How to Improve your Running Technique

How to Improve your Running Technique

Today we’re going to look at running exercises and techniques that are going to help improve our movement patterns.

There’s no doubt that in any sport or exercise that we practice technique is the basic and indispensable requirement to be able to train correctly, to avoid injuries, to perform better, and to be more efficient in the movement or gestures of that exercise and/or movement.

If you’re a runner, don’t stop reading just because the exercises here are quite different from the ones we usually see on the tracks.

We’ve published a video on our Youtube channel where you can see each of them, adding to what I detail in this article:

Running pattern

For the last 6 years, I’ve been working with popular runners in order to improve their running pattern, recovering a more natural and inherent pattern to the human being, and thus making them more efficient runners, who run better and avoid suffering injuries too.

I won’t claim there to be just one correct way to run, because it’s not true.

However, there is a natural pattern of running movement that we as human beings have acquired from an evolutionary point of view. A natural pattern shown perfectly in the earliest ages of life, before we suffered any type of loss of motor or functional functions.

Running

What we can see is that, with time, there’s been a loss in functionality of many of the musculoskeletal structures of the body, decreasing physical activity and exercise.

We’re less physically active and spending more and more time being sedentary.

Why do we lose the natural pattern of movement?

We take up a lot of bad postures that can cause changes at a structural level and directly effect how we move.

And there’s also a loss of proprioceptive sense for not working it properly. These are just some of the factors that affect the pattern of running movement in the majority popular runners.

Poor non-aligned posture often results in shortening of the hip and hamstring flexors, which affects our running performance.

In addition to a shortening of the anterior musculature and weakening of the gluteus and posterior chain.

Importance of working the Gluteus

Re-learning to run

It’s interesting to watch children with their innate learning processes, in which they go through the phases of crawling, sitting and then standing up and starting to walk.

They have a completely upright posture, within the clumsiness of the process of learning to stand…

This learning process searches for stability by resolving situations of instability. However, adults lose that alignment as a result of a less active and functional lifestyle.

The starting point is what I call a complete reset, it is necessary to re-learn to run, even though it’s an action inherent to humans.

When I say re-learning, I mean:

  • Recuperating all those functional abilities,
  • Improving the musculoskeletal structures of mobility
  • Working towards improving good posture habits; and
  • Good proprioceptive sense work.

Technique

All this to makes us able to respond to the constant changes of instability that occurs while running.

Running Technique Exercises

Most of us have seen and worked with our coaches on running technique drills on the track.

The important thing is not to do them but to understand what they are for or what purpose each exercise has in order to be able to integrate it into the pattern and eventually have it come naturally.

For my part, this type of classic exercise is not exactly what I work on with my athletes.

I think it’s important to make it easy and simple, and that it’s the athlete themselves who should judge changes and sensations through simple and direct techniques and guidelines that help them to understand why and how to move in a more efficient and natural way.

Therefore, before starting any classic running technique exercise program, it’s useful to focus on 3 KEY POINTS, (I would say the basic tools) to improve the running movement pattern.
  • Posture
  • Cadence-Rhythm: understood as the number of steps or ground contacts per minute)
  • Relaxation: avoid any type of involuntary tension and contraction that causes a greater energy consumption and generates unnecessary tensions.

In the video, you’ll see 4 very simple exercises that will help you to improve these key points:

Posture

A natural run involves maintaining an upright and aligned posture, avoiding an excess of carrying the body forward.

There must be, at the moment of maximum force, an imaginary line going from the ankle-hip-centre of mass and nuchal point.

If you carry your body forward, the natural tendency to avoid falling is forthe leg to forward brake. You tend to lengthen your stride forward by letting your first support and contact with the ground be your heel.

If we consider the nature of the heel’s structure, it’s not equipped to cushion, and yet a poor running pattern is usually characterised by the fact that the first contact with the ground is made by the heel, far from the centre of mass and the hip.

Alongside this, when landing so far away from the hip and its alignment with respect to the centre of mass and nuchal point, there’s usually an excessive swinging of the pelvis.

A tilting that impairs the natural pattern of movement, causing, in the long term, a constant shearing between the dorsals of the lumbar area and consequently back discomfort and problems.

Is it bad to land on your heel?

One of the scientific studies carried out by Dr. Lieberman (Professor of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University) reached the following conclusions, amongst others

  • Heel-supported runners are 2.6 times more likely to injury themselves than forefoot-supported runners.
  • Interestingly, two years earlier, he observed that barefoot runners landed with half a forefoot , as opposed to runners with shoes that landed wth the heel.

How does a bad posture affect running?

It’s necessary to start from the premise that in order to perform more complex movements, you must first master the simpler and more straightforward movements.

So, to run in an upright and relaxed position, we must first walk in a relaxed position.

What does it mean to be in the right position when running?

There are many factors, from head to toe in the 3 planes, (sagittal, frontal and transversal), which together help to create a balanced posture.

It’s easy to check if we pay attention to what happens around the hips and pelvis, and what happens in the upper and lower body part.

Simple guidelines: open chest, elongated and always growing spine, and high hips and pelvis.

We could establish two types of runners based on their running posture:

NON ALIGNED Runner thrown forward

  • Leaning forward from the hip, flexing hips and losing alignment
  • In this case, you tend to sit backwards, and to counteract this you tilt your body forward.
As we’ve seen, it’ll cause a more forced stride, increased braking forces, and support away from the centre of mass. More energy will be spent between each stride.

