More Efficient Running Style

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This article summarises many of the common traits of efficiency in running as discussed in the 'More Efficient Running Style' thread

This article is owned by simbil

Key points for efficiency in order of importance:
1. Posture
Lean from the ankles, not the waist. Keep tall in the trunk.
2. Relaxation
Tension is draining and can lead to injury - relax and flow.
3. Bent knees
Your foot should be behind your knee when it lands. Think tall trunk, short legs (bent knees) to run like this.
4. Land under your hips
Landing should feel light with no jarring - landing under the hips sweeps your feet away rather than jolting.
5. Lift the foot from the ground
Do not push off, lift your foot from the ground as soon as you can to achieve quick, quiet feet.
Finally, take the brakes off - allow yourself to run!
This is an edited extract from Running Well by Sam Murphy and Sarah Connors (Kyle Cathie Ltd, £14.99):
1 Overstriding
Overstriding puts the muscles in an inefficient lengthened position, and causes the foot to land in front of the knee, which creates a braking effect. You will feel as if you are landing very heavily, with your foot striking the ground way out in front of your knee.
2 Wasteful movement
Too much up-and-down movement is a waste of energy. The likeliest cause is lifting the knees too high in front and pushing off the toes. A very short stride can also be to blame. You may feel as if you are running on the spot rather than moving forwards and could be opening yourself up to calf tightness or injury problems. Arms going across the torso, hampering forward motion, is another example of wasted movement.
3 Overpronation
Pronation - when the arch of the foot flattens to help dissipate the impact of landing - is normal. It's when the foot overpronates that there's a problem, because the foot attempts to push off while the arch is still collapsed. This puts extra stress on the muscles supporting the arch, which in turn pull on their attachments to the inside of the shin bone. The knee then rolls in (a good visual indicator of overpronation) and becomes tight. The gluteals (buttocks) are put in an inefficient position by the inward rotation of the knees, causing tightness in the hip flexors (front of hip) and back and a pelvic tilt.
4 Sitting in the bucket (or sitting on the hips)
In this posture, the pelvis is tilted forwards and the hips pushed back (often accompanied by a forward lean from the waist). This reduces the power of the hamstrings and glutesal and is often a result of weak muscles in the core, poor pelvic alignment and tight hip flexors, though it can set in as a result of fatigue during a run. This posture is responsible for a lot of back and hip problems.
5 Excessive supination
Far less common than overpronation is oversupination, when, instead of rolling in too far, the foot doesn't roll in enough and remains on the outside edge. This reduces the foot's ability to absorb the shock of impact and increases the risk of stress fractures, especially along the outside edge of the foot and the shin. This is more common among people with bow legs and high arches. Oversupinators often have signs of excessive wear on the lateral side of their shoes. Runners who oversupinate need well-cushioned shoes.
6 Poor hip drive
Relying too much on the quads (front of thighs) and hip flexors rather than using the hamstrings (back of thigh) and glutes reduces the power and length of your stride. Stand side on to a wall to hold for balance and swing one leg freely, forwards and backwards, keeping it straight and relaxed. There should be a good back swing as well as forward. You may have poor hip drive if the pelvis feels "jammed", or if the leg splays outwards on the back swing or the back appears to arch a lot (your body is trying to get extra range by cheating). Work on stretching the quads and hip flexors, which will improve pelvic stability and mobility.
7 Hip drop (Trendelenberg gait)
A pelvis that shifts too far from side to side produces something known as the Trendelenberg gait. The hip of the swing leg drops and the hip of the stance leg "pops out" to the side, because the muscles either side (adductors and abductors) aren't able to hold the pelvis level. This makes the foot land badly and can cause problems in the lower back and along the outside of the leg.
Try standing leg lifts. Stand side on on a step with one leg hanging over the edge. Now hitch up the hanging leg so that it is higher than the step, imagining that you are drawing the hip right up into its socket. Lower and repeat 10 times.
Sam Murphy's anatomical guide to the perfect stride
Your head weighs 3-4½kg. If you crane your neck forwards, or pull your head back, you'll put undue stress and strain on the neck and upper back. You want it to be perfectly aligned above the vertebrae in the neck so that the weight is evenly distributed. Look ahead at the ground between 10 and 30m in front of you. Keep your jaw and neck relaxed.
Let your shoulders hang loose. Allow a slight rotation of the shoulder girdle around the spine - this is quite natural and counterbalances the rotation of the hips.
Imagine your arms are pistons, firing you forwards, with elbows bent somewhere close to 90 degrees and moving in a forwards-backwards direction, or just slightly across the torso. Moving your arms faster makes your legs move faster, so use more arm power when you're running hard, less when you're jogging. But don't try too hard - the effort needs to come only when you're bringing the arm back; it'll come forwards on its own.
Wrists and hands
Keep them relaxed. You can maintain a very loose fist, but don't hold them rigid.
Keep the chest open, up and forwards, as if you had a string tied to your sternum, drawing you forwards. But don't bend forwards from the waist.
While opinions vary on whether you should be upright or adopting a slight forward lean when running, you certainly don't want to be a) leaning backwards or b) bending forwards from the waist or hips. Keep your lower tummy gently pulled in.
Picture the pelvis as a full bucket. If you tip it forwards, backwards or sideways, you'll spill its contents, so you need to keep it as level as possible. Being able to do this requires a combination of strength and flexibility.
Visualise rolling your hips underneath you, so that your bottom isn't sticking out. Running with your hips forward will help improve your knee drive effortlessly.
Runners - and hecklers of runners - often say, 'Knees up', but lifting the knees up in front results in a wasteful bouncing motion. Drive the leg forwards, not up.
Lower legs
Allow your lower leg to 'dangle' below the knee when the leg swings through, rather than holding it out rigid. This feels less trained and prevents overstriding. Contrary to popular belief, the calf muscles are not most active in the toe-off phase, in aiding propulsion, but just as the foot lands, helping to decelerate the leg.
What part of the foot strikes the ground will depend on your personal technique.
At touchdown point, you want your foot directly below your centre of gravity. Don't clench your toes inside your shoes
while running, nor deliberately spring off the toes as your foot leaves the ground.
Don't run with flexed ankles. Let all the tension go when the foot is in the air.

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Aug 2008 simbil Article created
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