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Eight key skills for a faster and more efficient run

Eight key skills for a faster and more efficient run

We explain how to master the techniques shared by the very best runners in triathlon

Mario Mola running in Auckland

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 – developed in their teenage years by Malcolm Brown and Alison Rose – paying attention to the process of running and your technique is a valuable tool that shouldn’t be neglected. Here we analyse the key skill elements shared by the best runners in triathlon.

Arm position

Keep the 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 rotating. Make sure you also keep your hands and shoulders relaxed.

Straight and tall torso

Think about this like someone is 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 get tired, as this is when people tend to slouch, which increases your energy expenditure.

No crossing over midline

Ideally your feet should land in line with the 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 cross-over is a compensation that some adopt, which again can increase the risk of injury and reduce efficiency. To prevent this, again work hard on gluteal strength and activation, along with visualising keeping the feet slightly wider on initial contact.

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-kickers and toy soldier walks are best just prior to training with short holds (3secs) and static stretches (aim for 30sec holds) key for the period immediately after training.

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.

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 overstriding, work on increasing your cadence. Keeping the 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.

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 then slowly extend your legs out one at a time. Do this to fatigue 3-5 times.

Arm swing

The arm swing in endurance running does not provide drive like in sprinting, but 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.

(Main image: Delly Carr)

For lots more advice on how to swim/bike/run faster, head to our Training section

Profile image of Jamie Beach Jamie Beach Former digital editor


Jamie was 220 Triathlon's digital editor between 2013 and 2015.