How to improve your running technique so that you run faster, more efficiently and with fewer injuries. By Phil Mosley
Perhaps the biggest improvement you’ll ever make as a runner will come from your technique. This is one of the bedrocks of being a fast runner, but it takes hard-work and dedication to make a real difference. We incorporate this into our triathlon coaching, but you can do it on your own too. In this feature we’ll make your life as easy as possible by showing you how to fine-tune your gait so that you expend less energy and avoid injuries.
Your running style has a direct effect on how much energy you expend at a given speed. One way to improve your technique is to have your gait analysed by an expert with a video camera and a treadmill. Research suggests that video feedback is an effective way of improving your gait, but that it can take several video sessions to make a real difference. Another method is visualisation, as suggested by running coach Matt Fitzgerald in his book “Brain Training For Runners”. Fitzgerald calls these visualisation tricks “Proprioceptive Cues.”
Five Ways To Improve Your Gait We use mental cues as part of our triathlon coaching process. These are focus-points that you concentrate on while you run to help you move more efficiently. To use these cues effectively you need to focus on them for hundreds, even thousands of consecutive strides on each run. So that means no more jogging along aimlessly, taking in the scenery and wondering what to have for dinner when you get home. They will not work overnight either, because the movement patterns that influence your gait have been deeply ingrained over months and years of running. So it takes a certain amount of staying-power to realise the full benefits of this method. We instil this in our triathlon coaching, but it takes determination to do it on your own.
You’ll get the best results if you use one at a time, throughout the entire length of every run you do. You don’t need to master one before moving onto the next - just pick a different cue for each run. No matter how good your stride becomes, you’ll always benefit from using them regularly. They’re also a great way of keeping your form sharp on race-day, especially when you’re fatigued.
1. Pulling The Road Why? Generates early thrust Imagine that you’re running on an un-motorised treadmill. In order to keep running you need to pull the treadmill belt backwards with your feet. Visualise yourself doing the same thing with the road when you run outside. Think about generating forward movement by pulling the road behind you with each foot. This is one of the most useful cues that we use in our triathlon coaching.
2. Falling Forwards Why? Helps you avoid over-striding Tilt your body slightly forwards as you run, but make sure you don’t bend at the waist. Tilt forwards from the ankles instead. Experiment by over-leaning, to the point at which you feel like you might fall forwards. Then ease back to a point that feels comfortable and in control, but where gravity still seems to be pulling you forwards. This will help you avoid over-striding, because running with a slight forward tilt allows your feet to naturally land close to your centre of gravity.
3. Butt Squeeze Why? Minimises wasteful movements
Just as your foot is about to make contact with the ground, contract the muscles in your buttock on that side of your body and keep it engaged throughout the ground-contact phase of the stride. This will enable you to maintain greater stability in the hips, pelvis and lower spine, and even your knees as your run.
4. Scooting Why? Reduces vertical impact forces
Imagine you’re running beneath a ceiling that is just two inches above your head. To avoid smacking your head on the ceiling you’ll need to run in a “scooting” manner by actively minimising the up and down movement of running. Simply think about thrusting your body forwards instead of upwards while running. This will help you to run with greater stability by reducing vertical impact forces.
5. Axle Between The Knees Why? Lessens risk of injury
Imagine there’s an axle positioned between your knees that pushes your knees half an inch farther apart then they would normally be when you run. This helps you engage the hip flexors and external hip rotators, preventing internal rotation of the thigh - a common cause of injuries.
We've had great results from our triathlon coaching clients using these mental cues. Why not try them yourself?