Basic Run Mechanics
“Whether you midfoot strike or heel strike, your foot should land close to your center of gravity,” says Harrison. “Your foot should contact the ground right underneath you, not way out in front.” Make a conscious effort in this landing zone for all runs—does your foot strike change when you run off the bike? When you speed up or slow down? On hills? When fatigued? Adjust accordingly.
Foot Contact and Cadence
The location of initial foot contact with the ground is key to good run technique. The foot contacting the ground in front of the hips leads to an increase in braking forces on landing, slowing you down and increasing injury risk. It’s not about how your foot lands (heel vs midfoot strike) that’s critical but where it lands. To prevent over-striding, work on increasing your cadence. Keeping your foot relaxed and allowing your full foot to contact the ground allows you to use the best shock absorber there is – the arch of your foot.
Feet- As soon as knee comes through, put the foot down underneath you. Land mid or forefoot underneath knee, close to center of the body.
Your Lower Body
“Running form is mostly limited by your available range of motion,” says Harrison. “If you increase your range of motion, you improve your form.” Calf tightness, for example, limits forward propulsion at push-off; tight hamstrings will increase stress to the knee joint. Harrison advises runners to progressively build into a twice-daily stretching regimen of the calves, hip flexors, hamstrings, and piriformis muscles.
Building aerobic endurance means very little if the body can’t hold up over the miles. If you notice aches and pains in the latter half of your long runs, it’s likely because your form is falling apart. Hip abductor weakness causes the opposite hip to drop or internally rotate, which wastes energy decreases running efficiency, and increases stress to the hips and knees.. You can sometimes see this hip drop in race photos or video analysis of your gait. While running, pay attention to where your foot is landing. Are you crossing over the midline of your body—that is, when you run on a painted line alongside the road, do your feet hit or cross the line? That’s a sign of hip abductor weakness. “Strengthening your core stabilizers, hip abductors, and hip extensors will help you maintain your trunk and hip positions, especially late in runs,” says Harrison.
Hip extension- extend the hip and then leave it alone.
Knee injuries are one of the most common reasons why triathletes and runners end up on the sidelines. If you’re not strong enough through the gluteal muscles (the buttocks), your knee can track inwards slightly when your foot lands. This can cause a multitude of problems including hip pain, knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and many other common running injuries. To prevent this, work hard on both the crab walk, knee push and quarter-squat exercises.
The greater the degree of hip extension you can achieve while controlling your core, the faster you’ll be able to run. To improve hip extension, regularly do hip flexor exercises like the butterfly stretch. Dynamic stretches like walking lunges, butt-kicks and toy soldier walks are best just prior to training, with short holds (3secs) and static stretches (aim for 30sec holds) key during the period immediately after training.
A strong stomach assists in improving pelvic control and drive for the run gait. Keeping a stable pelvis means the gluteal muscles can be used more efficiently while allowing you to wind up your connective tissue. The connective tissue then acts like a spring to recoil and drive your leg through to the front using less energy. A functional way to develop this strength is to lie on your back and then slowly extend your legs out one at a time. Do this to fatigue three to five times.
The less movement through your pelvis when your foot lands, the better. When your pelvis is sloppy on foot landing there’s an increase in energy loss, which quickly adds up to lost speed over a triathlon.
Your Upper Body
Your head position is crucial in controlling your body position. Look too far forward and you’ll lean back and slow yourself down; too close and you’ll be slouching and applying a braking force to your stride. It’s ideal to look around
10-15 metres in front.
Shoulders, Arms, and Hands
Believe it or not, tension in the shoulders, arms, and hands can directly impact run performance. You may not notice it, but over time, tense shoulders can creep up into a shrug, causing your arms to swing side-to-side. This inefficient run form wastes energy, causes fatigue, and makes you lapse into poor running form. To keep tension at bay, do a tension check every mile—are your shoulders relaxed? Are the hands at hip level? Are the elbows bent at a relaxed 90-degree angle, with arms swinging by your sides? If not, do a quick shakeout of the hands and arms to reset.
Arm stroke- controls rhythm, forward and backwards from the shoulder without side to side rotation
Keep your arms relaxed and close to your body. (It’s important not to cross your arms over in front of your body.) This helps to keep your chest open so your breathing is easier and reduces over-rotation. Make sure you also keep your hands and shoulders nice and relaxed.
The arm swing in endurance running doesn’t provide drive like in sprinting; instead it provides balance and rhythm. Slightly increasing the elbow bend at the back of the swing helps the elbow to act like a pendulum and makes running more efficient. Aim for 90-110° of elbow bend at the back of the arm swing. Visualise a string attached to the back of your elbow and it being pulled back. Alternatively, imagine squeezing a golf ball in the small of your elbow at the back of the swing.
Straight and Tall Torso
Think straight and tall like someone’s pulling upwards on a string that’s connected to your head. This will prevent you from slouching and improve your biomechanics throughout. It’s especially important as you tire, as this is when people tend to slouch, which increases your energy expenditure.
Your thoracic spine is the region between the bottom of your rib cage and your neck. Keeping this part of your back upright allows for a relaxed rotation and arm swing. People are often stiff through this area, especially those who work behind a desk or do a lot of driving. Thoracic mobilisation using a roller is great to retain mobility. Keep your lower back flat and rest your back over the roller for 1min in three different positions. This will also help your swimming to achieve a better stroke length and high elbow position.
No Crossing Over Midline
Ideally your feet should land in line with your hip joint and not cross over the midline of the body. Crossing the midline is typically a sign that the athlete isn’t strong enough through their gluteals and stomach to
support the pelvis on initial foot contact.
This crossover is a compensation that some adopt, which again can increase the risk of injury and also reduce efficiency. To prevent this, again work hard on gluteal strength and activation, along with visualising keeping the feet slightly wider on initial contact.
Body Position- upright, slight lean from ground. Head and face relaxed.
After mastering the skills above, it’s time to focus on cadence, or how many steps you take in a minute. “I recommend cadence drills, bike sprints, and/or a cadence app for anyone with a cadence below 160,” says Harrison. “Improving cadence will correct a lot of other technique problems, like over-reaching.”
Rhythm- Control rhythm and speed through arm stroke and hip extension.
Great Video Resources
Essential Running Technique Tips for Proper Form & How to Run Faster! | Sage Running
How To Change Your Run Technique (And The Best Time To Do So)