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Articles about technique

What not to try to change technique

By Keith Bateman

Watching what good runners do is an excellent way of assessing what you might have to do to improve your running

BUT what aspect of their technique do you look at, or try to copy?

This is where all the problems come in.

Good runners:

  1. run fast
  2. run smoothly without an apparently excessive vertical oscillation
  3. tend to have a cadence in the 180-190 range
  4. have knees and feet higher off the ground than others
  5. frequently have their forefoot touch the ground first
  6. appear to be leaning forwards
  7. have strong glutes, hamstrings and core.

So what's the problem with copying these?

The answer is simple: These are the result of good technique and all of them vary according to a number of factors. So let's look at these one by one.

  1. Running fast
    Actually this is perhaps the best one as you will generally run better if you run faster, but it won't change your basic running action much for lower speeds, and it's not sustainable. Also, poor technique leads to injuries and running faster with poor technique increases that risk
  2. Smooth and apparently staying close to the ground
    Smooth is correct but actually good runners get high off the ground. Running is about flying, about having both feet off the ground, not walking (at least one foot on the ground at all times) and if you try to keep your hips low to the ground you will be walking (and look silly)
  3. Cadence in the 'magic' range of 180-190
    Changing your cadence will make you do the same wrong action more times. In any case, the cadence varies throughout a run according speed, technique, fitness and terrain - how would you know what cadence to set at what time?
  4. High knees and feet
    The key here is that, although the runner's feet fly high and their knees are well off the ground they are not lifting them and nor should you. As the runner goes faster their foot gets left further behind them their foot is pulled off the ground faster. Since the leg muscles are elastic, the foot will spring forward and the leg will bend, and then the foot will fly ahead before dropping with gravity to the ground. The runner is well off the ground but because of their speed it doesn't look like it. The bending leg raises the knee up considerably and when you add this to the height of the runner's hips off the ground the knee is a long way from the ground, but it hasn't been consciously lifted - don't try that.
    So, do not lift your feet, or 'pull them up'. If you lift your feet it will act against lifting your body and you will end up with a walking action - possibly even a silly 'prancing' style like a horse doing dressage - it's not running!
  5. Forefoot touches first
    The foot contact point is directly under the hips when you are standing still, but in front of your hips when you are moving (otherwise you would fall over). The contact point moves farther forward with increased speed but 'contact' doesn't mean pressure, so don't start landing on your toes. Rather, the top runner is getting most of the landing force downward and conserving a remarkable amount of speed through not pushing on the ground in front of them causing braking. They are also getting a good rebound off the ground to maintain their long stride length.
  6. Leaning forwards
    While this idea might be a useful cue for someone who leans back a lot (in order to get them to land nearer to vertically aligned, balanced), runners cannot constantly lean forwards. Someone who has worn raised-heel shoes for a long time might get a sensation of falling forwards once they get into flat shoes and adjust their technique but in reality it is physically impossible; if you start and finish your run standing upright then the total of your forwards leaning equals the total of your backward leaning. If you are leaning forwards while at constant speed, there are only three possible outcomes, none of which are conducive to finding efficient running form.
    1. you bend at the waist and walk your legs under you to balance,
    2. you constantly kick your feet up behind you to counter balance your torso,
    3. you fall on your face.
    'Leaning forwards' is an illusion. Everyone has to push off to some degree when running, and this requires them to bend at the waist. And everyone must take off forwards of vertical. These two things together give the impression of the runner being tilted forwards.
  7. They are strong
    Sure, they are strong but being strong doesn't make you run well. On the other hand, if you run well you will get well over 10,000 muscle-building landings every hour - calves, glutes, hamstrings, core, lower back - from foot to head.

    So what should you do?

    In my lessons, which have developed over thousands of clients and almost a decade, I take the 'common denominator' - the thing that remains constant in good-form running regardless of speed, body shape, strength, and other variables. This addresses all the symptoms of poor technique in one go. It's all about learning to land as close to vertically aligned as possible when at constant speed. If you land balanced (not leaning back) then you have minimum braking, minimum impact from that braking, and maximum rebound off the ground to maintain a long, smooth stride.

    The lessons in the book and the online videos describe exactly how to do this, and how to transition, allowing your muscles, tendons and ligaments to adjust over time.

    You can read the introduction and the first three chapters ('How poor technique affects your running', 'Poor technique causes injuries', 'Good technique_How it works') in the sample PDF file available to download here.

    All atricles

    What not to try to change technique


    The cure for weak glutes


    What foot-strike is best?


    How can I run faster?


    Transitioning to faster running age 50


    Why do I trip over when I run?


    Over-striding: Fixing it is not about cadence


    Bruised toenails - and blisters or calluses


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