Your running form is important for a number of reasons - running efficiently will protect your body from as much impact as possible, reducing the energy needed to run, both making you faster and helping you to run stronger, all whilst reducing your risk of injury! How you run is something learned over our lifetime and so correcting or changing your form can feel very bizarre or uncomfortable at first. As a result, be patient and be prepared to work on your form as a continuous process - it'll pay off I promise!
Often runners will either bend forwards from the waist, or stay too upright, both of which lead to increased braking forces on your stride. Other common ways in which runner's body position can be problematic are with the head jutting out, pelvis tilting forward or with the hips collapsing with each stride, causing energy to be absorbed by the body, rather than being used to propel you forward. To hold optimal alignment as you run, imagine your body is a plank and you're simply leaning slightly forwards and up from the ankles. Running should start to almost feel like 'controlled falling' which is much smoother and more efficient.
By running 'tall', it'll help you as you run, to plant your feet more beneath your centre of mass - leading to you contacting the ground with your midfoot to forefoot. This helps to avoid, or reduce, the braking forces on the body as you run, caused by striking the ground with your heel out in front of you, or overly planting on your tiptoes too - both of which are associated with increased risk of injury. By landing under your centre of mass, it's more efficient too, which leads to more energy rebound, while also activating your core and glutes more which are often describe as the 'powerhouse'. By ensuring your hips are in a strong position, it'll also allow your shoulders to relax more.
As you contact the ground, you have a few options. There is essentially a spectrum from landing leading with your heel, through landing with a flat foot, through landing on the tips of your toes. Whilst you want to avoid either end of this spectrum, there is no right and wrong when it comes to contacting the ground. When we look at the majority of professional runners, there is a common theme that they land on either the midfoot or forefoot.
I'd suggest to aim for the sensation of the front of your foot taking 80% of the force contacting the ground with your heel lightly touching the sole of your shoe with 20% of your body's force. To find this sensation, try jogging on the spot - you will find that you'll automatically take most of the force through the front of your foot. To turn this jogging on the spot into forward movement just lean from the hips, finding that controlled falling sensation that I mentioned and carry that momentum forward trying to match the contact you had while jogging on the spot.
Typically, runners operate best running at a rhythm, or cadence, of around 180 steps per minute (spm). This is the stretch recoil speed of tendons, ligaments and muscle fibres, so by running to this rhythm, or at this cadence, it provides a much more efficient source of energy. Rather than running with fewer, more powerful and longer strides, take shorter, faster steps and, once you're warmed up, try to hit 180 spm - you should be able to almost flow from one stride to the next.
What you do with your upper body doesn't need to be complicated. Firstly just relax, try not to shrug your shoulders and instead think about bringing your shoulders away from your ears down your body. Try to pull you shoulder blades together slightly, whilst puffing out your chest. With your arms, simply look to hold the elbows at a 90 degree angle and gently swing from the shoulder (not the elbow) in time with the swing of your legs - somewhat like a pendulum!
Finally, you want to think about the direction that you take these arms - imagine you have a zipper going down your front of your body like on a jacket, and don't let your arms cross this zipper line. Your arms can swing in towards the centre line, but don't cross it. This helps to let the forward momentum push our body forwards rather than being lost twisting your body side to side.
Changing anything that we've done for a long time can feel very weird and the same goes with reference to changing our running form. A new form will also work different areas and change how the load is distributed. It is therefore important that you make the changes gradually to allow your body to adapt. I'd start off by doing this for part of your easy runs. For the first 100-200m of every km or miles, start by jogging on the spot, lean forwards from the hips and carry this forwards into the run. Try and run natural for the remaining km or mile. Should you switch off and get distracted by a podcast or the birds flying past and notice you've reverted to old habits, don't worry, wait until the next km or mile starts, and go for it again. Each week build this up gradually so the following week you are aiming to do this for 200-300m and so on. Once you are confident with your technique in your easy runs then you can transfer this to your interval and tempo sessions. What will feel like a very conscious effort at first will soon feel like a subconscious habit to carry forwards to your running for a lifetime!
How to learn more
If you're keen to learn more about your running form, we've partnered with Becky Lyne, ex-pro athlete and running technique specialist who provides a running form analysis service through Gracefull Running. All Runna clients have access to exclusive packages and you can find 25% off in the offers tab of your Runna app, just click the button below.