Athletes often ask me what perfect running form looks like. The truth is, that the aspirational ideal of there being one ideal running form is nonsense. We’re all so very different, with amazing individual variety in the anatomy of one athlete versus another.
When it comes to coaching athletes to develop their running form, either during late-stage injury rehab, or performance training, it’s imperative that we look only to implement changes that are appropriate given the individual’s unique collection of strengths, weaknesses, areas of restriction, mobility, stability and instability. Not to mention appropriate for their given sport. You wouldn’t necessarily coach a 14 hour Ironman athlete to run in the same way as a 1500m High School track star!
I’m also a firm believer that pushing an athlete to make big changes towards an unrealistic (perceived) perfect form is often enough to cause injury. There’s often a mechanical reason that many runners run in the way that they do.
Instead, we as coaches should often be looking to help the athlete benefit from a sum of marginal gains in running form. This involves improving individual elements of running form, with in the set of physical limits that the athlete’s body is working within.
The long-term goal can of course be to redefine these physical limits. Maybe through improving plantar flexor strength-endurance, glute activation, hip extension… the list goes on. But in the short term, any conscious work on changing the movement patterns that constitute running form needs to respect what the individual’s body currently can and cannot do.
While all athletes are different, with hugely varied needs, there are a handful of areas where almost all runners will stand to benefit. I like to look at these areas from a coaching point of view as the easy wins…
Try the following cues to find some easy wins on your next run:
1 – Hold Your Hips High
We’ve all seen runners bent forwards at the waist, sticking their butt out. These guys and girls are the extreme end of the scale in terms of losing position around the pelvis. In reality, so many runners move with an excessively anterior tilted pelvis and somewhat of a sitting back posture as they run. This can be indicative of hight hip flexors, posterior chain / core weakness, or simply a habitual posture (usually a combination of each of these factors).
Rather than telling the runner to consciously bring their pelvis back to a neutral position (a rather abstract concept to try to feel on-the-run), or indeed telling them to run tall, which often results in excessive lumbar extension and feeling of ‘leaning backward’, I like to use this simple cue: Run with your hips high.
The idea being to get you holding your hips and pelvis up and forwards as you run, bringing your centre of mass closer to over the landing foot as you strike the ground.
Many runners will immediately feel a lighter, quicker contact-time and slightly increased cadence (stride frequency) as you reduce any tendency you may have had to over stride.
You may well find this cue help significantly if you’ve been struggling with Patellofemoral (anterior knee) Pain. In my experience, holding the hips high throughout the gait cycle seems to encourage runners to reduce mid-stance peak knee flexion angle, theoretically reducing loading of the Patellofemoral Joint.
Remember though, simple physics tells us that within a loading pattern such as running, we can’t just reduce force acting upon one structure in the body without increasing it elsewhere. As such reducing loading of the knee in this way, means increasing demands at the ankle – particularly the Plantar Flexor muscles (calf complex). Hold the hips too high and you’ll feel your contact-time getting very quick and running excessively high on your toes. Your calves will suffer at this point. Everything in moderation!
2 – Keep Your Upper Body Working
We’ve all seen sprinters competing or training. It’s obvious to see how the quick, powerful motion of the arms is integral to the ‘whole machine’ as the sprinter powers down the track. The speed of the arms helps to set and maintain leg speed. The powerful drive back with the elbow (shoulder extension) happens in-sync with the powerful extension of the opposite hip.
Most of us can appreciate this link between arm / upper body action, and leg action when looking at sprinters, or sprinting ourselves. But often the link is lost when running ‘easy’.
Don’t get me wrong – obviously I’m not suggesting running 9min/mile pace with Usain Bolt arms. That would be stupid! Rather I want to challenge the common tendency to clamp the arms to the sides of the chest and therefore add nothing positive with the upper body throughout running gait.
Active use of the arms in running gait (in terms of size of arm swing and power) is dependent on speed. The faster you run, the bigger and more powerful the arm swing. The slower, the smaller and more relaxed.
BUT here’s the important bit, the arms never ‘switch off’. No matter how slow you run, there should always be at least a slight drive back with the elbow, with the subsequent forward motion being forward mostly elastic recoil. Just don’t allow your arms to drive forwards across the midline of your body.
The passive, rotational action of the upper body is also responsible for dampening and countering any excessive rotation from the lower body. Thus we don’t want to cut upper body rotation out completely, just keep it in check!
Posted by James Dunne and found on AthletesTrainingAthletes.com