Improving Your Running Form
Every so often it’s a good idea to give some attention to improving your running form. You don’t want to go overboard with the analytics and try to correct too many things at once, it’s just good to check in from time to time and make sure you aren’t getting sloppy! 😉 By taking inventory of the following four aspects of running form, you can make sure you are running efficiently and decreasing your chances of injury (you just might get faster too!).
Arm carriage is an important part of running form that people sometimes forget about. You can waste a lot of precious energy by not optimizing the way you hold your arms on the run. Try and keep your arms at a 90 degree angle when running. Relax your arms, but keep them close to your sides and avoid lateral movement. Think of your arms has pendulums swinging front to back. You also want to make sure you aren’t clenching your fist and creating tension. I always think of holding an egg in my hands– you don’t want to crack it by squeezing too hard!
Your arms can help you a lot when you are tired at the end of a race or are charging up a steep hill. Pick one run a week to concentrate on your arm movement for the first 5 minutes and last 5 minutes of the run. Are you wasting energy swinging them side to side? Are you holding your arms too high or too low? By paying a little attention to this aspect of form, you can conserve energy and use your arms to help power you forward when you need it.
When we are tired, we tend to forget about our posture, and let’s face it– it’s easy to get tired when you’re running! We have a tendency to start to slump over when we get tired, especially at the end of a race or a long run. Keep your spine straight, pull your shoulders back a bit and lean forward slightly (using gravity to pull your body forward a bit). Just be careful that you aren’t leaning too far forward!
Let your body relax and stay loose and think of having headlights on your hips that you want to keep facing forward–this will help prevent too much rotation in your hips, which wastes energy and reduces efficiency. Another analogy that has always worked for me is to imagine that there is a string holding you up that runs right through the top of your head, sort of like a marionette. When you start to feel yourself slumping a little, imagine the string being pulled up. I swear, it helps!
Paying attention to your cadence can help you make sure your stride length isn’t too long for the speed that your running. Your stride will naturally increase the faster your run, being longest with an all out sprint. You can see this when you watch footage of distance runners compared to sprinters.
Most of us are not sprinting when we head out for our daily run or distance race, so our stride will naturally be shorter. Working on increasing your cadence helps foot turnover, which can make you faster and more efficient. An optimal cadence (think elite runner) is 180 steps a minute. Since it’s nearly impossible to count that out each minute, I recommend using a metronome app and practicing picking up your foot (rather than hitting the ground) each time you hear a tic. You don’t have to use the metronome for the whole run, you can start off using it to get into a rhythm.
It’s common to tense up different parts of your body like your hands, your shoulders, or your jaw when you are working hard or really focused. Unfortunately that tension is another form of wasted energy that you could apply to your run. Every so often tell yourself to drop your shoulders and relax.Make sure you also move your jaw around to make sure you’re not holding tension there. I sometimes chew gum while running to make sure my jaw isn’t staying tensed up!
Picking one aspect of your form to work on during a run is sort of like doing your “running homework.” Practicing the above exercises will help you to conserve your precious running energy and hopefully make you a more efficient runner. When you are dead tired at the end of a tough speed workout or race, every little bit of energy helps (and you want to look good in those race pics right?!)!