How to Improve your Unique Running Form
By McKenzie Redd, DPT
With the beginning of the New Year, January often means the beginning of new resolutions, most often related to health and fitness goals. Running is a common activity incorporated into new resolutions, however it is also one that can involve injuries, setbacks, and if not done correctly. Most running injuries are related to change in activity, whether that's overuse or increase in mileage ran. However running form plays a significant role in reducing injury and can be changed over time with practice. Every runner has a unique running style, however there are some universal tricks to incorporate into your form in order to reduce injury and improve gait efficiency overall.
1. Cadence. Cadence, or number of steps taken in a minute, can determine the force that is getting absorbed by your knees and ankles with every step. This is one of the most simple ways to reduce running injuries. Subtle increases in step rate can reduce the loading through the hip and knee joints and help treat and prevent running related injuries. Ideal cadence is around 170 steps per minute or higher, but that may differ for everybody. To improve efficiency, and minimize the impact on the ground, aim for a cadence between 170 and 185 step/minute. Regardless of whether you’re sprinting or slow jogging, step rate should stay consistent and not change with speed. Research has shown that increasing step rate by even 5% while keeping the same pace, will reduce the shock absorbed by the knees by 20%. Tip: Think about taking shorter, quicker steps to improve step rate. You can always use a smart watch, such as an apple watch to monitor steps after the run, or try to find a song that is set to 180 beats per minute and match steps to the pace until the cadence becomes natural.
2. Stride Length- The goal with running is to take shorter strides that are more frequent. If you’re front foot is landing out in front of you, you are most likely taking too large of strides and adding additional strain through the hips and increasing force through the IT band and knee. Try to keep your foot right under you as you are stepping, rather than reaching far out in front. If you are focusing on cadence, this will come a little easier. Tip: Practice running uphill more frequently. With uphill running, it is much more difficult to overstride and keeping that foot under your pelvis will come more naturally. Also, increasing step cadence will improve overstriding.
3. Listening to your running: This is one of the easiest tricks to help improve running form. Listen to how you’re running. Does each step land “quiet” or does it sound like it is heavy and forceful? If it is the second, that could be a sign that you are overstriking. When you are running, it best to think of “quieting” the feet so they land softly. With “soft” landing, the ankles and knees bend, promoting proper running mechanics. Loud or heavier step landing increases the vertical ground reaction force (vGRF) through the ankles and knees. Tip: Think about landing softly through the feet when running.
4. Foot strike- Do you land first with your heel, midfoot, or forefoot? There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years about changing your strike pattern to decrease injury. However, research is inconclusive about whether one pattern of running is superior to another. Runners who have a history of anterior knee pain, tibial stress fractures and compartment syndrome may benefit from a forefront strike pattern to decrease stress through the leg. If, however, a runner experiences calf strains, Achilles tendinopathy, than a rearfoot strike pattern would actually be preferred to help take the strain off of the injured tissues.
Running is a sport that requires coordination of rhythm and timing, and while the above mentioned strategies can help any recreational runner, if you are experiencing a current injury, it is best to consult with a physical therapist or a knowledgeable health care professional for an in-depth running evaluation is recommended to understand more about what is happening during the gait cycle.
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