What is the “perfect” running form? Is it the Pose Method, ChiRunning, barefoot running or something that Bobby McGee has been teaching? As you can guess by now, there is no one perfect form, but there are better forms and there are worse. Whatever philosophies of running you currently follow while you search to find the “best” running form for you, I want you to think about two things; where your foot strikes the ground and your cadence.
Picture yourself running and draw a line down from your pelvis, perpendicular to the ground; this discussion is about where your foot strikes relative to that point. The further out in front of that point you strike the ground, the more time your foot stays on the ground before you begin your push off phase. Too far out front and you’re over-striding, loping along and probably bouncing up and down too, wasting time and energy. When you over-stride you’re putting on the brakes with every step you take, increasing the impact on your body every time your feet hit the ground
Imagine this to be the equivalent of the point in your swim stroke where you’ve reached out in front and are waiting to start your catch. If you pause too long here and over-glide before you start your catch, you begin to decelerate. The same is true on the run when you’re over-striding, landing out too far in front of your body. Got that?
To correct this you need to shorten your stride a bit and you do this by leaning forward, from your ankles (not incorrectly from your hips), so it feels like you’re running downhill. This will naturally cause you to shorten and quicken your stride (my second suggestion!), and your foot-strike will be closer to the perpendicular line then before.
This will not seem natural at first as most of us have run straight up and down, shoulders back and high, or leaning forward from the waist, which basically does nothing. Relax your shoulders (try shaking out your wrists, which loosens your arms, neck and shoulders), lean forward from your ankles and run. Like any new changes we make to our form, you have to consciously focus on this to ingrain it into your muscles and brain. Practice doing this for short periods of your run, 100m, 200m, etc., and repeat this throughout your runs.
The second idea, increasing your cadence, may naturally fall out of changing your stride length. The idea being that just like on the bicycle where we try to spin around 90 RPM (your cadence may vary), we try to run with about 180 foot-strikes per minute, counting both feet hitting the ground. This may sound like a lot, but you’re probably already doing at least 160, if not 170 or higher. If you’re paying attention you may have noticed that 180 is probably about twice your bike RPM (where you only count the revolutions of one foot), so as a triathlete you’re naturally moving your body in rhythm during both the bike and the run. So how do you go about incorporating this idea into your run?
The next time you go out for an easy run, without focusing on changing anything, warm up and then count your foot-strikes for one minute. Your goal will ultimately be around 180 (170-180 for tall or long legged runners and 180-190 for short or shorter legged runners), so see how close you are to that. If you’re close to these numbers then great, but if not then you need to rerun the test and try to quicken your pace, without pushing off harder. The idea is just to lean into the run, shorten your stride, and push off as quickly as possible, without over exaggerating the motion. When you feel like you’re running downhill then you’re starting to get it, keep it up!
By focusing on these two ideas during the start of all your runs, during the run when you’ve lost focus, and when you’re cooling down, you will be moving forward with less resistance on each foot-strike; two simple things to think about to make your runs easier and hopefully faster. Happy training!
USAT Level I Coach