If you missed it, go back and listen to episode 11 of our podcast (an interview with reputable form coach Dave Hodgkinson). This post is derived from that conversation and synthesizes Hodge’s key points. This is a good summary about the most important elements of running form, but Hodge gives you a lot more to chew on!
And that’s exactly what we are talking about here: running form. We shouldn’t have to persuade you about the importance of this one, but in case you need coaxing, it’s in the title of the aforementioned podcast, “Run Faster without Trying Harder.” If that sounds appealing, read on!
#1. Quick Cadence
For runners, everything begins with our feet. That’s why we are willing to spend $150.00 on a pair of shoes that won’t even last us a full training cycle (for many, at least). The thought just struck me: if hand models have hand insurance, why don’t professional runners have feet insurance? (Probably because no sane agency would insure something that is guaranteed to break in some way at some point…)
How and where your feet strike the ground has innumerable repercussions on everything else going on during your run, so it’s essential for that ground contact to occur in the most efficient and structurally economical way possible. You can influence that heavily simply by employing this one undeniable intervention: quicken your cadence.
While it is possible to have too fast a cadence, it is unlikely. Just spend some time figuring out your cadence and make sure you aren’t flailing along at 180+ steps/minute. If not, you likely need to pick it up.
I often pick one or two days/week to focus just on cadence where I am constantly mindful of having a light and quick turnover. It’s not complicated, but it makes a big difference. (By the way, we talk all about this and other small, simple changes that make a big difference in training in this episode on our podcast.)
#2. Eyes Up
This one’s even easier. Look up while you run. *mic hits floor*
Seriously, though, that’s the whole thing. Your head follows your eyes, your chest follows your head, and by the time you realize you’ve been staring at the ground for 30 minutes while running, you’ve probably inhaled 20% less oxygen than you could have if you were upright.
While I made up that statistic, the concept remains true. Try it right now. Look down, hunch your shoulders forward, and take a deep breath. Now look up, lift your chest, roll your shoulders back a touch, and take a deep breath. You see my point.
Next time you’re at a road race, watch the runners around you (or better yet as they pass). Note how many are looking down vs. how many are looking up and forward.
And don’t worry about needing to see the ground. You’re not moving fast enough to require constant input on the status of the surface beneath your feet, unless you’re Eliud Kipchoge, in which case it still isn’t an issue because he pretty much just runs marathons on speedways and formula 1 race tracks.
If you’re running in trails, maybe ignore this advice, too.
I love Hodge’s comment about this from the interview. He mentioned watching Olympic caliber athletes race and being able to predict when an athlete would fall off the pack or pace. How does he know? When they start looking down, they’re doomed.
So make this simple change to your running form and reap the significant rewards: keep your eyes up.
#3. Run Tall
I wish this one were as easy as the other two, but in most cases, it’s not. The simple explanation for this final benefit to your running form is to focus on keeping your back straight and your torso tall (ever have someone tell you to sit up or stand straight? Now we’re telling you to run straight, too. Who knew?).
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. Your hip tilt is part of it, and your shoulder position is part of it. And changing it might be a matter of breaking habits, but it might be a mobility or strength issue, too (likely a combination of all). The best approach is to identify the potential causes or influences and target those immediately. Then, like with cadence, it helps to pick a day or two each week to really focus on that posture.
If you find your low back or shoulders are especially tight or your overall core strength is low, you definitely want to build into your routine some elements to address those, potentially indefinitely (as you will always need a strong and mobile core so long as you are a runner!). Otherwise, just like the others, it’s a matter of repetition, muscle memory, and building positive habits!
In terms of simple changes with significant gains, this is definitely one of the first places to start for runners of every level. We’ve written before about the importance of pursuing excellence in our sport. This is the same thing. You want to achieve your goals, whatever they may be, do yourself a favor: make running easier by quickening your cadence, keeping your eyes up, and running tall.