Perfect Your Running Technique – How to Run Faster

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Many runners spend a lot of training and effort trying to get a quicker base pace. Endless reps, laps round a track, fartlek training and more. All of this is great for building on your cardio fitness and pushing your lactate threshold higher to be able to cope with faster speeds and higher heart rates, but often people forget the importance of posture and technique on running speed.

In this post, I’m going to give you a really simple childhood song to help you remember proper running form and teach you how to run faster… so let’s get back to basics!

The Phases of Running

Picture Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Now picture a marathon fun runner. Lightening bolt pose aside, there are some marked differences in the running style and form between each.


Support/Absorption Phase

In the above photo Bolt’s right leg is reaching for the ground, where it will be in the “support” or “absorption” phase of running. Once his foot touches the ground, the knee of that leg, and the hip of the opposite leg, begin to flex (bend) in order to absorb some of the forces that occur when the foot touches the ground. As Bolt’s foot comes closer to the ground the contact will actually be met with the ball of his foot, in a forefoot running style, this also engages the calves in absorption of forces.

Toe-off/Propulsion Phase

Moving on to the second photo, Bolt’s right leg is in the “propulsion” or “toe-off” phase, this is the next phase on from absorption. In this phase the knee extends (straightens) along with the hip, leaving the toe in contact with the ground as the force is applied by the quads (your thigh muscles). You can also see plantar flexion (pointing) of the foot, meaning that the calves are also activated, adding more power to the stride.

Recovery Phase

In both pictures the other leg is in the “recovery” phase, where the movement is generated more by transfer of forces rather than conscious action. However, the amount of hip flexion (bending) achieved in picture (b) of the right leg, and the hip extension (drawing the hip back) and knee flexion (bending) achieved in picture (a) of the left leg, will only be made possible by additional muscle power.

The Marathon Shuffle

In contrast, most (non-elite) long-distance runners develop a running style often nick-named the “marathon shuffle” where the feet stay in close proximity to the ground all the way through the running phases:

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London Marathon Masses

 

Absorption Phase

In the absorption phase a lot of people touch the ground with their heel, instantly applying braking forces because of the foot being so far ahead of your centre of gravity (lower abdomen, towards the hips). As well as this, the knee is more stiff allowing less flexion to occur, meaning forces are absorbed elsewhere, i.e. the bones in the lower leg and ankle, potentially causing injury as well as slowing you down.

Propulsion Phase

In the propulsion phase, there is less likely to be plantar flexion (pointing) of the foot, because the ankle joint is less flexible. This leaves the quads (thigh muscles) to do all of the work on their own, and with the knee not being flexed in the absorption phase, there is a much shorter length left for the quads to contract, instantly losing power.

Recovery Phase

Finally the recovery phase. In distance runners, the feet are often left much closer to the ground throughout the movement, with less hip flexion in the forward swing, and less hip extension and knee flexion in the backward swing.

Granted, no-one is expecting you to run a marathon at the speed of Bolt, but there is a lot we can all learn from his powerful running style, and most elite marathon runners look more like Bolt than you may first notice.

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Elite Marathon Runners

If all of that was like learning Japanese then read on for a really simple and memorable way to improve your posture and hopefully make you a better and more efficient runner… it involves a childhood song you may remember!

Sing while you run…

Do you remember that childhood song “head, shoulders, knees and toes”? You know, when you learnt what your different body parts were? Well:

  • Head: keep your head up, looking ahead rather than down. Try to think of a pole running along the length of your spine and up behind your head – imagine your head resting back against that pole. You should have a slight forward lean with your entire upper body, not just your head!
  • Shoulders: pull your shoulders back and down, so your shoulder blades are flat against your back. This will help with the swing in your arms, assisting with transfer of power to the opposing leg.
  • Knees: on the forward swing of your leg try to lift your knees up, using your hips to lift rather than your knee simply swinging forward.
  • Toes: on the backward swing of your leg, flick your toes up behind you… but not excessively, you’re not doing aerobics! Use the power in your glutes and hamstrings (your bum and back of your thighs) to really pull your leg up behind you.

Just these four simple adjustments could make such a difference to the speed you run at and make you more Bolt-like, and who wouldn’t want that?

Featured photo by Will Patrick photography.

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