Running is such a pure sport. Just put one foot in front of the other and move forward – right?
Indeed, running comes naturally to us. But for whatever reason, we don’t all run efficiently.
Our running form is not optimal. And that can be slowing us down in races, make our training runs feel like more work than they should, and make us more susceptible to injuries.
When we run efficiently, we’re able to run for more extended periods and use less energy while we’re running.
Although everyone is different, there are four key areas that every runner can be aware of and improve during your running training, if needed.
Posture is essential for distance runners. While we’re fresh, our position is straight and slightly forward.
Our core muscles are strong. But as we fatigue our running form deteriorates.
We tend to slump, causing shorter strides and slower leg turnover.
For proper posture, stand straight with your chest out.
Keeping your body in straight alignment from your head to your ankles, lean your body forward slightly and let gravity pull you as you begin to run.
Your upper body should be over your feet as they hit the ground.
One of the best things you can do to achieve good posture for a more extended period is to strengthen your core muscles.
This can be done on a gym ball and with some weight training equipment.
A personal trainer is a great resource to set you up with a 30-45 minute core muscle workout.
In addition to strengthening your core, I also recommend strength training for your upper and lower body.
A schedule of one core session, one upper body strength session and one lower body strength session per week will be sufficient.
You’ll be amazed by how much stronger you will feel while running.
2. Arm Movement
One of the worst culprits to poor posture is side-to-side torso movement.
Remember that you are moving forward, not sideways.
Concentrating on your arm movement is an essential component to keeping your posture aligned forward.
Your arms help balance and propel you forward. Arm action helps you to operate with maximum power.
The two most common ways that your arms will sabotage your running are swinging your arms sideways across the centerline of your chest, and allowing your elbows to cross forward past your torso. Fortunately, these are easy to fix.
Follow these guidelines for perfect arm movement:
- Keep your shoulders down, with your arms and face relaxed
- Keep your elbows at about a 90-degree bend
- Relax your wrists and hands
- Move your arms forward to about chest height, and back as far as the seams of your pants
- When moving your arms forward and backward, move them from the shoulders
- When speeding up, drive more with your arms
3. Stride: Length, Height, and Frequency
As a runner, you have your optimum combination of stride length and stride frequency as part of your unique running form.
The only thing that is the same for all of us is that your foot should land directly under your knee.
If you increase your stride too much, your foot will land too far in front of your center of gravity and cause a braking action.
It will slow you down.
If your stride is too short, you will not be efficient and will consume more oxygen.
As a general rule, you want to find the optimum stride length for yourself to increase your speed over distances.
This will be your primary area of focus for your cruising speed.
A closely related factor is stride height. If you run with an exaggerated up and down, vertical movement, you are wasting a lot of energy.
Think horizontal, forward movement.
At the end of the race, stride frequency becomes essential for distance runners.
Some speed drills a few weeks before your race can help you run faster with a little kick at the end.
It’s essential to be aware of your breathing pattern while you’re running.
It’s a useful tool to gauge both your training pace and your racing pace.
Your breathing will change depending upon whether you’re training, racing, or going up hills.
Paying attention to your breathing can help you to ensure that you’re running or racing at the right intensity, and not getting into an anaerobic zone.
Experienced runners take about 180 steps per minute and breathe with a 2-2 rhythm.
What this means is the runner takes two steps while breathing in and then two steps while breathing out.
If a runner is racing particularly hard, they might breathe with a 1-2 rhythm.
One step while breathing in, and two levels while breathing out.
Running slowly, you might breathe at a 3-3 rate — three steps while breathing in, and three steps while breathing out.
To find your breathing patterns, go out on a training run, and pay attention to what is typical for you.
Once you’re familiar with your training pace breathing pattern, go to a track and run at your race pace. Pay attention to how your breathing changes.
Once you’ve determined your breathing patterns, you can use this information to know when you can speed up in a race and when you should slow down.
Some runners are concerned about whether they should breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth.
Your breathing should happen naturally.
If this pattern works for you, that’s great. But what’s important is that you’re breathing in enough air to meet your running demands.
Most of us breathe in and out through both our nose and mouth, so don’t be too concerned about this.
Running Form Wrap-up
Posture, arm movement, stride, and breathing – these are the four critical areas of running form where most runners will gain the most benefit.
You may not need improvement in all four areas – you may already be doing some of them right, just naturally.
Decide which ones are important to you. Ask for advice from a coach if you’re not sure.
Prioritize them. Focus on improving one item at a time until it becomes part of your natural running form. Give it a few weeks to become permanent.
Then move on to the next one.
In no time at all, you will be running more efficiently and with more strength and power.