Running and jogging is one of the most popular forms of exercise out there. After all, it’s free, you don’t need any special equipment besides a good pair of shoes, and you can do it almost anywhere!
And here in Eagle County and Summit County, CO, with our abundant trails and scenic roads, running is a great way to explore all that we have to offer.
But as wonderful as cardio may be, proper running form is essential for efficient and safe running. Poor technique can lead to serious injury and exhaustion – which can turn your fun run into a slog.
Whether you are an expert marathoner or a newbie to running, here’s what you need to know about proper running mechanics.
Why Running Form Matters
While everyone has their own running style and preference (do you like rocky trails or flat roads?), there are some basics of running form that should be adhered to in order to maximize efficiency and safety.
Your form encapsulates how you run, from your body positioning while running to your arm movements. This includes how you hold your spine, head, and neck; the length and frequency of each stride; whether or not your arm movement is helping or hindering your speed; and more.
When your form isn’t proper, you can become fatigued more quickly, put yourself at risk for injury, and lower your performance. In fact, individuals who focus on their form can take fewer strides per mile (i.e., run faster) and expend less energy while running.
The Basics of Running Mechanics
To help you start putting proper form into action, let’s take a look over the basics of running mechanics.
Your running form is the foundation for efficient, safe, and comfortable running. This will ensure that you use your energy efficiently and reduce the risk of injury.
Good form includes:
- A slightly forward lean from the ankles, maintaining a straight line from your head to your feet.
- A relaxed and smooth gait with minimal vertical movement, or “bounce.”
- A mid-foot or forefoot strike rather than a heel strike reduces impact forces.
Think of your form as a chain reaction, with each part affecting the others. For example, leaning too far forward or back can restrict your arm swing and cause strain on your hamstrings.
Stride Length and Frequency
Your stride length is the distance between each step, and frequency is how many steps you take per minute.
A longer stride length will help you run faster, but if it’s too long, you can end up with excess strain on your legs and hips. A higher frequency will also help you go faster, but if it’s too fast, you’ll be sacrificing power and could even cause injury.
Finding the optimal stride length and frequency can significantly improve your running economy. Key aspects include:
- A stride length that is natural and comfortable for your body, avoiding overstriding.
- A higher stride frequency (also called cadence), typically around 170-190 steps per minute, which improves efficiency and reduces the risk of injury.
You may find it helpful to use a running metronome or an app on your phone to count your steps and maintain the correct cadence. Find a stride that feels natural to you and train your body to stick with it.
Your body needs to stay upright when running. You may feel more comfortable leaning forward slightly but try to keep your chest up and shoulders back while engaging your core muscles. This will help you run more efficiently and reduce the risk of injury.
While running, several components of body positioning contribute to efficient movement:
- Maintaining a neutral pelvis and engaged core.
- Keeping your chest and chin up for optimal posture and breathing.
- Relaxing your shoulders to avoid unnecessary tension.
Do you think of your arms much when you run? You may be surprised to learn that your arms are essential to your running mechanics. When you run, use your arms to propel yourself forward by swinging them in a relaxed manner from the shoulder joint.
Proper arm movement while running can contribute to a more fluid and efficient stride:
- Keeping arms bent at approximately 90 degrees.
- Swinging arms naturally and flexibly, with movement coming mainly from the shoulder joint.
- Avoiding excessive side-to-side (cross-body) arm movement.
Common Running Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Improper running mechanics can lead to numerous injuries, many of which can be prevented with proper technique. Some of the most common running injuries include:
- Runner’s Knee – Pain around and behind the kneecap, usually caused by overstressing the knee joint.
- Achilles Tendinitis – Inflammation of the Achilles tendon due to excessive strain on this tissue.
- Shin Splints – Stress fractures or inflammation of the shin bone, often caused by sudden increases in running intensity or distance.
- Plantar Fasciitis – Inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, usually caused by a change in footwear or an increase in running frequency without proper stretching.
To help keep these types of injuries at bay, it is vital to practice proper running form and incorporate techniques like stretching, strength training, and rest into your routine.
Tips for Incorporating Proper Running Mechanics Into Your Routine
Incorporating proper running mechanics into your routine doesn’t have to be a daunting task! Here are some tips on how you can get started:
Try Video Analysis
One of the best ways to see how you are running is to record yourself on video and analyze your form. This will give you an objective idea of what changes you can make to improve your technique. If you aren’t sure what to look for, visit your local trainer or physical therapist for help.
Start with a shorter distance than usual and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your runs as you become more comfortable with proper mechanics. This will prevent overuse injuries from occurring while you are learning the basics of running form.
Focus on Form Drills
Incorporating form drills into your routine is a great way to work on specific areas of your technique. This could include drills like high knees, butt kicks, and skips to improve coordination and teach the body proper running form.
Stretching before and after each run is key for preventing injuries! Focus on stretching the muscles used during running, such as the calves, hamstrings, hips, and glutes. The more flexible you become, your running form will be more efficient.
Strength training is a great way to build stability and power in the muscles used for running. This will help you maintain proper form even when fatigued and reduce your risk of injury during longer runs.
Listen To Your Body
Last but not least, don’t forget to listen to your body! If something doesn’t feel right or you are having difficulty with a specific technique, take it easy and focus on what you can do to improve.
Protect Your Body & Go Farther with Axis
Running form and mechanics are integral in helping you become a better, safer runner. With the tips we’ve discussed above, you can begin to incorporate the proper technique into your routine and reduce the risk of injuries.
At Axis Sports Medicine, we help Eagle & Summit County, Colorado runners stay safe and strong and recover with physical therapy. Our team of experts can help you develop form drills, strength training plans, and stretching routines to get your running game up to speed.
If you have concerns regarding your form – or are dealing with any running-related injury – we can help. Contact us today to learn more!