The 6 best ways to improve your running technique whilst staying injury free!

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Want to know the best ways to improve your running technique and beat those PB’s whilst staying injury free?

By Mike Davis, Physiotherapist

Today we are sharing the optimal ways to improve your running technique using the most current scientific research to recommend the best ways to stay injury free at the same time! There is increasing scientific evidence that faulty running technique can be a key driver leading to injury and the frustrations of being unable to run.

So just imagine being able to improve your running form but ALSO becoming less vulnerable to injury and so remain in optimal health, well-being and physical fitness! There’s a great quote that sums up so much of athlete training and recovery of all abilities that I want to frame it and put it on my wall!

“Athletes can have knowledge and desire but continue to miss out on what is good for them. We can know something and even believe that changing a behavior is important and yet still do nothing.” Halson and Lastella (2017).

So, make these positive changes and I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how much better and more comfortable your running feels and watch those PB times get smashed!

  1. Resistance exercises – A lot of runners tend to shy away from doing weights but if you incorporate some resistance training (2 sessions per week) targeting the hip, thigh and calf musculature with 2-4 sets of slow, heavy reps with 2 minutes rest in between, this can reduce your risk of overuse injury by as much as 50%. And it has been scientifically proven to improve running performance. Key exercises to consider are deadlifts, squats, lunges and calf raises. Calf raises take on an added importance in the masters runner (anyone 35+) as it is the key propulsion muscle springing you forward when pushing off in running. Intensity is the kew to strengthening and you should be working to a fatigue sensation ideally by the 10th rep in each workout set.
  2. Key technique tips to follow – Some proven steps to try next time you go for a run; keep a tall posture, relax your shoulders to encourage an efficient backward arm swing, ensure your foot strike happens close to your centre of mass, ensure a slight flexion in the knee at initial contact with the vertical shin and encourage minimal lateral movement keeping hips, trunk and pelvis level. Try these cues for short bursts – maybe 30-40 seconds every kilometre rather than trying to concentrate on them for the whole run as it is very difficult to maintain that level of concentration.
  3. Try increasing your step rate by 5-10% – Step rate refers to the total number of running steps you make per minute. Although there is no “ideal step rate” as we are all biomechanically and anatomically very different there is increasing evidence that a lower step rate (below 165) may put you at increased risk of some common running-based injuries such as shin splints and runners’ knee. So, think about aiming for a “sweet spot range” of between 170-190. Higher step rate running pays big dividends in many aspects of running performance. A good way to start increasing your step rate is to download a metronome app on your phone. Set it for 5 steps per minute faster than your current cadence (which you can find out from most watches, or by counting your steps). Find a flat, smooth area of around 100m and, after a warm-up of 10-20 minutes of easy running try strides. Strides are fast but controlled runs over very short distances where you work on excellent running form particularly your cadence. Focus on fast feet and a quick turnover that matches the beat of the metronome.
  4. Don’t neglect your core – Developing a strong core and gluteals will help relieve the pressure on your hamstrings and knees, areas that are prone to overuse injuries with running. Excellent examples of effective but safe core exercises include the plank and side plank both of which engage multiple muscles in your core musculature while minimising the pressure on your lower spine. Pilates is an excellent core strengthening exercise class and with just a 6-week course you can notice huge benefits not only to your core strength but also your flexibility and balance – 3 “key pillars” required to improve running performance and minimise injury risk.
  5. Hill training is non-negotiable – Hill training is an excellent way of building both endurance but also can help your urnning form – you need to pwoer your arms and drive your legs with good technique. A good example is running 80-150 metres up a hill at a decent speed and jogging or walking back down for a set number of repetitions. A note of caution though is necessary here as if you haven’t undertaken any hill training before you must start very gradually as hill running can quickly overstrain your posterior chain muscles – calves, hamstrings and gluteals so only introduce a short session. Hill running is tough but can be really enjoyable and the results in your performance can be astounding!
  6. Recovery is key – Training will build your fitness, but it is recovery that reduces fatigue to allow you to perform at your best. The world’s best athletes know that it is vital for performance, health and injury prevention. Ensure you plan your training so it changes gradually and incorporates recovery, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, try and achieve a work/life/training balance to your week and learn what food work for you to fuel your performance correctly.

Hopefully you found these tips helpful, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions! If you want to discuss a personalised exercise plan to aid your running performance, come and see one of our amazing Physiotherapists who can help you with that!

Leslie Abrahams