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How Can I Improve My Running Form?

Running Form 

Run technique has been pretty hot in the press over the past 3-4 years, but what are the take home points about this period that are massively different from the years preceding this.  The answer? There isn’t a difference.

Good run technique has been about for many more years than you or I have. SO in my mind what has changed is that more and more people are running with poor form, which in turn may lead to increased injury, under performance and perhaps a lack of enjoyment.

In my mind, there are two points of concern

  • Suitability of footwear
  • Run form

Suitability of Footwear

For many years the majority of running shoe manufacturers continued to increase the height of the heel of the shoes.  We call this the ‘drop’ – the differential of height from forefoot to rear foot which is measured in millimeters (mm). This rose to upwards of 16mm. On the whole, this was done to increase the cushioning at foot strike.  The problem with this was that the height of the rear foot of the shoe when put on the foot, made the foot closer to the ground during the swing to ground contact phase of running gait.  This then makes/encourages a heel strike. Is this good or bad…. we shall discover a little later.

Run Form

How much coaching have you had on run form? And just to highlight, I am not talking about run training (sessions with a club/group, covering speed, endurance, intervals etc). Probably not a lot.  So, what does good run form entail?  To rattle off a few key features, it would look something like this:

  • Cadence
  • Stride length (the amount of forward reach out in front of the body)
  • Placement of foot at Impact
  • Type of Footstrike
  • Movement of foot at Impact
  • Limb Movement

There are a lot of factors that we have to take into account.  To start with let’s just take Cadence. Basic mechanics say the slower the cadence, the longer time we spend on the ground (ground contact time GCT), this in turn means that gravity and bodyweight have a longer period to act upon posture and efficiency.  It is reported that the optimal run cadence 180-182 steps per minute (spm).  The majority of runners fall short of this, averaging more like 165spm.  Very recently I have had a good runner in and this was the consequence of running at 164bpm.

(Heel Strike)

Here the first contact of the foot to the ground is the heel. Right now I am not saying this is a bad thing and will discuss it later.

To see the effect of higher cadence (180spm) the next photo shows a mid foot strike. No other coaching points were given. Here, first contact is underneath the ball of the foot, which is quickly followed by the heel contact.

(Mid Foot)

The point of impact of the mid foot in this example is closer to the centre of mass of the body (less out stretched forward) than is with the heel strike.  The benefits of this has the following advantages over the lesser cadence of 164spm.

  • Reduced ‘out in front’ stride length
  • Less impact at foot strike
  • Less breaking at foot strike
  • Less structural loading of the bones, joints and soft tissue
  • Optimal engagement of the elastic recoil system (see below)
  • Increase in efficiency leading to reduced fatigue and an increase in performance

The elastic recoil system is in essence our suspension system.  This comprises of the plantar fascia of the feet, the heel bone, achilles tendon/calf muscles and quadriceps.  When this is engaged well, a great amount of stress is reduced through the body, whilst a significant amount of recoil energy is generated leading to what I like to call free energy phenomena.  If we explore the same recoil system but apply it to the heel strike, this pretty much skips the foot and calf muscles and super loads the quadriceps.

So, by only changing one aspect of run form you can gain so many benefits.  Imagine if over time you could change a percentage of them all…….. ‘Imagine’.

If this subject interests you and you want a more in depth knowledge, Drummond Clinic runs a well established Run Technique Workshop, that over the years has helped hundreds of runners to stay injury free and increase their performance.  If you prefer a one to one assessment and technique correction, this is also possible. Call us to see what we have available.

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