Most recreational runners don’t spend much time considering their running mechanics, but maybe they should be. Good running mechanics lead to more efficient running and, more importantly, injury prevention. So, where do you start?
Try picking one thing to focus on for a week and then add on the next week. Eventually the proper mechanics you practiced will become second nature.
Some key points to remember:
- Arms should be relaxed at 90 degrees-not swinging across the body
- Leg should be landing underneath you- no “scissoring” or swaying from side-to-side
- Posture should be upright- no bending forward as you run
- Feet should be landing underneath you-no overstriding
Overstriding is a very common running mistake. Recent research has found a relationship between cadence, stride length, and joint impact. Cadence training is used as an easy strategy to reduce overstriding, improve running mechanics, reduce impact, and leads to injury prevention.
Most recreational runners have a cadence of 140-160 steps per minute, however the optimal cadence has been shown to be 180 steps per minute. Increasing cadence (or steps per minute) shortens your stride length which decreases the impact of each step, evenly distributes your weight as you land, and eventually allows you to run faster with less risk for injury.
Try this at home:
- Run a 5 minute warm up and then begin counting how many times your left foot strikes the ground in 30 seconds
- Multiple this number by 4 to get your cadence in steps per minute
- Now you want to increase this number by 5-10%
- Use a metronome (apps are free on your smartphone) to match this new cadence while you run (keeping your speed the same)
Increased step frequency can reduce risk for iliotibial band syndrome by reducing knee flexion excursion, reduce risk for plantar heel pain by reducing foot-ground angle at initial contact, and reduce anterior compartment syndrome or shin splints by reducing the eccentric demand on the tibialis anterior muscle.
A physical therapist is a good resource who can analyze your gait and running mechanics, in addition to looking for any other possible impairments such as strength or ROM deficits that may be leading to the nagging pain you have been ignoring during your runs.
Don’t ignore running mechanics! Having a professional watch you run and making the effort to practice the recommended corrections will keep you going for many more miles.
Kristine Bedell, DPT