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Perfect your running technique: 11 key components

We analyse the 11 key elements of good running form, shared by the best runners in triathlon, and how they increase your efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.

Considering the importance the run has on the overall time and performance in a triathlon, it’s surprising that it’s often the most overlooked discipline in terms of technique training. While not all of us may be able to replicate the Brownlees’ run gait –  paying attention to the process of running and your technique is a valuable tool that shouldn’t be neglected.

1 Arm Swing

Keep your arms relaxed and close to your body. (It’s important not to cross your arms over in front of your body.) This helps to keep your chest open so your breathing is easier and reduces over-rotation. Make sure you also keep your hands and shoulders nice and relaxed. 

The arm swing in endurance running doesn’t provide drive like in sprinting; instead it provides balance and rhythm. Slightly increasing the elbow bend at the back of the swing helps the elbow to act like a pendulum and makes running more efficient. Aim for 90-110° of elbow bend at the back of the arm swing. Visualise a string attached to the back of your elbow and it being pulled back. Alternatively, imagine squeezing a golf ball in the small of your elbow at the back of the swing. 

2 Straight and Tall Torso

Think straight and tall like someone’s pulling upwards on a string that’s connected to your head. This will prevent you from slouching and improve your biomechanics throughout. It’s especially important as you tire, as this is when people tend to slouch, which increases your energy expenditure. 

>>> Explained – the best running posture for triathletes

3 Thoracic Spine

Your thoracic spine is the region between the bottom of your rib cage and your neck. Keeping this part of your back upright allows for a relaxed rotation and arm swing. People are often stiff through this area, especially those who work behind a desk or do a lot of driving. Thoracic mobilisation using a roller is great to retain mobility. Keep your lower back flat and rest your back over the roller for 1min in three different positions. This will also help your swimming to achieve a better stroke length and high elbow position.

4 Strong Pelvis

The less movement through your pelvis when your foot lands, the better. When your pelvis is sloppy on foot landing there’s an increase in energy loss, which quickly adds up to lost speed over a triathlon. 

5 No Crossing Over Midline

Ideally your feet should land in line with your hip joint and not cross over the midline of the body. Crossing the midline is typically a sign that the athlete isn’t strong enough  through their gluteals and stomach to
support the pelvis on initial foot contact.
This crossover is a compensation that some adopt, which again can increase the risk of injury and also reduce efficiency. To prevent this, again work hard on gluteal strength and activation, along with visualising keeping the feet slightly wider on initial contact. 

6 Knee Stability

Knee injuries are one of the most common reasons why triathletes and runners end up on the sidelines. If you’re not strong enough through the gluteal muscles (the buttocks), your knee can track inwards slightly when your foot lands. This can cause a multitude of problems including hip pain, knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and many other common running injuries. To prevent this, work hard on both the crab walk, knee push and quarter-squat exercises.

How to prevent runner’s knee, and four exercises to treat it

7 Hip Extension

The greater the degree of hip extension you can achieve while controlling your core, the faster you’ll be able to run. To improve hip extension, regularly do hip flexor exercises like the butterfly stretch. Dynamic stretches like walking lunges, butt-kicks and toy soldier walks are best just prior to training, with short holds (3secs) and static stretches (aim for 30sec holds) key during the period immediately after training.

8 Head Position 

Your head position is crucial in controlling your body position. Look too far forward and you’ll lean back and slow yourself down; too close and you’ll be slouching and applying a braking force to your stride. It’s ideal to look around
10-15 metres in front.

 9 Foot Contact and Cadence

The location of initial foot contact with the ground is key to good run technique. The foot contacting the ground in front of the hips leads to an increase in braking forces on landing, slowing you down and increasing injury risk. It’s not about how your foot lands (heel vs midfoot strike) that’s critical but where it lands. To prevent over-striding, work on increasing your cadence. Keeping your foot relaxed and allowing your full foot to contact the ground allows you to use the best shock absorber there is – the arch of your foot. 

A triathlete's guide to run cadence

10 Strong Stomach

A strong stomach assists in improving pelvic control and drive for the run gait. Keeping a stable pelvis means the gluteal muscles can be used more efficiently while allowing you to wind up your connective tissue. The connective tissue then acts like a spring to recoil and drive your leg through to the front using less energy. A functional way to develop this strength is to lie on your back and then slowly extend your legs out one at a time. Do this to fatigue three to five times. 

Good core control – key exercises

11 Foot Clearance

Keeping your foot from lifting too high off the ground increases efficiency by reducing energy expenditure. The
smaller the arc to return the foot back to the front, the more efficient your running technique is.

Related: 

Eight key skills for a faster and more efficient run

Seven essential tips for improving your running

Get up to race speed

Injury-Free Running


 
 

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