Running can be second nature for many athletes. A morning jog or a cardio warm-up before an upcoming workout session can provide many health benefits and also give you a positive pathway for a variety of fitness goals. While running is a great way to get back in shape and meet your personal fitness goals, doing so without proper running techniques can cause you to sustain many common injuries.
According to Yale Medicine, more than 50 percent of recreational runners get hurt each year. It's estimated that the average runner will sustain one injury for every 100 hours he or she runs. Most injuries result from overuse, but other types of injuries can happen if you're not vigilant while on your next run.
Practicing proper running techniques can help you avoid overuse injuries and prevent exercise downtime that can have a bigger impact on your physical fitness. By understanding the type of running you’re doing and preparing adequately, you can avoid the common pitfalls that cause running injuries.
No two runners have the same style, which is why no two running techniques are identical. Sprinters are focused on speed and power whereas long-distance runners might find mental stamina and form more important to make it to the end of the race. Knowing when to pull back and when to throttle up your power with a goal-oriented mindset for the duration of your run will help you keep your running technique in check. Understanding how your running technique should differ based on your running and fitness goals will help you implement a running style that will set you up for success.
We've identified several effective ways you can evaluate and improve your running technique to help you avoid future injuries and get the most out of your next run.
One of the easiest things you can do to improve your running technique is to first, know your run. To figure out why you're running in the first place, ask yourself some of the following questions: Why are you running? Are you using running as a cardio workout that complements your fitness strategy, or is it the main component of your physical fitness? Are you training for stamina and distance, or are you interval training and focused on sprints and speed? Are you looking to work your way back from a previous injury or trying to set a new personal record?
By first understanding the reason why you're running, you can narrow down the type of running technique you might currently be using and how you can shape and refine it to get the most out of your fitness goals. There are a few main categories of running that will ultimately shape your running technique:
Your running technique is shaped by a number of factors including breathing patterns, foot strike pattern, stride length, and more. Training for one type of running with improper technique from another could cause you to fall short of your goals or lead to an injury. Knowing from the start what you're training for is an essential step in making sure that you're doing all you can to improve your running technique.
Based on the categories above, your running technique will be different based on the type of running you do. The components of the running gear you use could shape and have an effect on your run. As you select your running gear, you need to make sure that the gear aligns with your running goals and does not significantly alter or harm your running form and technique. Some shoe considerations to make include the material, insole, shape, and fit.
For instance, many sprinters who will be running on a track prefer shoes with spikes, whereas long-distance runners or cross country runners prefer a softer sole with full ankle support. Outside of shoes, having the right uniform, hydration gear and accessories can impact your running performance.
The running gear you choose to use and wear should support your efforts and should not cause discomfort or force you to drastically alter your running style.
Once your running goals are established and you have the right gear, studying the running techniques that are best for you comes next. In general, proper running form means that you maintain core stability, good posture, relaxed hands, and have a steady breathing pattern.
Too tense in one area or a hitch in your gait can cause you to throw the whole running rhythm out of whack. Avoid clenching your fists as the tension will move to your arms, shoulders, and back throughout the course of your run. Posture is also important, as you want to make sure that your head is up, back straight, and you're avoiding leaning to one side or the other.
If you are having pain associated with an injury, it will likely affect the symmetry and quality of your running gait. Quite often, even when you have overcome an injury, there can still be some habitual compensations like not pushing off with the same power or dipping your trunk towards the side of the injury.
As you run, you want to keep your arms at your sides and avoid swinging them where they might cross your chest. Doing so can cause you to disrupt your breathing pattern or cause you to tense up. Try to keep your arms at 90-degree angles with your elbows tucked close to your side.
Based on your running type, it’s important to understand how the rest of your body impacts your run. Many runners aim for Z-form, meaning that when their back foot is placed on the ground, their body is shaped like a Z. By extending the foot or front leg improperly, more impact on the joints can potentially lead to an injury.
In addition to your form, pay attention to the cadence and foot strike in your run. Practice manipulating your cadence, foot strike, and breathing pattern for comfort, speed, and longevity.
As you progress through your run and grow fatigued, any aspect of your form can begin to slack which can not only hamper your progress but lead to potential injuries as well. If you're not used to running with a proper form or technique, it can take a little bit of time to get used to the subtle changes you'll need to make each run. With time, those changes will feel like your natural running style and you'll no longer have to think of the little things.
Taking time to understand the mechanics of your run and how it differs based on your body and goals will help you achieve the best running technique for you.
To avoid overuse injuries and trauma that can come from exertion on your joints and muscles, work in non-running activities that you enjoy, or change up your training pattern for your next run. For instance, if you like to train for marathons, mixing in a few days where you train as if you're a sprinter can be a great way to target those quick twitch muscles that might be underdeveloped.
In addition, low-impact activities on your recovery days such as swimming, group activities such as basketball, or even hiking can help you keep muscles toned and reduce the stress that can come from frequent runs. Using your muscles in different ways can also help protect them from overuse injuries and strengthen areas that may not be targeted by your run alone.
The best running technique is a personalized combination that is influenced by your unique goals, training regimen, form, and gear. Your form, from how you use your entire body to power your legs forward, to your mental stamina should create a technique with proper form that is in tune with your body and propels your running strategy.
If you’re experiencing pain related to running, or aren’t sure if you’re using the running techniques that are suited for your unique needs and goals, our team of licensed physical therapists can help!
Schedule an appointment at one of our local physical therapy clinics. Our team of trained PTs can help you with your running injuries and ensure you're using proper running form to help you meet your goals.