Monday, June 24, 2013

Technique is the Key To Your Running Form

We’re always hearing about the importance of technique when we swim and while this is extremely important, so too is having good form and technique when we run. Most triathletes are pretty conversant with swimming drills and how to hold themselves correctly in the water, even if they struggle to do so. On the other hand, ask a triathlete to do some running drills and what constitutes good running form and often you’ll be met by a blank stare. Here, we shed some light on the topic.


Inefficiencies can creep into your running stride for a number of reasons: (i) Fatigue and simply not concentrating on holding yourself correctly when you run over time, will make you a less efficient runner. (ii) Often, an injury can change the biomechanics of your running style. (iii) Maybe you’ve developed some subtle abnormalities in your gait that detracts from your efficiency (e.g. one leg has zsecome stronger than the other, or you’ve started swinging your arms across your chest rather than bringing them forward and back).
Running drills can help with all of these issues and improve your running form, helping you to run faster for the same amount of effort. In fact, most world class runners and triathletes use running drills as part of their daily workouts to hone this efficiency.
The simple exercises and drills outlined here can help optimise your running gait and make it second nature. Your running movement becomes more fluent and less costly from an energy perspective. In effect, you’ll run faster with the same energy expenditure.
Here’s four stride drills designed to help you out, followed by some key points to remember about your form when running.
It’s best to do these drills on a flat grassed area, ideally as part of your warm-up and/or cool down before or after a session. Aim to do two-to-four of each drill per session and cover at least 50 meters when you do each one.
Drive your knees skyward with each stride. Don’t worry about your forward speed. Simply lift your knees high. This drill strengthens your hip flexor muscles, improves your drive and increases your range of motion.

High heels

Almost the opposite of high knees in that you’re doing an exaggerated back kick. Literally, you should be kicking your butt with the heel with each stride. This drill stretches your quads and strengthens your hamstrings.

Skipping

Use a slightly exaggerated arm motion to propel yourself upward and forward. Skipping improves your coordination and push-off power by using a form of plyometrics.

Bounding

This is a progression of your skipping drill and again makes use of plyometric training. In this drill, simply exaggerate your normal running stride’s height and length. Run in slow motion and allow each foot to do all the work of absorbing impact, then pushing off. This drill improves coordination and strengthens glutes and calves.
Now that you’ve got some drills to work with. How about your running form? All too often I see triathletes running with really poor form. Some of this is due to being fatigued by running off the bike, some of it is due to pure postural laziness. Here are a few points to think about.
How you hold your head is key to overall posture. Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, scan the horizon. This straightens your neck and back bringing them into alignment. Your should be able to drop a plumb line down through your ear, should and hip when you run. Think about running tall.
Shoulders play an important role in keeping your upper body relaxed while you run, which is critical to maintaining efficient running posture. Focus on keeping your shoulders low and loose, not high and tight. So many people I work with look like boxers when they run. Relax your upper body and make a conscious effort as you tire, to not let your shoulders creep up toward your ears. If they do, shake them out to release the tension.
Arm carriage – this is one of my personal favourites. Even though running is primarily a lower-body activity, your arms play an important roll. Your hands control the tension in your upper body, while your arm swing works in conjunction with your leg stride to drive you forward. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with your fingers lightly touching your palms. Imagine yourself trying to carry a potato chip in each hand without crushing it. Your arms swing forward and back, not across your body. Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction so when you swing your arms across your body, your shoulders follow and your upper body starts to rotate from side to side, rather than the momentum being carried forward. Bend you elbows to about a 90-degree angle and relax your hands – don’t clench your hands into tight fists. If necessary, drop your arms to your sides and shake them out for a few seconds to release the tension.
Your torso and back naturally straighten to allow you to run in an efficient, upright position that promotes optimal lung capacity and stride length. Many coaches describe this as running tall and it means you need to stretch yourself up to your full height with your back comfortably straight. In short, don’t slouch during a run.
Your hips are your centre of gravity, so they are crucial to good running form. By keeping your torso running tall, your hips should automatically come into the right position. They should have a slight forward tilt. When thinking of your pelvic position, think of your pelvis as a bowl of dried rice, you don’t want to tilt it forward or back, or side to side as you’ll spill the rice. This is where functional or core stability becomes very important.
Finally, your legs. While sprinters need a high knee lift to generate power, distance runners and triathlete don’t. It costs too much energy and it is impossible to sustain. Efficient distance running requires just a slight knee lift, a quick leg turnover and a short stride. When running with the proper stride length, your feet should land directly underneath your body, not out in front. Landing under your body lowers ground force reaction and hence decreases the chance of overuse injury. When your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can help absorb the impact shock. If you’re extending your lower leg (below the knee) out in front of your body, you’re over-striding and this is a recipe for disaster from an injury perspective. To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly landing on the outside portion of the heel then quickly pronate and roll forward. As you roll onto your toes, push forward from the toes. You should feel your calf muscles propelling you forward on each step. Make sure your feet aren’t ‘slapping’ the ground and landing heavy. A good running gait should be relatively quiet.

article courtesy of R. Cedaro