Running technique.... put your best foot forwards
We've been blogging over the last few weeks about run training and specifically how to put your training plan together for 2018. You can join in the discussions on our Facebook run coaching group.
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I don't know where to start with this article, there are so many things we could discuss and so many myths we could explode. There are thousands of magazine and blog articles which have been written about the 'correct run technique' and in truth, very few of them hold any substantial evidence based knowledge. Most advice is based on what we think 'looks correct' and there is also a commercial influence in terms of the running shoe market.
Sprinter V Endurance
The first things to highlight is the difference between a sprinter and a distance runner. There are 2 different techniques for 2 different purposes. Now this might seem obvious to you, but it's pretty common when prescribing short speed work to endurance athletes, for them to switch their form and run like a sprinter.
Economy is very important as a distance runner, ideally you should use as little oxygen as possible. Pumping your arms, tensing your shoulders and driving with a high knee lift will all increase oxygen usage. Your running form should be fluid, your stride should be flowing and your upper body completely relaxed. Watch the middle distance runners on TV, have that picture in your mind. Always run like a distance runner, never like a sprinter, the faster your run, the more you'll need to focus! Running on a treadmill is great for form, it gives you the perfect opportunity to run fast whilst focusing on fluidity and relaxation.
1. Heel strike or forefoot running?
In reality, it doesn't really matter. Whilst some people will argue otherwise, you'll be hard stretched to find a good piece of research which shows that switching from heel striking to forefoot running will make you either quicker, or less prone to injury. There are elite runners who forefoot strike and elite runners who heel strike, it's how you transfer that energy to propel yourself forwards that counts. The forefoot running craze was largely fueled by the running shoe market rather than coaches and runners themselves, but it became hard ingrained in people's minds.
2. Shorter and quicker cadence or longer strides?
Shorter strides generally result in more forefoot landing and striding out / longer, generally encourages to heel landing. As we've said above, neither one is specifically good or bad, but there is a relationship between stride length and landing. Quicker and shorter strides will generally mean a higher heart rate and breathing rate, this is very commonly reported amongst runners. There is a magical figure of 90 strides per minute which appeared many year ago (90 is counting either left or right only, so technically it's 180 steps per minute). The 'pose method' of running was one of the first to advocate this and many runners jumped on board. Some found it beneficial, but an increase in heart rate was one of the common issues associated with it. Go and try this yourself and use a heart rate monitor, switch your stride length and rate, see how it impacts upon heart rate.
3. Upper body position
Having a solid chassis does help so some core work can be beneficial. Having said that, there are plenty of very good runners who have NEVER done core work! We live in an age where people focus on all the additional extras and 'marginal gains' such as core work, nutrition, the right shoes etc when in reality what's missing is doing some running. My own personal advice would be to remain upright and most critical, you must stay relaxed. Tension will increase heart rate and oxygen usage, you must stay relaxed and allow your limbs to flow with minimal effort. As above, try the treadmill, stay upright and focus on upper body relaxation.
Coordination is key. You need to be able to move your limbs at speed and stay relaxed. When doing short intervals, your focus should be speed of movement, control and relaxation. Many runners have a picture of what they believe to be perfect form and they try to land in a certain way, alter their stride length etc, this can often have an adverse effect. By consciously trying to change your technique and is some cases over-thinking, we generate a 'mechanical running style' with too much tension. Just relax, move the limbs quickly, let it flow and let your feet do what they want to do. They'll work it out.
5. Putting it together
To develop your technique, it's best done over very short distances with longer recoveries. Fartlek training lends itself to this really well. You also need to be running quick enough that your technique is faltering and you are tensing up / losing form. When you feel the tension and loss of form, focus hard on relaxation and fluidity. Doing 1-2 short speed sessions such as this per week can have a big impact on your economy and speed. Don't overdo this session, it's a technique workout so 10 X 75-100m winding up the pace would be suitable with 2-3 minutes jogging recovery. Save your hard work for other days.
I appreciate that you may have expected more instruction from this blog and perhaps more guidance with regards to how you should be landing on your forefoot, coupled with a list of drills to enhance your posture and style. But the reality is that running is quite a simple thing and given the opportunity your body will work it out for itself. The problem is, there's too many people who like to complicate things.
Run tall, run fast, relax and be fluid.
The Endurance Store