Why Make Technique Improvements?
We all want to be able to run faster, on this page we will explain ways in which you can do so by making changes to your running technique - this is about getting faster without having to improve your fitness, although it will take some regular practice and concentration to improve your technique.
Further down this page is a list of common problems runners have with their technique, you may recognise some in your own running, so can work on removing them.
For any athlete to perform at their best it is important that they run efficiently, allowing their body to use as little energy on each step as possible, whilst maintaining the required stride length and cadence.
To improve your time you must lengthen your stride, increase your cadence or both, using a combination of improved strength, fitness and better technique. Simply telling yourself to increase stride length while running flat out, however, is not an ideal way to improve as this often leads to overstriding, which is counter-productive. Instead, working on technique improvements through drills, in combination with a structured training program such as our Online Coaching, will help you get the most from your sport.
Running is Running
No matter which distance you are trying to run, surprisingly perhaps (you might think peoples techniques vary hugely with their event), the following rules apply. The amount of effort that is put into each action that will change according to the distance that you are going to run.
There are differences in biomechanics seen in athletes running at various speeds, due to the differences in effort exerted (e.g. amount of vertical oscillation), but most of the facets of good technique are always the same.
How do I improve my Technique?
It is worth spending a few minutes reading this section as alterations to your technique over time can give a big return on the amount of effort needed.
There are five basic parts to a running action, which need to be considered. Some coaches may simplify this or break it down further, but here we'll consider the actions listed.
Try to remember these elements with the mantra below and then learn how to apply each one
It is actually best to consider "heel up" and "knee up" as happening concurrent, despite them being two different actions, as this reduces the time taken to pull the leg through.
It is extremely difficult to work on each of these effectively whilst running which is one of the reasons why Drills are so important. We can perform drills to isolate different techniques for parts of the action and improve it before putting it all back together as a proper complete action.
With respect to running at different speeds it is relatively simple - if you wish to run faster (ie. sprint) you should have more knee lift, more leg extension, quicker 'claw back' and more drive with your arms. Equally, for longer distances (ie a slower pace) a smaller amount of each of these elements is required.
Below, Tom is shown running with a good technique for fast striding pace. We have slowed him down so that it is easy to see what he is doing.
Note how the movement is done by his arms and legs - there is little wasted energy in vertical movements of his head and hips. Coaches often achieve this aim by telling athletes to keep their hips up high, to avoid them dropping and the athlete then having to use valuable energy to lift their bodies back up again.
Common Running Technique Problems
When athletes use poor technique this results in two problems:
Moving at a slower pace
Increased risk of injury
(Sometimes you are at an increased risk of injury if your running shoes or spikes are too worn out. It might be worth checking this - we have pages of advice to help you choose the best running shoes for you.)
Heel Striking - This acts as a braking action to your running as you will be striking in front of your centre of gravity. You then have to work on getting your weight back over this rather than using the "claw back" momentum of your foot to propel you forwards. It also increases the stress on joints as you will tend to land heavily as you do this. To remedy this we can look at running a bit taller, reducing the length of our stride or trying to land lighter on your feet. A good tip is to try running without shoes - as it hurts to heelstrike when you do this - and then put your shoes back on and run in the same way.
Leaning Backwards - Ideally, your whole body leans slightly forwards (not bending at the waist), if you don't you again brake your action and put strain on your lower back.
Lateral Arms - Your arms should swing through in the direction you are travelling, not across your body. Our trunk naturally rotates as we run, and our arms are used to minimise that rotation and keep the torso as still as possible. If there is excessive lateral movement you will be amplifying that rotation and twisting your whole body through your shoulders, causing problems for your joints. It is also important to drive backwards with your arms and not too far forwards as this has been shown to lead to more excessive overstriding.
The height at the front and back of the arm swing will depend on the speed you are moving. For sprinting, you should bring your arms up to about chin height at the front and so your upper arm is almost parallel with the ground at the back. The angle of your lower to upper arm should be around 90 degrees (just less at the front and just more at the back). For longer distances the range of movement is simply, again decreased, with the emphasis being on relaxation and balance, as opposed to drive.
Sitting as you run - If your hips are not held high enough you will tend not to extend your stride as you should. Also, it is harder to get significant knee lift and you'll probably run fairly flat footed, relying primarily on the strength in your quadriceps and not using hamstrings and calves to their full ability.
Pendulum Legs - This is where you don't lift your feet far off the floor as you don't use your hamstrings much initially. This makes knee lift virtually impossible, resulting in a short stride length and in the later part of the action as your leg is relatively straight, you will actually put more stress on your hamstrings. One way of avoiding this is to imagine having a small twig sticking out of the insides of your lower shins - to avoid a low swinging action, imagine trying to step over these twigs on each step.
This is not meant to be a lesson in physiology, but more some practical advice for runners to help them improve their performance - hence some of the terminology may be a little loose for the more scientific reader.