Why do we teach people how to swim, but not how to run? Back in my swimming days, technique was constantly analyzed from the age group to collegiate level – our form was never perfect and we constantly worked to improve it. So why is it that we neglect all things technique when it comes to running. I just can’t be convinced we all run a certain way and need our shoes and our injuries to match our “natural” form.
Below are the four most important things to consider with your run technique. Revisit these often and complete drills before runs to be able to “feel” what you should be doing.
You should be maintaining proper posture with a straight line from the top of your head to your feet. Shoulder blades should be slightly pinched and eye gaze forward. Breaking of this posture will lead to lower back pain, inefficient running, and slower paces.
The Drill: Check your head position by putting your pinky and thumb on your collar bone (like a Hawaiian shaka or hang loose sign). Then straighten out your index finger and rest your chin on top of it. This will put your head into position and begin the process of your whole body being in alignment.
Gravity moves at 9.8 meters per second squared. That’s a hell of a lot faster then you will ever run. So use gravity to your advantage! Create a falling sensation that puts the body at a slight forward angle. Now use your feet to keep up with your fall, rather than propelling you forward. You should feel as if you stopped moving your feet, you would fall into the ground. This fall uses gravity to your advantage, increases economy, increases speed, and saves energy!
The Drill: Stand about a foot away from a wall. Standing with great posture, fall towards the wall from the hips while keeping the toes grounded. Catch yourself in a push-up position against the wall. Repeat 10 times. This is the falling sensation you should feel while running, but instead of catching yourself against the wall, you will be propelling yourself forward.
Tip: Fall from the hips rather than the chest to avoid losing your midline posture and stabilization.
Feel your Heels
While we fall, we want to repetitively move our feet to avoid crashing into the ground. Do so by lifting the feet from the heels instead of lifting the knees. When we lift and recovery our stride from the knees or toes, we are predominately using our hip flexors to perform the motion. Because the hip flexors are a small muscle group, they will begin to fatigue quickly. Instead, use the larger muscles of the hamstrings by pulling the feet up through the heels.
The Drill: Stand with your back against the wall. One leg at a time, drag the heel to about mid shin height and back to the ground. This lifting of the heels to raise the foot off the ground will activate the hamstrings. Use this feeling while running.
Just like jumping rope, you should be landing under the body, on the forefoot, with a quick cadence. Use the innate shock absorbers of the ankle, knee, and hip to absorb impact. Landing under our body’s center of gravity will enable you to spend less time on the ground, increase running economy and help to avoid injury by not over striding.
Use these 4 major points to check out your running technique. All the above is not mastered immediately and must be practiced. Gradually progress yourself into any new technique or running program by not increasing your time in this new form for more than 10% of the previous run. Although injury can occur by running incorrectly, it is more often associated with progressing mileage too quickly.
Sean Spire is the Head Coach of ASL. He was a competitive swimmer who discovered CrossFit and Ironman Triathlons. He has his BS in Exercise Science from Florida State University.