How Beginners Can Improve Running Technique
Chesterfield based 'The Running Coach' Chris Adams' clients range from elite competitive athletes to complete novices. He explains to us why you should be thinking about your technique, right from the first step of your first run.
Novice runners undermine themselves - they don't think of themselves as runners, but they should. They don't log their mileage or think about technique and often start getting common running injuries such as lower back pain, knee pain and sore ankles, but don't address it.
Basic flexibility and control (core strength) can really help and is key for runners irrespective of their ability so should be worked on whether novice or elite.
As they develop into intermediate runners going further and faster, flaws in actual technique start manifesting in injuries. These runners then start considering efficiency and gait, and how they can improve performance (and reduce injury risk) by improving technique.
Breathing: ‘If you’re thinking about breathing, you’re running too hard’
If you're going to start running, it's about building base fitness. It's not about running a marathon from day one, or how fast you go or whether you can run up a hill.
At the beginning it should just be about getting fit. That means being able to hold a conversation while running, breathing normally. At that level – about three quarters of your maximum effort - your heart rate stays in the aerobic training zone and will build your fitness levels.
It's only once you're fit enough to build performance that you need to think about how many breaths per stride you're taking. For a beginner, that is too complex and takes away from your enjoyment. So if you're thinking about breathing, you're running too hard.
Don't even worry about whether you're breathing in through the nose or out through the mouth. The risk of trying to change your breathing pattern is that sometimes you can get a stitch. Just run relaxed while building fitness.
Relax: ‘To run faster, you have to run slower’
Concentrate on being relaxed, getting into a rhythm and build up gradually. It amazes me that when I go out with people and tell them to slow down and relax that afterwards they say: 'That was the easiest run I've ever done!'.
To run faster, you have to run slower. Your body has to adapt to the cardio development.
You need to build base endurance and fitness first. Then once you are fit, you then add strength training such as interval or hill training, and then speed. If you try and get fit running too fast, then your body is trying to adapt to two things at once; building fitness and building speed, and you'll get injured.
Think of it like a pyramid – the largest area is your base foundation of fitness at bottom. Strength is in the middle and speed is the cherry on the cake. People want to do too much too soon. We're all too impatient – but then that's a typical runner!
Stride length: ‘Your feet should land under your hips’.
Stride is interesting. When I was at school I was taught to take big strides to go faster but that means your foot lands ahead of your body, outstretched and on your heel. This form of running is slow movement, uses lots of energy, and because of where you are landing in relation to your body's center of mass, it is high impacting.
Ideally we want to be using the bodies natural shock absorption when we run as this lessens our chance of injury, so we want to be landing underneath our hips, not in front.
Take shorter strides and try and develop a nice, fluid rhythm, increasing your cadence (steps per minute). You'll increase the chance of landing on your forefoot, or at least reducing your heel strike to a softer landing, landing under your centre of mass.
Stretching: ‘Running is a series of one-legged jumps’
In effect, running is a series of one-legged jumps but many of us can't even balance on one leg. If you're unbalanced, it puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on keeping you stabilised during the run, which will also fatigue muscles. Running exerts double the force on the body of walking.
Combining good technique with good balance, posture and flexibility helps your body support you for running activity.
Getting your glute muscles in your bum working will improve your posture and balance. Increase your ankle and knee flexibility with squats and build lower limb strength with calf raises. For more advanced runners I do some specific drills before a run to improve muscle memory but for a beginner runner, you can do this general conditioning work during the week.
If you're heading out for a 20 minute run then use the first 5 minutes as a warm up and include a cool down at the end – so you're running at a lower intensity at the beginning and end of the run and stretch the major muscle groups afterwards.
Upper body: ‘Keep your ears as far away from your shoulders as you can’
Beginner runners often worry about what to do with their arms and tense up their shoulders. Your arms are just there to balance you. The rhythm of your arms and legs will match.
Relax your arms at 90 degree angles and move them in a nice quick rhythm and the legs will match. Also try not to have the arms moving across the centre of your chest, they should move forwards and backwards.
Relax the shoulders. Think of your ears, then keep your ears as far away from your shoulders as you can. If your shoulders drop, then they are relaxed. Keep your head in a nice upright position.
If clients are tense, then I tell them to clench their jaw, then ball up their fist, flex their biceps and pull in their elbows, then relax and let go. It demonstrates the difference between extreme tension and relaxation.
Barefoot? ‘You wouldn’t learn karate wearing padding’
I'm accredited to teach barefoot running, but my approach is that it's not about going barefoot – it's about improving your biomechanics and movement – learning skills and control.
It's like racing a car round Silverstone. It doesn't matter how good a driver you are, if the car's broken or the suspension isn't working correctly, you'll never get the best out of it.
Often people ditch their trainers for minimal or barefoot shoes, but they're not conditioned. They lose what protection they had in the cushioned shoes; which wasn't much anyway, don't change or improve their technique to allow them to run with lightweight performance shoes and get injured. Going barefoot can be a good wake-up call, showing you how good your technique is or isn't.
What bothers me is that running shoes are built around protection and control. You wouldn't learn karate all padded up - you'd learn the control, skills and movement first. It should be the same with running.
Find out more
To contact Chris about coaching call him on 07718 700762 or email firstname.lastname@example.org