By Samantha Jordan, DPT, OCS, CSCS, Physical Therapist at The Orthopedic Institute at Southwest Health
Running is one of the most popular leisure activities in the United States. And as such, injuries are a common occurrence. Injuries occur due to the repetitiveness of the activity as well as training errors. Improving your running technique can not only reduce injuries, but can actually boost your performance. At the Southwest Health Running Clinic we focus on simple changes to running form that each individual can make to get the most out of their run.
What are common mistakes in running form?
- Foot strike in front of the body (instead of beneath): When running the foot should hit the ground beneath the body instead of out in front. If the foot hits the ground in front of the torso, the force from the ground is amplified and travels up the leg increasing risk of injury. It is also decreasing momentum so it is as if the runner is tapping the breaks each step he/she takes. By ensuring that the foot falls beneath the torso, the force from the ground is more evenly dissipated which reduces injury and improves performance.
- Decreased cadence (steps per minute): Studies have shown that despite the distance raced; from the 1,000 meters to the marathon most elite runners have a cadence around 180 steps/minute. This is true for both men and women but can vary a bit from person to person. Having an increased cadence decreases the force put through the body with each step reducing injury. For recreational runners a cadence of 165-180 steps per minute is a good goal. To calculate your cadence jog for a few minutes until you are working at your normal pace then count your steps for 30 seconds and multiply by two.
- Decreased efficiency of upper body: The upper body helps us generate momentum as we run. If we are stiff and do not allow the shoulders to move and the torso to rotate we are losing valuable energy.
How to improve:
- Foot strike: To improve foot strike beneath the body you should increase your forward lean. Running is really a controlled fall. You should lean forward from your ankles and form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Drill: Stand at a line with feet together and arms in running position, lean forward from your ankles until you need to take a step to keep from falling, maintain that same lean as you run.
- Cadence: Increasing your forward lean will help to improve your cadence as well but another technique is to focus on increasing your arm swing as your legs will follow as fast as you move your arms. Drill: Stand with feet in staggered stance elbows bent and at your sides in running position. Swing your arms as if you are running. Focus on driving the elbow backward and increasing the pace. It can be helpful to do this with small weights (1-3lbs) as it will feel easier to move the arms quickly once the weights are released.
- Improving upper body efficiency: When running your elbows should be bent and close to your sides. To improve the bend in your elbows place pennies in the crook of your arm as you practice your arm swing. This exaggerated bend will help improve your arm form when you run.
Here are some videos demonstrating the before and after form of our most recent participant in the Southwest Health Running Clinic, Joe Rosemeyer.
In Joe’s before videos you can see that he brings his elbows out to his sides a bit away from his body which decreases efficiency. If you freeze the side view of him running you can see that his foot strikes the ground slightly in front of his hips and torso which decreases efficiency and can lead to overuse injuries. You also see a bit of vertical displacement (bouncing up and down) in both videos. The goal of running is to propel yourself forward so excess motion upwards is a waste of energy.
Following the running clinic Joe has a more efficient arm swing keeping his arms close to his body. He has improved his forward lean so not only is he running at a quicker pace, but his cadence increased from 154 steps/min to nearly 170 steps/min and he is striking the ground beneath his torso reducing his risk for future injury.
For more information on these and other techniques to improve your running form to not only reduce injury but boost performance, contact Samantha Jordan at the Orthopedic Institute or follow this link for more info on The Running Clinic.
Samantha Jordan, DPT, OCS, CSCS