By Keith Bateman and Heidi Jones
It is enjoyable and inspiring to watch the fluid, 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 and may even harm your technique.
- run fast.
- 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 feet, calves, hamstrings, glutes and core.
Which part to copy?
All of the above are CONSEQUENCES of good technique, not CAUSES, and trying to copy any of them is not helpful — and in some cases detrimental.
- Running fast
If you are going to mimic any single characteristic of good runners, this is perhaps the best, as generally speaking you will run better if you run faster. However running faster does not help your running action at lower speeds. More importantly, running faster without fixing your poor technique increases your risk of injury.
- Less time on the ground
Runners with good technique spend less time on the ground because their feet land more directly beneath their body, thus reducing the time it takes for their body to pass over their feet. You should not attempt to artificially limit the time your feet stay on the ground – it must be the natural consequence of good running form.
- Cadence in the ‘magic’ range of 180-190
There is no single “perfect” cadence for every condition. Cadence must vary throughout a run according speed, acceleration, technique, fitness and terrain. Changing your cadence to fit some predetermined idea which does not fit the situation will cause you to engage in the wrong running action. Further, if you artificially raise your cadence in a way that does not reflect the circumstances, it will also mean not only are you making the wrong action, you are repeating it more often.
- High knees and feet
Although the runner’s feet and knees are well off the ground, they are not consciously 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 without any intentional effort on their part.
Deliberately lifting your feet is problematic because it reduces the height you can gain off the ground, thus decreasing your flight time, increasing both your time on the ground and the amount you brake each landing.
- Forefoot touches first
When running, your foot must touch the ground in front of the rest of your body. The faster you travel the farther forward the contact point will be. But even though the forefoot of top runners will often contact the ground first, they do it with insignificant pressure, and with most force directed downwards as they complete their landing.
Since most people don’t run as fast as elite runners their speeds will not require their feet to touch down as far in front. If you copy this far-forward forefoot contact of fast, elite runners at the lower running speed of the regular runner it will be completely inappropriate resulting in a heavy landing and possible injury to the forefoot. It also looks silly – like a horse doing dressage!
- Leaning forwards
‘Leaning forwards’ all the time 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. This gives the impression of being constantly tilted forwards but masks the fact that the runner is in fact tilted back by the same amount when landing.
While a headwind will require you to lean forward and push more, 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. It is much better to aim for the sensation of a near-vertical, balanced landing and let this automatically create the optimal angle of lean.
They are strong
Being strong doesn’t make you run well, but running well will make you stronger in the right places. If you run with good technique you will experience over 10,000 foot-to-head muscle-building landings every hour, strengthening calves, glutes, hamstrings, core, lower back and more. There is no point in going to the gym or lifting weights to build up the strength to run. Although if you are running badly extra strength might afford some limited protection from injury it is far easier to allow good running technique to create all the strength you need.
Just one thing to copy
When I help clients change technique I don’t mention foot-strike or any of the features of good runners mentioned above. I show them how to land balanced – as close to being vertically aligned as possible. Rather than aiming for a certain type of foot strike, the sensation of the landing is used to interpret their balance and adjust it on the move. Once clients consistently achieve better-balanced landings their technique starts to look like that of the best good-form runners.
Although not listed above, a balanced landing is the ‘common denominator’ that remains constant in good-form running regardless of speed, body shape, strength, and other variables. By focusing solely on a balanced landing you address all the symptoms of poor technique in one go. This is why balanced landings are the focus of our system of teaching efficient running, a methodology which we have developed over more than a decade with thousands of clients.
Good running form is all about learning to complete your landing as close to vertically aligned as possible when at constant speed. If you land balanced and vertical like this you won’t be leaning back, which minimises braking and its impact, and maximises rebound off the ground. This will result in 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 achieve a balanced landing. Bear in mind though this is not an instantaneous transformation. The body needs time to adjust to the change in technique and so we also detail how to transition to good form in a way that allows your muscles, tendons and ligaments to adapt. But it is a life-long change.