After running my first marathon, I was in so much pain I thought I’d never run again. Yet, after the pain subsided, I realized maybe it was my running technique that had put me in this position.
Here are some principles I found and used along the way to improve my form. These tips have helped me run pain-free, faster, and farther than ever before. I've gone on to complete marathons and ultra-marathons, including a 100-mile race.
1. Practice your technique.
In every other sport or physical activity, we get instruction on technique when we get started, but not in running. Proper running form is extremely important for preventing injuries and improving your speed, endurance, and enjoyment. Implement one running session per week in which you focus on proper form.
Don’t think about your mileage or speed. Observe your feet as you walk and run. Are they parallel, turned out, or turned in? Try to keep your feet parallel. Let your feet land on the ground directly below your hips.
Don't worry too much about whether the heel or forefoot hits first. Your best form will arise when the center of your body is directly aligned over your base of support at the foot. This can help to correct some movement faults that can lead to poor performance and injury. Let your hands and arms relax and swing like pendulums.
2. Try running barefoot.
Taking off your shoes once a week will help you run better almost immediately. Much of the sensory input that your brain uses to create optimal movement comes from your feet. If you’re wearing shoes, you may be muffling this crucial input.
I noticed this immediately when I started barefoot running during practice sessions. My feet hit the ground softly and I increased speed by moving faster rather than pushing harder. When you start to run barefoot, try it once a week. Make these instances short runs at a moderate speed.
3. Focus on cadence.
Cadence refers to how many steps you take per minute. A good place to start practicing is 180 steps per minute. Your speed at this cadence will vary based on your step length. Try to keep the cadence the same, but increase and decrease your speed by changing your step length.
Use a metronome, or download a free metronome app to your smartphone and set it at 180 beats per minute. Over time, your body will find the right running cadence.
4. Lead with your center.
In order to move forward, you have to shift your center of gravity forward. Many people do this by pushing the chest and head forward by bending at the waist and hips. This works but is far less efficient than moving your center of gravity forward and allowing the rest to follow.
Your center of gravity is near the lower abdominal area, a few inches below your navel. As you run and walk, push this part of your body forward. Allow the rest of your body to go along with the center, never allowing your hips and midsection to shift ahead of the shoulders. The best way to envision this is to imagine a bungee cord slightly below your navel pulling you forward.
5. Open your stride to the rear.
As you increase your walking or running speed, you take longer steps. If you reach forward with each step to extend your step length, your foot hits the ground in front of your center and you essentially put the brakes on every step. It is better to lengthen your step to the rear.
It's easier than it sounds. Extend your trailing leg behind your body to push the ground backward. This will help to propel you forward. Your leading foot should touch down directly under your center. Here is an exercise to improve your range of motion so you can effectively practice this step:
As you walk and your trail leg extends behind your body, keep your heel on the ground as long as possible while keeping your torso upright. Do this for 30 steps at a time any time you walk.
6. Take advantage of hills.
It’s nearly impossible to step too far in front of your center when you’re running up a hill. And most people find that 180 steps per minute makes going up the hill easier.
Like any sport skill, improving your running will take consistent practice over time, but the payoff will be huge. You will run faster and farther with greater ease and a lower risk of injury. Remember to focus on progress rather than perfection.
Leave any questions or comments below, and I'll get back to you!
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