Some people are born with good running form and seem to never get injured. If your running form suits you and you are happy with it then there is no need to change. If not, then check out the 6 characteristics of “good” running form below (and I’ve deliberately put quote marks around this because everyone is different).
6 Characteristics of Good Running Form
Even if you aren’t born with it you can improve it! Good body alignment is important, particularly for mums. Our bodies have been through the wringer with pregnancy and birth and do take around 7 months to return to pre-pregnancy alignment (which is one reason why you shouldn’t launch into running too soon after birth). So hence #1:
Pregnancy, birth and carrying kids on one hip will have caused muscle imbalances (shortening of one muscle and lengthening of another). Imbalances of any kind between left and right sides and front and back will affect how you run and may even be causing a bit of pain.
The best way to correct these imbalances is by stretching the tight muscles and strengthening the loose or overly lengthened ones. So think WYs for the front of the shoulders (rounded forward during breastfeeding, office work), lunging stretches for the hip flexors and glute strengthening.
2. Relaxed upper body
Again, with breastfeeding, office work and using devices, we end up in a forward position. Also everyday stresses can cause us to hold tension in the upper body particularly the tops of the shoulders and neck.
You might be able to think of examples where you’ve seen runners who look “effortless” when running. This is because they are relaxed in the upper body, freeing up more energy for the legs to use (tension uses energy). You may find that as you run faster you tense in the upper body and pump your arms more. Arm swing is important for balance but not at the expense of the legs.
Next time you are running and you feel the upper body tensing, try shaking the arms out and relaxing your hands/fists. Once home you can try some stretching/deep breathing techniques to help relax the shoulders.
3. High cadence/leg turn over
The running cadence is 180bpm (beats per minute). This may feel extremely fast if you are not near that at the moment. Every person will have a natural rate, but this is not the same thing as the optimal rate.
As with any form changes, start small and gradual. Try running to music with a slightly faster cadence than your own. Or you can try running with short 15sec bursts of speed which will naturally increase your cadence and encourage better form.
If you have a GPS watch, it may tell you your cadence. If you don’t then run for 15sec counting the number of times one foot hits the ground. Double it then times by 4 for the bpm.
4. Minimal ground contact
If you have a lower cadence you may also feel like you are “plodding”. This will be because you’ll be spending more time on the ground with each stride/contact. Faster runners spend more time in the air and less time on the ground.
Some of the reasons for a longer ground contact time include:
Heel striking or reaching forward with your foot;
Bouncing up and down too much;
Pronating of the feet when landing.
Heel striking increases ground contact time because more of your foot needs to roll forward on the ground before you can push off. If you work on increasing your cadence, your stride may naturally shorten at slower speeds. This is because you want your foot to land more underneath your hip, not in front of it. This may not stop the heel striking, but it will reduce the forces going through the foot and knee etc,.
I’m not suggesting that all heel striking is bad. There is research to suggest that heel striking is fine - as long as it occurs underneath the hip. It is the reaching forward with the foot that puts unnecessary strain through the feet and body.
Too much bounce in your step will also increase ground contact time. It is often caused by overthinking your form and trying to stay too upright. Remember you need to push off and move forward. Moving up is wasted energy.
Pronation is more difficult and can require special shoes or inserts if it is extreme. Pronation is when the foot rolls in (overpronation) or out (underpronation) when you land. Overpronation is more common and can be caused by the arch of the foot collapsing in or the ankle rolling in. Strengthening the feet and ankles may help. Drills such as hill bounding or picking things up with your feet will help to strengthen. But if you continue to experience problems then seeing a podiatrist would be wise.
5. Longer strides
Running speed is part stride length and part cadence. But don’t confuse this one as meaning you need to reach further with your foot (go back to #4). Instead a longer stride comes from a stronger foot and toes that can propel you further forward. So keep working on those foot strengthening exercises! Another great way to strengthen the feet and ankles is by running barefoot in the sand.
The other muscles that will help with this forward motion are the calves and hamstrings. Hence why strength work is an important part of your running routine.
6. High kick
The last characteristic is pulling the foot up towards the bum during the recovery phase of the stride. The higher you can pull up, theoretically the quicker your leg can move through to the front and land.
Typically you’ll see sprinters and short distance runners with a much higher kick than longer distance runners. But if you look at elite marathon runners you’ll notice that they too have quick high kicks. How high you can pull and kick (and for how long for) again is a product of your hamstring strength. So strength training is a must!
It is possible for anyone to improve their running form. But take it slowly and focus on one change at a time, cementing it in before moving to the next one. I recommend starting with the first two characteristics.
Strength training (including mobility and stretching) is a must. You’ll see that many of the characteristics have a strength component associated with them.
But most importantly, don’t fix what isn’t broken! My services include running analysis and strengthening conditioning. I’m happy to talk through your running training and programming with you. Contact me on the details below.