Developing Running Efficiency

The fall is a great time to really focus on your biomechanics and form. Here is an article I wrote some time ago on how to improve running form – to stay healthy AND get faster!

Running seems like a simple sport… put one foot in front of the other, and repeat, and repeat. However, just like cycling and swimming, running efficiency is one key to both improving performance in the run leg of your triathlon event and to reducing the risk of injury.

Here are five keys to efficient running biomechanics:

1. Lean forward. Running can be looked at as controlled falling. Your body should be tilted forward slightly from the ankles. It is important to maintain a strong core to avoid forward flexion at the waist. Maintain a proud chest and visualize yourself leading with your chest and your hips.

2. Knee flexion. Most triathletes could improve their running speed simply by bending their knees more during the swing phase of the running stride. As you pull the leg through for the next step, the knee should be bent so that the lower leg is parallel to the ground. However, the knee should be bent underneath you, rather than behind you. Previously, coaches taught a “butt kick” running drill whereby you kick your butt from behind with the heels. More recently, we teach a forward knee drive, which ends up pulling the heel and lower leg up underneath you, along your centre of gravity.

3. “Running on hot coals”. Visualize yourself running on hot coals. You don’t want to keep your foot on the ground for any longer than you have to or your feet will get burned. As soon as your foot hits the ground, snap the hamstring and bend the knee underneath you to go right into the next stride. The longer your foot is on the ground, the slower you will go.

4. Foot strike. Landing on one’s mid foot is the most efficient and will result in the lowest impact forces. With fatigued muscles after the bike portion of a triathlon, many triathletes head out on the run with a full on heel strike. In order to heel strike, the foot lands out in front of the body’s centre of gravity. Besides increasing impact forces through the ankles, knees, hips and low back, this also results in a braking force – slowing you down rather than continuing to encourage forward motion. Instead, try landing right along or just slightly ahead of your centre of gravity, on your mid foot as opposed to the heel. This will continue to push your body forward, put you in a position to snap the foot back up underneath you, and ultimately increase your running speed.

5. Cadence. For most triathletes, the most efficient cycling cadence is close to 90rpm. The most efficient running cadence is 90 strides per minute, per foot. This makes things easy – our bodies can maintain the same rhythm of turnover throughout the bike and the run. Besides increasing your speed and eliminating the need for your body to adjust to a new rhythm on the run, running with a high cadence also encourages a mid foot landing.

Running is more technical than it seems at first glance. Running with good technique will both reduce your risk of injury by minimizing impact forces and the associated stress on bones, tendons, muscle and ligaments, as well as increase your running speed at any given amount of effort. Spending some time on run technique this winter is a worthwhile endeavour.

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