Essential Concepts of Efficient Running
Written by Nuno Costa
Here are some key principles that emphasize correct body mechanics that are going to help you run faster and stay injury-free.
Establish an Ideal Position – Think of a figure 4 or a flamingo (check out the picture above). You want to have your head, neck and shoulders relaxed, shoulders over the hips, hips over the ankle. If you took a PVC pipe you could draw a line over these points – shoulders, hips and ankles. Efficient running is the ability to go from the ideal position on one foot to the other with as little effort as possible – we do this naturally as kids and we tend to build bad habits as we grow older.
The posture is going to be critical in running because it will allow you to maintain better speed with less effort. If your posture is compromised, your running form is going to be sub-optimal and the rest of your muscles are going to have to work harder to compensate.
As you maintain your upright posture you want to make sure you don’t lean forward with your chest, if you do this you end up pushing your hips back and this is no bueno. When this happens you’ve now pushed them back beyond the pivotal point of support (ball of the foot, which is where we want you landing).
We want you to work with the laws of nature, and the biggest one is utilizing gravity to your advantage. You want to use gravity to fall forward. Your fall should begin from your ankles (not your chest) while you retain proper posture and keep your shoulders, hips and ankles in alignment (think of the PVC mentioned earlier).
Once you start moving by falling forward you want to pull your feet off the ground by allowing ground reaction and muscle elasticity to pick your foot up directly underneath your butt. You want to avoid a knee drive here, you want to allow the hamstring to contract in order to quickly pull the foot straight up along the support leg – this is going to require some practice and there are lots of drills that will reinforce this skill. The main reason you don’t want to push off the ground is that it will push you up, and your intention is to move forward.
A couple of other things to keep in mind – keep your arms tucked in and elbows bent at about 90 degrees and focus on driving your elbows back – this will create the appropriate rhythm for the legs to do what they are supposed to do. In regards to the legs, make sure you have quick feet. Good runners will keep a cadence above 90 beats per minute each foot (you can buy a metronome or easily count your foot strikes when you are out for a run next time). If you have a slower cadence than this, more than likely you are spending way too much time on the ground and your body is potentially absorbing a lot more shock than necessary.
These may seem like simple concepts but they can take a lifetime to master and the best thing to do is have someone videotape you running and play it back in slow motion to see what you are actually doing versus what you think you are doing. You want to make sure you go through drills that are going to teach your muscles to fire in the right sequence and develop muscle memory and timing.