Bruce Springsteen says we’re born to run. It’s true, we’ve done it since age two or so. But as basic as running is, there’s a constant stream of “running form” advice out there.
Some (especially shoe marketers) try to get “heel strikers” to buy less-cushioned “minimalist” shoes and switch to “mid-foot” landing. This has mainly been debunked. But there IS useful advice out there on how to get more efficient in your running. That is, how to go farther or faster with a given amount of energy, at your current level of conditioning. Efficiency improvements come from what your legs are doing of course, but it’s also about your hips, torso, shoulders and arms.
Still, most guys aren’t so into running that they want to explicitly think about the angle of their femur in the push-off part of the stride. Or precisely how bent their elbows are. Or do special drills designed solely to change the way they run (“dorsi-flex” your ankles, anyone?).
Besides, changing the basic way you run doesn’t help everyone. It can even be counter-productive, like when the centipede was asked which foot he moved first when he walked…and from that day onward, he was too confused to walk at all.
Based on my own experimentation with this stuff, though, I recommend you at least try these two form tweaks. They are 100% easy to understand, and don’t mess with your basic running style.
1. SHORTEN YOUR STRIDE + TAKE STEPS AT A SLIGHTLY HIGHER CADENCE
Science says you can be about 5% more efficient by running with a slightly higher step cadence and slightly shorter strides. Without the short-stride part, higher cadence is just called “running faster,” dude.
This should feel a bit like shifting into a lower, easier gear on a bike – each pedal rotation is easier, but they happen faster.
How much to increase cadence? Everyday runners have a step-per-minute cadence of 160-170, and “elite” runners average about 180. This doesn’t mean you or I have to get to 180, though. Just try a small increase, and see how you feel and how fast you complete a familiar running route, without consciously trying harder. For me, going from a normal 167-168 cadence to 172-4 has made a notable difference.
Having a fitness tracker or smartwatch that counts strides helps if you want to numerically know your starting point and how much “a little faster” is. But you can just do this “qualitatively,” too, by thinking about that lower-bike-gear feeling and seeing what it does for you.
2. USE YOUR ARMS TO SET PACE FOR YOUR LEGS
Especially when you reach a hill, or are getting tired toward the end of a run, your legs naturally “want” to slow down. But by consciously swinging your arms a little more dramatically and faster, you can naturally induce your legs to stay “in sync” with your arms and also go faster.
This may sound too simple. If my legs are getting tired and slowing down, why would simply swinging my arms faster get any different result than just having my brain “ask” my legs to speed up?
I don’t know the neurological answer to this question, man. I just know it works, especially for the short period of time you’re attacking a hill.
TAKE ACTION & LEARN MORE
I understand if you have little patience for some of the highly-technical “running form improvement” tactics out there. But these two are EASY to understand and to try. So next time you’re out for a run, try ’em and see what you think!
And if you do want to consider other, more-involved changes you can make to running form, here’s one good article on the topic (and Google will reveal countless others).
As you’ll see if/when you research this on your own, a lot of the further things you can do to improve form are actually about working on strength and flexibility of key muscle groups, by doing non-running exercises. This is very much in keeping with core “OlderBeast philosophy” about diversifying our workouts to address inevitable weaknesses.
“Tach it up, tach it up, tach it up. Buddy gonna shut you down.” (The Beach Boys, Shut Down – click to listen)
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