There are many things to focus on while training for a half or full marathon. Pace, comfort and goal setting are important aspects of training; however, one of the most important things to focus on is form. Improving running form not only enhances performance but also reduces the risk of injury.
Experienced and first time runners will both benefit from focusing on and improving their form, but the process may not be as simple as it sounds. There are four elements of form that most runners can improve: posture, foot strike, cadence and lean.
Try these tips from Prevea Training Run Director Mike LaMere and Green Bay Running Club President Jim Aniol and you will be on your way to improving your running form.
Good running posture includes keeping your entire body in line, especially your back, shoulders, neck and head. Follow these simple steps to reset your posture:
- Stand tall
- Point toes forward
- Tuck in stomach
- Reach to the sky
- Bring arms down and relax body
- Back should be upright and straight, and shoulders should be relaxed and slightly pulled back
- Make sure chin is in a neutral position
- Keep your gaze directed ahead
Mid-foot strike is how your foot lands with each step. Using the mid-foot strike technique reduces the stress placed on the body, diminishing the risk of injuries such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
When using this technique, the arch of your foot should be the first part of the body to hit the ground. This provides a natural suspension of the foot's arch stretching and bending the instep. The impact is then absorbed when the ankle bends, followed by the knee and hip.
The best way to practice this technique is to do a slow march before each run. Start by marching in place and focus on landing on the arch of your foot. Concentrate on soft landings and not pounding the heel into the ground. This will allow your body to adjust to using the mid-foot strike and prevent injuries in the future.
Cadence refers to the pace of each stride. The optimum cadence is 180 strides per minute (spm) and most people run at about 160 spm. When you maintain 180 spm, you will spend less time on the road which can help you reach your goals and stay healthy.
How to find and maintain 180 spm:
- Find your current cadence by setting a metronome to your stride. The beats per minute (bpm) equal your spm.
- Start by practicing the marching routine that is covered in the mid-foot section above. Then simply move your feet faster, while still focusing on landing on the arch of the foot softly. The general rule is to increase by five spm per week. If you increase too quickly there is a higher risk of injury.
- When you get to 180 spm, there are tools to help you maintain that level. Songs are available on the Internet to download to your iPod or MP3 player that are at 180 bpm. There are also MP3 files of a metronome set at 180 bpm, or you can use a metronome that can be clipped to a belt.
The final tip for good running form brings all three of the above components together.
Leaning can help you improve your time and work less in the process. When you lean, the position of your body will help direct you toward a mid-foot strike and away from the heal strike. With proper lean, your speed will no longer be determined by leg strength alone as you allow gravity to pull you forward; therefore, increasing your cadence.
To train your body to lean properly, start by standing 6 to 12 inches away from your kitchen counter. Lean forward from your ankles until your stomach hits the counter. Make sure you focus on engaging your core and don't bend at your midsection as that will put unnecessary pressure on your lower back. Continue practicing your lean near your kitchen counter until it feels natural, then you can implement it into your runs. Once you are leaning correctly in your runs, you can then modify how much you lean. The more you lean forward, the faster you will go.
If you are interested in having a professional Licensed Athletic Trainer work with you one-on-one to help perfect your running form, contact Prevea Sports Medicine. The iPerformPrecision program
may be right for you.