I see a lot of runners with a slow, labor-intensive gait, and it is killing their run time. Learning proper form is just as important to running as it is to weight lifting. When you move more efficiently, you use less energy to achieve the same result. The energy saved is then put toward the required movement.
Achieving the proper form takes time and practice to learn. It will probably feel awkward at first, especially if you have been running for a while, but I guarantee it will be worth it. Try these three tips during your next run to shave several precious seconds off your run time.
1. Keep your head up.
When you start to get tired or discouraged by the distance you tend to start looking down at the ground. This can really shorten your stride and prevent you from lifting properly with your knees, which can slow you down severely. Just by lifting your head and not looking down at the ground, your stride will flow more naturally.
When you run, imagine yourself “falling forward” with each step. Raise your eyes and look approximately 15 feet in front of you along your path. If you become discouraged by the distance you have to run, locate a spot a few hundred feet in front of you and run toward it. When you reach the spot you picked, focus on another spot. By breaking up the long distance into a series of shorter distances it becomes much easier to maintain your pace physically and mentally. It’s a simple way to distract yourself from the challenge.
2. Let your arms move naturally.
You want to swing your arms but you do not want to exaggerate the movement. Likewise, you do not want to run like a stiff robot or just let your arms hang.
To maintain natural arm movement, keep your fingers curled in to form a light fist, with the thumbs resting on top, not tucked in. Next, raise your arms so they are just below parallel to the ground, or just below a 90-degree angle. Let your shoulders relax and focus on elbow movement rather than the movement of the entire arm. You want to feel like you are pushing your elbows backward and then letting your arms naturally move forward.
3. Focus on cadence, not speed.
Your pace is influenced more by how many steps you take per minute than by the length of your stride. Ideally, you will consistently run at a cadence of about 180 steps per minute. To determine your cadence, simply count how many times your feet hit the ground in 60 seconds.
When you start to get tired, maintain your cadence but shorten your stride. Once you have recovered, pick it back up again.