ALIGNED Runner

  • Hips and pelvis are up, facing forward and not rotating from side to side.
The first impact is made below the centre of mass (below the hip, not so far away), thus decreasing the braking and impact forces; that’s to say, making each stride more efficient.

The body seeks a natural posture

Bear in mind that the human body takes form due to the evolution of its structures until it adapts to the standing and standing against gravity.

This fact conditions and implies that certain points of our body must be aligned to show biomechanical stability, adequate kinetics and correct distribution of loads.

It’s not anatomy, it’s biomechanics, so we look at points and not segments.

Notice that the cervical ligament zone (evolutionary mark that conditions the upright position) is in line and vertical over the centre of mass of the thorax, both in line in the vertical of the centre of gravity, and all these should be in line over the point of support of the foot when it’s already in load.

Losing that natural and aligned position will cause changes in the running pattern, walking pattern… in the way we move, losing the technique.

VIDEO 2 EXERCISE: The purpose of keeping your arms outstretched above your head is to
  • Keep spine upright;
  • Activate the dorsal musculature responsible for good posture hygiene; and
  • Stop the pelvis sway.

Cadence (Rhythm)

When I refer to the cadence, I mean the number of steps per minute performed; the number of contacts per minute.

According to the scientific literature, there is an optimal running cadence that allows us to take advantage of the elastic energy of the structures of the foot and calf, which will be key in improving our running technique and allowing us to be more efficient and less dependent on the muscular action.

This is due to the functioning of the stretching-shortening cycle and the production of elastic energy.

In this way, the calf, foot, leg and gluteus musculature act synergistically to achieve a more efficient movement.

Studies have shown that there is an optimal cadence interval in which the body:

  • Moves more efficiently;
  • With a greater quality of movement; and
  • Takes advantage of the elastic forces generated by the muscles and tendons themselves.

There are numerous scientific studies, comparisons, and different analyses with groups that have all drawn the conclusion that to make efficient use of the muscles involved in the running pattern, as well as to avoid an increase in energy expenditure when running. the ideal is to take between 170- 180 steps per minute.

However, in the spines, whose biomechanical behaviour is different, the cadence becomes higher.

If you watch the first of the exercises of the Running Techniques in the Gym Exercises Video, you’ll see that it’s as simple as: making small continuous jumps.

Exercise 1 Guidelines: Short, small jumps, the heel kisses the ground lightly and the knees don’t lock.

It’s not a muscular action, instead we let our feet act as springs. The movement is more efficient and less muscular than if we do squats with jumping for a minute.

This exercise will also help to improve the reactivity of the feet, the elasticity of the soles, the Achilles tendon and strengthen the ankle.

The aim of EXERCISES 3 and 4 is to focus on the action of the foot and its reactivity: the feet have to push the ground, minimising the contact time to avoid an increase in braking forces and therefore improve the cadence in the long term.

Relaxation

It may seem obvious and you’ll maybe find it strange to talk about “RELAXATION” when talking about running technique exercises.

However, a movement without relaxation results in clumsy movement patterns.

And when upper body limbs are tense, it causes involuntary muscle contractions. When a muscle contracts, it needs to produce energy to maintain the contraction.

Carrying tension in the shoulders, in the cervical area, will not only cause a bad posture, but your energy expenditure will increase too, and not just from running.

Technique

Let’s not forget that, as runners, we want to be as efficient and economical as possible, and a tense, unrelaxed body will not help with that.

Now it’s your turn to practice these 4 simple exercises. They’re different to what you’re used to seeing, but they’ll be extremely useful for teaching your body how to move better when running

Bibliography Sources

  1. Bramble, Dm y Lieberman, DE (2004), Endurance Running and the evolution of the genus homo.
  2. Bonacci, J., Saunders, P. U., Hicks, A., et al., Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: a biomechanical study, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2013, vol. 47, pp. 387–392.
  3. Calais- Germain, Blandine, Anatomía para el movimiento, Barcelona, La Liebre de Marzo, 2011.
  4. Chicharro, J. L. y Sánchez, D., Fisiología y fitness para corredores, Champaign, Illinois, Producciones Prowellness, 2014.
  5. Cook, G., Movement Functional Movement Systems, Santa Cruz, California, On Target Publicactions, 2011.
  6. Daoud, Adam I., et al., Foot Strike and Injury Rates in Endurance Runners: A Retrospective Study, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine, 2012, vol. 44, n.o 7, pp. 1325–1334.
  7. Horack, Fay B., Postural orientation and equilibrium: what do we need to know about neural control of balance to prevent falls?, Age and Ageing, septiembre de 2006, vol. 35, supl. 2, pp. ii7-ii11.
  8. Lieberman, Daniel E., et al., The human gluteus maximus and its role in running, The Journal of Experimental Biology, 2006, vol. 209,
    pp. 2143-2155.
  9. Tam, N., Wilson, J. L. A., Noakes, T. D. y Tucker, R., Barefoot running: an evaluation of current hypothesis, future research and clinical applications, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2014, vol. 48, pp. 349–355.
  10. Van Gent, R. N., Siem, D., Van Middelkoop, M., B. W., Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2007, vol. 41.
  11. Verstegen, M. y Williams, P., Core Performance Endurance, Nueva York, Rodale Books, 2007.

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About Isabel del Barrio
Isabel del Barrio
Sport runs in the blood of Isabel, which she has proven since she was very little up until now. She wants to share that passion with all those who are passionate about sports.
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