Using proper running technique is critical for getting the most out of your runs. Not only can improper form increase your risk of injury, it also wastes energy and uses muscles that shouldn't be involved. Ultimately, running with improper form affects the quality of your runs.
[Read: A Beginners' Guide to Running.]
When it comes to body mechanics, ask yourself the following questions:
• Is your body moving from side to side?;
• Do your hands and elbows flare out when you swing them back and forth?; and
• Do you bounce up and down a lot?
If you said yes to any of these questions, you are wasting energy and using muscles that shouldn't be used. Running is supposed to be a straightforward motion, so all of your energy should be focused on propelling your body forward. Anytime you vary from this, you are running inefficiently. When you run inefficiently, you will get tired faster. This means you will burn fewer calories and have less improvements in your fitness levels.
[Read: How to Work Out Smarter, Not Harder.]
When it comes to the position of your arms, both should be bent at approximately 90 to 110 degrees. Bending the arms less than 90 degrees or more than 110 degrees will fatigue your arm muscles and take energy away from your legs. While maintaining the bend in your elbow, swing your arms forward and back in a straight motion. The operative word here is "straight" – in other words, your elbows and hands shouldn't flare out to the side in the forward or back position.
Now, let's move on to the hands. As you swing your arms forward and back, your hands should ideally be in a relaxed position. If you run with your hands clenched in a fist, you will lose more energy from contracting the muscles in your hands.
• Focus on moving your body forward, not side to side.
• Bend your arms at angles of approximately 90 to 110 degrees.
• Swing your arms straight forward and straight back.
• Keep both of your hands relaxed.
Now, let's move to the head, neck and shoulders.
Keep your head up nice and tall. The easiest way to maintain proper head placement is to keep your gaze out in front of you rather than down towards your feet. Think of looking out into the horizon on your next run.
Next, make sure your shoulders are relaxed and down. You don't want your shoulders up towards your ears. This will sap your energy.
Just like your hands, you want to keep your facial muscles relaxed. If you have ever seen the slow motion replay of Olympic sprinters, you may have noticed their faces seem to move all over the place like JELL-O! This makes sense because Olympians understand the difference between winning and losing can be as simple as a tensed-up facial muscle!
• Keep your head up nice and tall.
• Set your gaze out into the horizon.
• Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
• Keep your entire face relaxed.
[Read: What to Eat Before Running.]
If you run short distances, anywhere between a sprint up to about a 5K, you want to focus on driving (pumping) the opposite arm and knee at the same time, similar to a march. There is a very simple yet effective drill that can help you get this movement down and increase your running speed:
• First, lean into a wall with your arms outstretched and palms against the wall at shoulder height. You should be on the balls of your feet, meaning that your body is angled into the wall.
• Now, tuck your tailbone under, engage the muscles in your legs and core and drive one knee up. While you do this, make sure your toes are pointing up and keep your supporting leg strong. Hold this position for about five seconds and then bring it back to the starting position.
• Before you switch to the other side, make sure everything is in alignment – your tailbone is tucked under and the muscles in your legs and core are engaged. Then, you may repeat.
• Do this drill about five times on each side.
This exercise may seem simple, but it strengthens and stabilizes your muscles in the forward plane. This is exactly what we need for proper running technique.
Last Things to Consider
Even if you prefer to run outside, running on a treadmill from time to time can be helpful since you can easily assess whether you are moving from side to side rather than a straightforward position.
Finally, how high you are bouncing up and down? The best way to asses this is to run on a treadmill in front of a mirror. Ideally, you want to run with your head as level as possible. This ensures you don't waste energy moving vertically instead of horizontally.
• Run on a treadmill from time to time to reassess your running technique.
• Try to run with your head as level as possible.
• Focus your energy on moving horizontally rather than vertically.
If you use these simple strategies, I guarantee you will see improvements in your fitness levels and speed.
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Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN is a registered holistic nutritionist, fitness expert and highly sought-after high-performance health coach. He's also a former professional soccer player and served as the head strength and conditioning and nutrition coach for men's soccer at the University of Toronto for seven seasons. For more than 13 years, he's empowered more than 86,000 people to greater health with his no-nonsense approach to health, fitness, and nutrition. He's made it his mission to empower at least 10 million people to greater health and fitness by 2018. Get Yuri's free "Y-Factor" at www.yurielkaim.com.