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Run Form - 4 drills to improve the way you run

Updated: Apr 20



Do you want to improve the way in which you move when you run? Do you want to run faster and further with less effort? Do you want to run without pain and injury, as well as find enjoyment in each step? It starts with understanding the basics of running, the movement and position of your body through all stages of the running cycle as well as what part of the body (mainly muscles and tendons) we use, why we use them and when.


This article is your best place to start. I'll go through four drills to help with an understanding of where the body needs to be positioned through various stages of the running cycle to get you on your way. These are the four drills we will work through with a new athlete seeing us for the first time for a run form analysis session.


Run Form during a backyard ultra race - Macauley Ryan and Jamie Hunter
Run Form - Dead Cow Gully Backyard Ultra - Photo Credit - Nancy Jade Photography

Improving your running form takes time and patience. You need to be willing to put in the work and understand it is something that asks for continual improvement, there is no end game. The good news is you can run faster, more efficiently and with less pain with correct running form and I'm here to help you.


Unfortunately in todays world of running, form is often the last thing looked at by a runner. I'll field many enquiries from people experiencing pain when they run and roadblocks in their performance or progress who have tried almost everything before considering form. A change of shoes, physio or podiatry treatments often are the first point of call. All of which are important but if the mechanics of which how you move are not reviewed, how will you improve?


Not everyone moves in the same way however the basic fundamentals of running remain the same. These four drills will help you understand the best position of your body during the running cycle and why it's important to maintain this form from your first to last step.


Run Form - Four Key Steps


Drill One: Neutral Position



Your alignment of your body from head to toe is important. For the first drill we will align our body perpendicular to the ground with everything locked in place.


Ears - Shoulders - Hips - Knees - Heels in line.


This is a position of neutrality. How to align...


Ears: Pull your chin to your chest and create a double chin, this will straighten up the upper vertebrae of your spine

Shoulders: Stand tall and pull your shoulders back slightly to align them with your ears.

Hips: Your hips need to be directly underneath your shoulders. To do this, pull your naval into your spine so that you feel a small shift forward with your hips.

Knees: Lock your knees in place directly underneath your hips.

Heels: Stand shoulder width apart with your heels directly underneath your knees.


Once you are set you should have a direct line to the ground from your ears through to your heels. This means your hips are in a neutral position which is where they need to be. Tilting hips back with your upper body hinging forward (anterior tilt) disengages your glutes loading up your quads too much. Tilting hips forward with your upper body leaning back and beyond upright (posterior tilt) puts too much pressure on your lower back.


With neutrally positioned hips and glutes we have them engaged in a position to help us drive forward.

 

Drill Two: Readiness Position




Once we are comfortable in the neutral position we can now transition into a state of readiness. This position allows us to understand the importance of flexion in our joints to engage our muscular system to respond to opposing forces instead of high impacts on our ligaments, tendons and joints.


Transitioning from the neutral position to a state of readiness is simple and requests two changes.


First step, sink to the ground slightly by bending the knees. this throws your knee joint forward of your body. The important factor here is to keep your ears - shoulders - hips and heels in line. Simply lower your body to the ground with flexion in your knee joints.


Second step, transfer your body weight to the balls of your feet lifting your heels slightly off the ground. The ball of your feet is the soft part of your foot behind your toes and in front of your arch.


Once in this position, transition your weight from left to right foot and back whilst always keeping a bent knee and everything else in line. Notice how light and soft you feel on the ground and how quickly you can respond to moving either foot to the side front or behind you.


This position helps us understand how we need to be striking the ground when we first make contact, on a flexed leg with muscles ready to engage.


A good analogy for this position is a boxer, float like a butterfly. Take note of how a boxer is in a position of readiness to strike or move in any direction in an instant. It is the same with running. We want to be able to respond instantly to opposing forces or changes in direction. Striking the ground with flexion in our legs with muscles ready to be loaded protects our joints and prevents injury.


 

Drill 3: Pull to Pose - Mid Stride Position




Now that we have worked through the neutral position and state of readiness, it's time to move on your mid stride position. This drill and the next one can be relatively tricky so be patient with this and it will eventually come together.


