Copying others

By Keith Bateman

It is enjoyable an inspiring to watch the fluid and efficient technique of great runners, past and present. However, copying any single aspect of their running action will not result in you running like them.

Good runners:

  • run fast
  • run apparently staying close to the ground
  • spend less time on the ground
  • tend to have a cadence in the 180-190 range
  • have knees and feet high off the ground
  • frequently have their forefoot touch the ground first
  • appear to be leaning forwards
  • have strong glutes, hamstrings and core.

Which part to copy?

All of the above are CONSEQUENCES of good technique and trying to copy any of them is not helpful.

  • Running fast
    Of all the characteristics of good runners this is perhaps the best one to mimic, as you will generally run better if you run faster but it won’t change your basic running action much for lower speeds. Also, running faster with poor technique increases your risk of injury.
  • Apparently staying close to the ground
    Top runners look smooth and close to the ground, however they are much farther off the ground than regular runners. They appear to be lower because their fast horizontal speed means they travel farther while they are off the ground, thus flattening the arc of their flight. If you mistakenly think that runners aren’t getting high off the ground and you try to keep your hips low to the ground, as some advocate, you will have a walking action. You need to get off the ground to run quickly and well.
  • Less time on the ground
    Runners with good technique spend less time on the ground because their feet land closer to under their body. You should not artificially limit the time your feet stay on the ground – it has to be a result of good running form.
  • Cadence in the ‘magic’ range of 180-190
    Cadence varies throughout a run according speed, acceleration, technique, fitness and terrain. There is no single “perfect” cadence for every condition. Changing your cadence to fit some predetermined idea which does not fit the situation will cause you to engage in the wrong running action. And if you are raising your cadence inappropriately it will also mean not only are you making the wrong action, you are doing it more often.
  • High knees and feet
    Although the runner’s feet and knees are well off the ground they are not lifting them. It is a consequence of their good running form and not a deliberate action. Their height off the ground combined with extra knee bending due to their increased speed means that their knees naturally rise higher.

    Deliberately lifting your feet or knees will cause a problem. It will act against lifting your body, reducing your stride length, and you will end up sitting back with an over-stride and a walking action.
  • Forefoot touches first
    When running, the foot must touch the ground in front of you, and even further forwards as you increase speed. However, even at high speed with the foot contacting the ground farther in front, top runners are still experiencing most of the landing force in a downward direction.

    The forefoot of top runners will often contact the ground first, but with insignificant pressure. If you copy this forefoot contact at your lower running speed it will cause a heavy landing and probably injury to the forefoot.
  • Leaning forwards
    ‘Leaning forwards’ is mostly an illusion. You have to push forwards to some degree when running, and this requires you to bend at the waist and to take off forwards of vertical. These two things together give the impression of being constantly tilted forwards but this ignores the fact that you will be tilted back by the same amount when landing.

    A headwind will require you to lean and push more but under normal conditions that lean is not significant. Apart from this, if you start and finish your run standing upright then the total of your accelerating (forwards leaning) must equal the total of your braking (backward leaning). Trying to constantly tilt your body forwards will not result in good running form – you will need to balance the lean by advancing a foot under your torso or by kicking your feet up behind you.
  • They are strong
    Being strong doesn’t make you run well, but running well will make you stronger. 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. There is no point in going to the gym or lifting weights to create the strength to run. Allow good running technique to create the strength you need.

Just one thing to copy

When I help clients change technique there is no mention of foot-strike. I show them how to land balanced – as close to being vertically aligned as possible – and we use the feeling of the landing to adjust balance on the move. As soon as clients consistently achieve better-balanced landings their technique, including their landings, looks the same as other clients, which is similar to the best good-form runners. It is not listed above because it is the ‘common denominator’ that remains constant in good-form running regardless of speed, body shape, strength, and other variables. It addresses all the symptoms of poor technique in one go and is the focus of my system of teaching efficient running, which I have developed over thousands of clients and over a decade.

It’s all about learning to land as close to vertically aligned as possible when at constant speed. If you land balanced like this (not leaning back) then you have minimised braking, the impact from that braking, and you have maximised the rebound off the ground. This will give you a long, smooth stride and you’ll run like a champion!

The lessons in the book and the online videos are simple to follow and they describe exactly how to do this. However, the body takes time to adjust and so we also detail how to transition, allowing your muscles, tendons and ligaments to adjust over time.