Nine Tips to Improve your Run

Before we begin, take a look at the image below. You will see four columns paired with a left and right foot strike of 28 different runners from the 2012 US Olympic Trials 10k race. What do you notice about all of the runners?

  1. Stride length – Over striding is when foot hits the ground in front of the knee. Optimal foot strike should be sightly in front of body or center of gravity, or under the knee and hip. This will decrease impact forces, therefore decreasing the injury rate.
    • Quick Fix: Increase your cadence – ideal is 85-90 rpm PER LEG.
    • Note: An “overstrider” will ALWAYS be a heel striker, but a heel striker will not always be an over strider.
  2. Arm swing – Find happy medium of swing – not too much (as if you are sprinting), or too little (not enough force being generated). Keep elbows bent to 90-120 degrees, swing from shoulders.
    • Do not cross the body midline – This creates rotation through the midline, and another part of the body will have to counter for compensation to keep you moving in a straight line. This increases likeliness of injury.
  3. Head should not move vertically more than 2” – This increases impact forces, and wastes energy. We find this more commonly with mid and forefoot runners.
    • Quick Fix: Pretend there is a ceiling 2” above head, but be sure to not hunch forward at the neck, upper back or shoulders in doing this. Amongst increased stress to the body, this compresses the rib cage creating less room to breathe, and decreases lung capacity.
  4. Stride position or direction – Avoid “crossing over” – The feet should be landing in line with the hip, and not crossed over directly in-line with the body (like running on a line, or crossing to the other side of a line).
    • Quick Fix: Pretend there is a dowel between your legs that you cannot hit.
    • Good way to know if you are “cross-over” striding – Running on a muddy trail and you have several marks on your calves.
    • #1 issue causing this – weak lateral hip stabilizers: TFL, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Most often sprinting will help to develop this musculature due to high intensity hip extensions, which activate the gluteal musculature.
  5. Listen to your feet hitting the ground – Could the person standing on the corner across the street hear you coming from behind? Is one foot making more noise than the other? You should focus on a soft landing, and equal sounds from both feet. Increasing your cadence may help this, although try not to increase over 90-120 rpm/foot.
  6. Full body posture: Predominate bend should be from the ankles, and a slight forward lean will help accentuate this, as well as increase awareness to engage the core.
  7. Shoe types – This subject can easily be taken down the rabbit hole in discussion, let’s keep it simple:
    • Minimalist running shoes – Typically promotes mid/forefoot running, and poor for heel strikers due to the high impact. Most people do not have the proper foot, ankle and calf musculature to quickly transition into minimalist shoes.
    • Athletes with chronic knee pain or runners who are constantly injuring different areas may be indicated to try minimalist shoes to help alter their gait pattern.
    • All others: Most people are best suited with a moderate stability shoe. Sometimes choosing the shoes that feels the best is the correct option instead of trying to get too technical in finding the “perfect fit”.
  8. How long should you keep your shoes? Set them side by side and if there is visible deformity then it’s time for a new pair. Look for the shoes caving inwards or outwards, height difference, etc. This means that if the shoe is not sitting correctly unweighted, then when you are running in them the deformity will be exaggerated, and you will be running in that incorrect position.
  9. Orthotics? Orthotics are great to help correct foot asymmetries, especially with increased pronation or supination (typically associated with collapsed or too high arches). A soft orthotic is usually preferred over hard plastic types. This allows your foot to still move through the full range of motion that your shoe allows, only doing so in a corrected position.

Ok, back to the picture from above. What did you notice? Keep in mind, that these are some of the best distance runners in the US. If you’re thinking, “This person has collapsed arches, that person shouldn’t be toe striking, or that person is over supinating” then you should take a step back and say, “The biggest observation about this photo is that there is no consistency with the way these runners strike the ground”. We need to understand that there is a huge array of heel, mid and forefoot strikers, and some who are in between. All of them, however, have the potential to be successful.

What does this tell us? We should not always over analyze how foot hits ground (i.e. heel/mid/forefoot strike), and more on where it hits the ground: Eliminate over-striding, do not cross-over, do not bounce too much, is there symmetry, etc.

That being said, do you have questions about your own walking, running or sprinting pattern? Not sure if orthotics are right for you? Give us a call for an evaluation and analysis of your gait patterns, and a scan for the appropriateness of orthotics!