Tip 1: Lean Forward
Image: Lissy Duncan demonstrating an ideal forward lean
A slight lean forward will assist in achieving optimal foot contact by moving your centre of mass forward over the top of the foot strike. Landing with your foot under your knee and closer to your centre of mass will assist in reducing impact forces on the body.
If the forward lean is achieved via hip flexion or dropping of the chest, it will place many of the powerful leg extensor muscles at a disadvantage reducing performance, and can lead to a host of injuries such as high hamstring tendinopathy.
Pro Tip: The lean forward must come from the whole body. Think about standing about half a metre away from a wall and leaning your whole body towards it moving only from your ankles, with knees, hips and shoulders remaining in a straight line.
Tip 2: Minimise Bobbing
Image: Alain Dutton and Lissy Duncan staying level
Bobbing is a common term used to describe the action of a runner’s head bobbing up and down, and usually occurs with increased knee or ankle movement.
For the knees, they should flex (bend) during foot strike to about 30 degrees and stay there during the stance phase.
When the knees flex in excess of 40 degrees that may be an indication of quads weakness or an inability to attenuate ground reaction forces. As a result, increased knee flexion may increase the risk of overload injuries, including injuries to the ITB and knee cap (runner’s knee).
Bobbing can also be a result of excessive ankle movement, usually resulting in a runner appearing to bounce on their toes. Vertical movement is not ideal when you want to move in the forward direction and will place excessive load through the foot and ankle, especially the Achilles tendon.
Pro Tip: visualize your head traveling along in a straight line as you run
Tip 3: Increase Cadence and Stride Length
Image: Alain Dutton & Lissy Duncan showing great hip extension and stride length
A fast cadence (world class runners rate at approximately 180 steps per minute) and long stride length will result in faster running.
However, it’s important remember to increase your stride length by extending/pushing out the back and not reaching forward as this can lead to over-striding or reaching (which can result in injury).
Pro Tip: running hills can help improve your stride length and running speed, as hill running requires greater hip extension and power compared to running on flat ground
Tip 4: Lift the Heel and Swing from the Hips
Image: Lissy Duncan showing excellent heel lift during the swing phase
At the end of the running stride the heel should lift up and the knee bend, then the hip flexors kick in to bring the lower limb forward. This part of the running stride is known as the swing phase.
A stiff knee during the swing phase, also known as a lazy heel, can engage the quads to perform the majority of the work (rather than the hip flexors), which can result in overload injuries to the quads and knee.
Pro Tip: the camera never lies. Get someone to video you from the front and side so you can assess your technique.
Tip 5: Minimise Ground Contact Time
Image: Long Jumper Brooke Stratton minimizing ground contact time
Ground reaction forces generate the majority of stress/load whilst you're running. As a result, the longer your foot is in contact with the ground the more force will act on your body.
In terms of efficacy, your leg can move much faster through the air than it can whilst in contact with the ground, so if you want to run faster and reduce load on your body, spend less time in contact with the ground. This is such a significant feature of speed - that a key performance measure of sprinters is how short a time they spend in contact with the ground.
Pro Tip: Plyometrics (jumping) exercises can improve leg strength and ‘stiffness’ which will lead to reduced ground contact times when running
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