The importance of the correct running form for injury prevention
Running is a great example of an accessible movement workout that can really help you reap the health benefits of physical exercise.
While it’s relatively easy for most people to pick up, it’s also easy to run without using the correct form and technique, which can lead to a whole host of injuries from the niggling and annoying to the painful and debilitating. Fortunately, by learning the right techniques, you can greatly reduce the risk of doing damage to yourself and continue to enjoy your workouts.
So what is the correct running technique?
Whether you are going for a quick run around the street, or for a long-distance training session for a big running event, technique is everything. Studies have shown that poor technique is a major factor in running injuries.1 These running tips will help you get all the health benefits of physical exercise with the least risk of pain or injury.
Keep your eyes forward. As much as you might want to look at what your feet are doing, you should focus on the ground about 10-20 feet in front of you instead. This avoids putting stress on the back of your neck and shoulder muscles and also means you will see what’s coming, making your run safer.
There is such a thing as ‘too much.’ In the case of running, we’re talking about your stride. Try to find your own stride length and don’t worry about matching others. We’ve all got different length legs and different degrees of flexibility. The correct stride will help your foot to fall in line with your torso, and not in front of it. Ideally you want your knee to flex directly above the ankle on your foot’s initial contact with the ground. If you can see your ankle ahead of your knee, you are overstriding.
Maintain your posture and relax your shoulders
Good posture leads to good form. This is true whether you are sat at a desk, in your car, or running. Bad posture will see your shoulders rounded forwards and your body tight. Good posture is a combination of awareness and practice. Take a check every so often and think about how you are standing. You should be straight with your chest open, your shoulders back and loose, and your arms swinging naturally by your side rather than in front of you. Tension in your shoulders, back or neck can affect your arm motion and while your feet are responsible for the moving part, your arms are there to provide balance, rhythm and power. Keep your arms moving and match them to your legs – smaller movements when jogging, bigger movements for larger strides.
Strengthen your core and glutes
Your core and glute muscles are the two key muscle groups that provide stability around your lower trunk, pelvis and hips. Weaknesses in these areas can lead to a host of possible injuries, as well as a reduction in performance. To be a good runner, you need to focus on regular strength and stability movement exercises that strengthen these muscles, such as squats, lunges and hip raises.
Learn to control your breathing
This comes with practice and it undoubtedly gets easier as you get fitter, but it’s important whatever stage of your running journey you are at. The ratios with which you inhale and exhale will vary according to the intensity of your workout. While it might feel a little unnatural at first, breathing through your mouth can really help you here as inhaling and exhaling through your mouth allows more oxygen to enter your body and fuel your muscles quicker. Another tip is to try and breathe more deeply, in what is known as diaphragmatic breathing. This involves breathing deeper into your belly to allow more air to enter.
A word about running shoes…
As important as it is to ensure you are maintaining the correct form and technique, making sure you are wearing the correct running shoes is also key. Running is a high-impact activity that can add stress to your joints and the tiniest imbalances can soon throw your body out of balance. If you are a ‘neutral’ runner you are one of the lucky ones! Your feet will naturally fall where they should and you won’t pick up injuries as easily. Most of us naturally fall into the categories of ‘overpronators’ or ‘under pronators’ though, which studies have shown are associated with more foot injuries. An overpronator will run with their feet facing slightly inwards – almost as if they are walking a tightrope – whereas an under pronator will do the opposite and run with their feet facing slightly outwards.2 You might be able to tell which you are by looking at how the sole of your shoes wear. If they wear on the inside first, you’re likely to overpronate. If they wear on the outer edges, you probably under pronate.
It all sounds very technical but thankfully you don’t have to worry. Any good running shop will be able to assess your feet, watch how you move and then help you find the correct running shoes to counteract any imbalances. This is not a time to worry about fashion and go for the latest brand, it’s a time to let the experts help you find the shoes that will cushion and protect you best. Your feet will thank you for it!