Whether you’ve been told you’re a heel striker or you’re unhappy with the way you look in a race photo, you might be ready to make a change. Or perhaps you’re just looking for the next step in your running journey. No matter your motivation, we’re going to take a look at the basics of the correct way to run, from your starting posture to some helpful drills.
Making smart alterations to your running form and technique is not a one-and-done process. Starting down the road on the correct way to run means making small changes over longer periods of time. Methodical and sustainable change will bring us back to our natural running abilities and take away the urge to overcomplicate things.
As you read through the following tips and drills, try to keep an image in your head. Visualize yourself running around as a kid. You didn’t think about exactly how your foot was hitting the ground or try to control your arms. Running was natural. Our goal here is to recreate that ease of movement to lead you to better running with some basic cues to help you get there.
It’s a common trend for runners to go straight to changing their foot strike when digging into the correct way to run. Maybe they’ve been told they’re a “heel striker” or they read a book about barefoot running. While it is helpful to know what you’re feet are doing, they’re only one part of the entire running body.
Probably the most well-known description of an incorrect way to run is to be called a “heel striker.” This looks like a runner who may be overstriding and swinging their foot out in front of their body as they run. Then, as their foot hits the ground, it’s the heel that makes contact first.
Landing this way can mean that there is a greater force of impact traveling from your foot, to your knee, to your hips, and up to your lower back. Apply that force over and over again and you might be feeling a bit achy by the end of your run.
The other end of the spectrum is the forefoot strike. This foot strike is for the runner that tends to land on and push off with the ball of their foot while running. Their heel doesn’t really make any contact at all with the ground. The problem here is that the landing impact is now largely absorbed by your forefoot, ankles, and calves. By the end of your run, your calves will likely be super tight and your Achilles complaining from the overuse.
The “Goldilocks” of foot strikes is said to be a midfoot landing. Not too far back, not too far forward. This is considered to be the ideal landing in the correct way to run because it absorbs the impact of your body weight hitting the ground. It also allows for some good spring into the next stride.
Now, before you go and try to change the way your foot hits the ground, the following drills will help you make improvements to your entire running form, not just your feet.
An easy way to do this is to look at your posture. We’ve heard it a million times that sitting all day and slouching over our phones is doing damage to our health. Our running form doesn’t escape these effects, either.
When you’re seated in a chair or in the car, your legs are bent in front of you at a 90-degree angle. The hip flexors, or the front of your hips, are in a shortened, inactive position. When you then stand or walk, those flexors may feel tight or stiff. Worse, when you’re running you may lose some range of motion in your stride because your leg can’t open up fully behind you, taking you further away from proper running form.
Your glutes, the biggest muscle in your body, are also more likely to be snoozing on the job when you sit a lot. They don’t need to be engaged to support and stabilize the pelvis when seated. Unfortunately, this can carry over when you’re standing or running.
As a result, your hamstrings or lower back muscles can compensate, which leads to a whole host of problems. Lower back pain, hamstring cramps, low cadence, yes, even heel striking can show up as symptoms of too much sitting.
Don’t despair! You’re not alone, and we’ve got a few simple drills for you to start to incorporate into your training to help bring some awareness to your posture and how this translates to a more correct way to run.
The following drills will bring awareness to your posture and the optimal way for your body to move while on a run.
By starting off in a well-aligned position, you avoid scenarios such as your head coming forward of your shoulders or your hips leaning excessively ahead of your hips. Those scenarios could very well lead to aches and pain as well as an inefficient running technique.
Remember, this is a slow and steady process! If you notice that your default position is to arch your lower back while standing, then that’s where you’re at. This is about awareness. Bringing about change will take time and repetition before it’s reflexive to stand in an improved position.
After all, we don’t stay in a straight line when we’re running.
This drill will emphasize the momentum you can gain with a little forward lean in your hips, leading to more efficient running. Furthermore, you’ll notice your glutes engage as you rock forward. We mentioned earlier how your glutes tend to turn off with excessive sitting. Well, this drill is a great start to turning them back on.
This drill will make you look a bit like a prancing horse. But with good reason! Running isn’t just pushing off the ground, but also about pulling your foot up and forward for the next stride.
You’ll also be able to pay more attention to what a quick, light landing will feel like while on the run.
For even more of our favorite drills, check out this video with Coach Holly:
It’s worth repeating that you don’t want to make drastic changes to your running form and technique all at once. Small, consistent doses over time will result in lasting change with reduced risk of injury.
Another reason to regularly add these drills to your normal routine is that the more you practice these drills, the more natural they’ll feel. You might feel super awkward the first time you stand there bouncing before you start running. We get it! For this reason, frequent, brief practice is best.
Here’s how you can get started. Choose one drill to add to your run during the first and last 10 minutes. Within those 10 minutes, stop every few minutes and practice your drill of choice and run normally between sessions. By integrating the drills into your run, rather than practicing them in isolation, it’s more likely to feel like a natural, reflexive movement.
If you’re on your weekend long run, you can throw these drills in more often, such as every 30 minutes or so. Even better, throw in some squats and push-ups before the drills to really wake up your system and hit the reset button.
If you feel like your running really does need an overhaul, choose a time outside of your current race preparation cycle. You don’t want to throw off your race training by suddenly shifting focus and changing the way you run.
Instead, wait for your off-season, and consider cutting your mileage by 50%. It may sound extreme, but cutting back your running volume significantly will give you time to really implement change. Your body will be able to absorb the practice and put it to work in shorter, higher quality runs.
This is also a great time to work on any running injuries or nagging pains that may have cropped up during your training. Regular mobility work, strength training, and further running drills are all possible ways to add to your training and really dial in the correct way to run.
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