Establishing proper running form, whether you are a beginner or have been running for years, will only benefit you. It can increase your efficiency, help you to avoid injury, and gain speed. There are many different elements to proper form but I have highlighted the most common mistakes people make with running form, and how to fix it.
Your body posture can have a huge impact on the efficiency of your form. You want to stand tall and lean forward, not hinging at the waist. A nice drill to feel this is to stand facing a wall about two feet away. Put your hands up with your palms facing the wall and allow yourself to fall forward towards the wall without hinging at the waist, push off back to the standing position and repeat.
The red line shows how your body should be aligned. The faster you become, or if you are running at faster speeds, the angle of this red line will increase as you use more power propelling yourself forward. Let that gravity work for you, fall forward!
A lot of beginners and even experienced runners can neglect the roll their arms play in regards to proper form. Many runners as they fatigue tend to bring their shoulders and arms up, lose their posture and hunch over, or bring their arms across their body rather than driving them back.
An efficient arm swing is one where the elbow drives back and the arms stay lower and close to the body. Roll your shoulders back and open your chest. This will allow you to increase your lung capacity. Don't let those arms swing across the body, it's wasted energy and you will change the movement of your hips. Remember much of what you do with your upper body dictates what your lower body does. If you find yourself tensing up, shake out your arms every few miles and reset your form!
Foot strike in recent years has become an area of great debate. The way in which your foot hits the ground falls under three categories: Heel strike, forefoot strike, and mid-foot strike.
I believe that everyone has a natural way in which their foot lands and often making too much of a drastic change can cause more harm than good. Sometimes just a few small changes can go a long way.
If you are a heel striker often times your stride reaches out much further than in needs to resulting in "overstriding." Allowing your body to absorb the greatest impact out in front of you in not ideal and puts a lot of undo strain on your joints and muscles. That being said there is a time and place for heel striking as sometimes it's necessary to "brake." However, ultimately you want the most force to happen directly under your center of gravity as illustrated in the photo above.
If you are a forefoot striker your weight is heavily focused onto the ball of your foot and the toes. While you may be striking under your center of gravity you are also putting lots of strain on your calves and achilles'. At faster sprints or speeding across the finish line the forefoot strike works well, consider it your gas pedal!
Mid-foot strike is a neutral strike, the happy medium of foot strikes! Most of your foot hits the ground at once with your weight evenly balanced as shown in the illustration above. While you still may want to utilize the "brake and gas pedal strike" this foot strike is ideally what you should try to maintain for the bulk of your miles.
Cadence is a term in the running world for how many times your foot hits the ground in a minute. It is also referred to as stride rate. An average runner or beginner may have a stride rate of 160-170. The ideal stride rate is 180, while some elite runners get above 200 at their faster speeds! A lot can determine your stride rate such as your stride length and fitness level.
Why should you pay attention to cadence? First if your cadence is low it could mean that you're taking long strides, landing heel first and braking which goes against everything we have discussed above. Secondly, higher cadence limits ground contact time which in turn can minimize the risk for injury. Lastly, a faster cadence encourages quicker leg turnover which will help you in attaining those faster paces. If you want to check in with your cadence, count how many times your foot hits the ground in 15 seconds and multiply that by 4. That will give you your approximate cadence. Play around with it, try to increase it slowly. Run with a metronome and check in with where you're at. As you get stronger and increase your endurance, staying in tune with your cadence will only help you!