In running, we pull when we run, not push. Most runners starting on their running journey start pushing shortly after the moment their foot strikes the ground, all the way through to toe off (the last moment your foot is on the ground). This creates bounce and requires a high effort to run. A very inefficient way to travel forward.


When I explain to people we pull when we run it can initially sound and feel confusing, but once we master the third and fourth drill in this article it starts to make more sense and comes together. One of many lightbulb moments in a runners form improvement journey!


To perform this drill we need to be in a state of readiness. Once you're in this position, transfer all of your body weight to either your left or right foot and begin to pull your other foot up under your hips with your knee forward in front of your body. You want that foot to reach the height of your knee and just behind your support leg. This would look like the number four if you were to view yourself side on. I know I'm in this position if I can feel my medial malleolus (lower part of the tibula bone) lightly touching the back of my knee on my support foot.


Once you are balanced well in this position, work through the drill by pulling alternate heels up to your hips by transferring your weight between each foot. We need to make sure here that your knee is driving through and forward, not simply hinging at the knee when you lift your foot.


The purpose of this drill is to help with the understanding of a pulling effect when you run. As the support foot passes through under the hips when you run forward it needs to begin pulling off the ground and lifting up towards the hips with the knee driving forward. If you landed correctly as described in drill four, your achilles and calf muscle will act as a recoil and pull the foot off the ground, assisting the big toe at toe off and hamstring to contract pulling your heel to your hips before the leg is driven forward underneath you. Heard of Newtons Law of Motion? That comes into effect here.


This drill reminds us that we want the least amount of time in contact with the ground as possible. When you feel your foot pass through under your hip when you run, think 'up' with the foot and forward with the knee. Allow the lower limb to recoil as your big toe pushes off the ground.


 

Drill Four: Fall to Pull - Initial Support Phase Position





The final drill, fall to pull. In this drill we falling forward from the feet, bringing drill three and four together. The hardest drill out of the four in this article.


To perform this drill, take yourself right back to the start and go through each drill until you are in drill three - mid stride. Once you are balanced well in this position, start to fall gently forward from your feet until you feel the only way to stop you from falling to the ground is to step your foot that is in flight out to make contact with the ground. When performing this drill there are some important considerations.


First things first, we don't want to step too far out front. As you fall forward from the feet, allow the leg in flight to instinctively hinge at the knee and land just beneath you on a bent leg on your mid to forefoot (the same place on your foot in which you were standing during drill two - readiness).


As you do make that initial contact with the ground you want to begin pulling your other foot up towards your hips and the knee forward as you performed in drill three - pull to pose.


If you forcibly extend your leg in flight out front, you will over stride in this instance then have to push your support foot off the ground to bring it back to mid stride. For this drill, wait until the last minute before you feel like you are falling on the ground and let the leg in flight naturally hinge at the knee and land softly on the ground under you.


If you get this right, the support foot will want to lift up and do the same motion to stop you from falling. Keep your strides tight here when performing this drill. Think small steps or baby steps.


What you are achieving here are two important factors when it comes to run form.


One: your stride is short. A short stride equals less ground contact time when we run and a high cadence, two important factors with running form.


Two: you're landing on a flexed leg with your ankle joint underneath your knee joint, close to your centre of mass. This allows your muscles to respond to the initial contact, protecting your body from a high impact. This also allows you to easily keep forward momentum when running. Landing too far out front impacts the body unnecessarily and inhibits your ability to easily and freely move forward.


 

Time to Run!


It’s time for you to start applying what you have learnt into practice. Once you have performed drill four a few times and feeling confident with this, progress this by starting to walk, jog then run. Continually apply the principles learned in these drills through your stride and focus on flexion in the legs when landing and the pulling up of the heel towards your hips as well as the knee forward in front of your body at toe off.


Working through these drills in a stationary position is difficult at first. Over time once you understand the principles behind what you are trying to achieve it makes more sense and becomes easier as you transition into running.


The above drills, plus many more are what we will work on in a run form analysis session. Sessions are conducted both virtually and in person. Reach out here to book a session with a Run Vault Performance Coach.


Happy running.

Jamie.

Head Coach - RVP

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