If you watch runners, whether they are elite, amateur, or beginner, you will see many different running forms. Some are very efficient, and some aren’t. Even some of the greatest marathoners have poor form as far as efficiency is concerned.
So is there a best form to run with? Maybe, maybe not. But, there are some ways to be more efficient with your from to allow you to run further with less energy being used.
Running with a slight forward trunk lean will be more efficient than staying perfectly upright.
A slight forward lean will help with momentum and efficiency. When you maintain a slight forward lean, you are naturally propelled forward slightly. This allows you to move forward along your path with less energy being used through your legs to keep you moving forward.
Taking too long of strides both decreases efficiency as well as increases the forces through the joints in your leg.
It is not uncommon to see a runner take overly long strides, causing a forceful heel strike. This type of stride decreases your momentum forward, puts high stress through the Achilles and ankle, high force through the knee, and makes the transition to your midfoot require more energy. Along with the increased forces, the mechanics in the leg are thrown off a bit.
Why does that all matter? Long term effect can be increases wear and tear on the joints, which puts you at a higher risk of injury.
When talking efficiency, when you overstride, the energy remains back a bit and translates more downward into the ground, making it harder for your body to maintain the forward momentum required when running. This means more energy is being used just to keep you going forward.
A shorter stride length will land you more on the front of your heel and into your midfood, decreasing the stresses and forces through the leg. This more forward landing position also keeps your momentum moving forward more rather than downward.
More forward momentum = less energy being used!
When it comes to cadence, there is a lot of research that shows what an ideal cadence is. The most efficient cadence is 178-180 steps/minute. Do you have to be exactly there? Not necessarily, but in the ballpark is ideal.
For starters, how do you find your cadence? Most (if not all) of the different fitness trackers on watches will record your cadence when you run. So if you have something like that, it is easy for you to check.
If you don’t, it is still fairly easy. Next time you are running, count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 1 minute. (This will not work on a treadmill as well since your speed is determined by how fast the belt is going.) Double that number and that is your steps/minute cadence.
If you have a slower cadence, the best way to start to increase it is by 10% at a time. If you find you are running at 150 steps/minute, try increasing to 165 steps/minute. A great way to do that is by music. You can do a search online for “songs with ___ beats/minute” and create a playlist with those songs. Your body will naturally start to run to the beat. As you get used to that cadence, you can increase again until you are in the 178-180 range.
An interesting thing you will notice is as your cadence speeds up, you will naturally shorten your stride as well, so this plays in well with assisting to decrease your stride length.
Many people, myself included, tend to run tight in their neck, shoulders, and hands. Without realizing it, you are clinching your fists and shrugging your shoulders up. I know for me the colder the weather is, the more likely this will happen.
A great trick I learned from my high school coach is to pretend there are chips between your index finger and thumb and you don’t want to crush them. Meaning, you should just be keeping your hands loose in that position, not holding them tight. Once you relax your hands, your shoulders and neck are more likely to naturally relax as well.
What to do next
Don't try changing everything at once. You will get frustrated and give up. Pick one thing to start working on and focus on that. When you feel you can do that fairly naturally, then work on the next. You will probably find as you focus on one, the others just naturally occur as well!
Have more questions regarding running form? Or have something that is keeping you from running? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions!