Running is a great form of exercise, mostly because of its simplicity. It is free and easy to do, it gets you out and about and can be done just about anywhere, and you can enjoy it on your own for some peace and mind clearing, or revel in the excitement of the competitiveness of a group.
However, it’s best not just to throw on some runners and head outside, to simply move your legs into a running pace. Whether you’re an experienced runner or are just getting started, it’s important that you have a good running technique. Developing good form will improve your running efficiency and reduce the risk of fatigue and injury.
It can take some time to do, but the earlier you create good running technique the better, as trying to retrain down the track is harder – everyone knows how tricky bad habits can be to break.
Keeping things simple, here are just three main tips for improving and maintaining your running technique.
Cadence – Steps Per Minute
The first thing to focus on is the cadence, or steps you take per minute, as that can definitely play a role in minimising your risk of injury while also optimising your running performance.
Cadence of 180 steps per minute (90 steps on each foot) is ideal, but keep in mind that ‘ideal’ will vary between runners. Anything above 170 is beneficial in reducing injury risk, particularly for lower limb injuries and pain to ITB (Iliotibial Band), knees, feet and Achilles.
Recreational runners often have a cadence of 150-160 that can cause higher ground reaction forces and stress on the soft tissues and bones in the lower body. Not everyone will be able to achieve a cadence of 180 steps per minute as every runner is different in their build, fitness, mechanics and speed, however it is something to aim towards.
If you want to try and increase your cadence, aim for very gradual improvements of 5-10% a week. You don’t want to make too many changes to your running style all at once. Focusing on moving your arms faster can help you increase the speed of your strides – when you change the rhythm of your arms, your legs and feet will follow.
Keeping count of your steps isn’t easy while you’re running, so take advantage of a GPS watch or an app you can download to your smartphone, such as one like RunKeeper.
It’s really important that your foot lands underneath your hips – both for performance and to minimise the risk of injury. Landing under your body and pushing backwards, keeping your body tall and balanced is ideal. This may require some work on the hips and glutes, getting those muscles that are used to our seated lifestyles strong and active.
If you’re already a runner you have most likely heard of heel striking, or mid or forefoot striking and that the latter is the preferred. The evidence is inconclusive so primarily focus on the position that your foot lands.
Upright Trunk Position
While the position of your feet is important, so is the position of your upper body. Research shows there is no one perfect position as some believe leaning forwards from the ankle is best because it extends your hips to produce power. Others believe that a small amount of forward lean from the trunk can help reduce the load through the knees.
Keep this in mind and find what works best for you – a small lean from the hips or a more upright position. Just do not hunch forward at your shoulders or lean forwards too much or your body will pay.
If you have some pain or discomfort you want treatment for while you perfect your running technique, an expert sports physiotherapist who has a special interest in running will get you running well again as soon as possible.