
Doing 4-8 reps of these 20-second intervals after your warm-up or as part of a longer run will help ingrain a higher cadence that will start to feel more comfortable and natural.
Inexperienced runners often tend to twist their upper body from side to side, arms crossing over the centre line. This technique wastes plenty of energy, decreases efficiency and can completely throw off your legs too, causing them to cross over – massively increasing the risk of injury.
Instead, keep your chest in line with your hips, facing forwards and using your core muscles to stabilise your midriff. Again, much of this comes from that positive, tall, forward lean.
Try to keep your arms in line with your shoulders without swinging them in across your upper body. Think of the pistons on an old steam engine, working in a fixed plane on the sides of your torso without crossing in too much.
Your elbows should be flexed at around 90-degrees, your hands sweeping past the hips on their downstroke and moving up to mid-chest level on the upstroke, without pulling up with your shoulders.
Trying to employ all of these points at once could result in a lot of body tension and a very robotic looking technique – certainly detrimental to endurance running. It will take time to adapt and maintain good posture – especially head positioning when fatigued. Remember to transition slowly when changing your technique. Think about one aspect at a time, focusing on this element and being relaxed. As your body and brain adapts, it’ll all start to become second nature.
Once you can stay relaxed without letting your posture go, you’ll be a stronger, less injury prone and more efficient runner.