Running comes effortlessly to the majority of healthy individuals, yet we do not necessarily run with the most efficient gaits. Several years ago, with the assistance of a gym mirror and subsequently a personal trainer, I came to this realization. By focusing on my running biomechanics, I was able to increase my speed and endurance. Also, running style and training can either encourage or prevent injuries.
Each of us has unique biomechanics, but a few tips should be applicable to all runners. Here are some recommendations based on what I've learnt from experience.
If you can utilize a treadmill, record yourself in action on video. Slow the playback to analyze your running form. At 180 strides every minute, you just have a fraction of a second to assess each step.
If you don't know what to look for or can't record yourself, consult a knowledgeable friend or a professional at your gym, or engage a personal trainer if you suspect something is off.
One factor to consider is your landing. After years of controversy (such drama in the world of running), specialists have reached a consensus on the optimal landing style: Land on the lowest portion of the ball of your foot. That is, strike the ground where your toes meet the rest of your foot. (This is in contrast to the traditional recommendation of landing with the heel first.) The graphic seen above from Runner's World demonstrates the shock associated with various landing patterns, with the heel strike being the most jarring to our bodies.
Your foot should be aligned with your chest when you land. This occurs most naturally when there is neither an incline nor a decline. However, if you are running up or down a slope, you will need to tilt your body to maintain a perpendicular line to the ground.
Running performance is inherently affected by posture. Imagine a line that runs parallel to the earth. As you run, it runs directly up your back, keeping you precisely aligned with the force of gravity. When runners lean too far forward, personal trainers refer to this as "over-pronation." Not everyone will sustain an injury, but tilting is not the greatest course of action.
When running outside, maintaining an upright posture is facilitated by facing at least 10 feet into the distance straight ahead. Maintaining this posture when using an indoor treadmill with your eyes fixed to the console may be difficult. If you have a treadmill at home, consider adjusting it so that you can view the television or an interesting scene from 10 feet away.
In addition, when a runner grows fatigued, they may begin to slouch. When this occurs, it may be prudent to pause and rehydrate. If running with bad biomechanics causes shin splints or other ailments, it is not the greatest decision in the long run.
Unwind and run? A trainer instructed me to have relaxed hands while running. Unknowingly, I had been clenching my fists, and she pointed out that I was adding negative stress to my runs. My wrists moved more easily, my knees followed suit, and my gait seemed more natural than before when I cupped my hands loosely.
Do you know the frequency of your stride? The number of times per minute that one of your legs completes a complete stride cycle. As your pace improves, so does your stride frequency.
What role do running biomechanics play? Utilizing the optimal stride frequency reduces the oxygen and energy expenses of running. Numerous variables affect stride frequency, including hip mobility, level of exhaustion, and, of course, leg length. Some of these variables are definitely outside of your control. You may establish the optimal stride length for your body through judicious trial and error and, preferably, coaching.
The majority of runners have stride frequencies between 160 and 180 strides per minute. You can determine your stride frequency by counting how many times your preferred foot strikes the ground in one minute. Multiply by two then. If your left foot strikes the ground 90 times per minute, for instance, your stride frequency is 180.
Remember to exercise caution when doing stride frequency tests. A sudden increase in training intensity is the leading cause of running-related injuries!
The stronger your ankles, the stronger your gait, and the less likely you are to have a sprain. One ankle-strengthening exercise I learnt includes balancing on one leg with the other slightly bent, so that your ankle is at mid-calf height. Raise up on the ball of your foot while maintaining proper posture to strengthen your Achilles tendon. If possible, hold this position for 10 seconds with your legs and hips slightly flexed and your upper body relaxed. Then, pause, walk for a few seconds, and repeat the process multiple times with each leg.
This exercise is known as the "pose drill." It was created by Romanov and advocated in a 2001 USA Triathlon newsletter titled "Developing Improved Running Mechanics."
Biomechanics can significantly affect performance. Consider a runner who has a fluid arm swing and a straight stance. Another one sags at the waist and has rigid arms. Given equal conditions, the first runner will win a race between the two. Even if they use the same proportion of their maximum VO2 capacity, they are gaining more aerobic power (oxygen uptake). The superior gait also tones muscles more effectively and reduces the likelihood of injury. Become an expert in biomechanics in your own gym! I know it has benefited me much, and you, too, will be glad you took the time when your runs become the best they've ever been!