5 Tips Every Runner Should Know To Avoid Injuries
...and run faster!
Oh, springtime in Atlanta! Sunshine, pollen, and of course runners that head to the roadways to find their escape and energize their bodies before summer humidity hits them. I am definitely one of them! There is nothing better than grabbing my running shoes on a Saturday morning and stepping out into the cool air as the sun begins to rise. Just me, myself, my thoughts and my running steps. I often dive deep into my body and listen to how it feels to move efficiently across the ground. Each step smooth with every arm swing as my breath matches my cadence and I power onward ready to conquer the day.
But what happens when my body doesn’t feel great? When I must put extra thought and effort into my running form so it feels good. That is my reality some days if I didn’t sleep well or stayed up way past my bedtime or didn’t allow my body to recover from a tough strength workout the day before. Yes, we’ve all been there! In these circumstances, I refer back to the basics and check in with my body. I ask myself “Are you applying the key principles to efficient running that you teach your clients?” Many times, it’s no! At this point it is time to put more pep in my step and remind myself of what an ideal running gait looks like.
What is an ideal running gait anyway? Before we dive in, let’s talk about running in general. Running is the ability to move your body’s center of mass forward along a vertical axis while stabilizing it against rotational and side bending forces. It also requires us to support our bodies against gravity, so we do not fall down. This is incredibly complex from a motor control standpoint and puts a ton of load on our muscles and joints. As a reference, runners strike the ground between 800-1500 times/mile with forces 1.5x-5x their body weight. If you run an 8 min/mile pace, that’s 1,400 steps per mile whereas if you run 12 min/mile pace that’s 1,951 steps per mile. As you can see slower running equals increased load over time. It’s no wonder that injuries are so common.
So where does all this fit into your running? Let’s jump into the five tips every runner should know to avoid injuries and run more efficiency.
This is the number of times your foot strikes the ground per minute. The goal is shorter, faster strides with an ideal cadence of 160-180 steps per minute. Increasing your steps per minute decreases your stride length and subsequently decreases the amount of time your foot touches the ground. This minimizes impact and prevents injury. The simplest way to track your cadence is to count your steps as you run. Find a flat running surface and count the number of times your right foot hits the ground for 30 seconds and multiply by 4 to account for both feet over a minute’s time. It’s best to repeat this a few times and average them out. Once you have found your cadence, you’ll want to be consistent every time you run so we recommend downloading a metronome app. There’s plenty of free ones out there (we like one called MetroTimer). Set the metronome to your goal cadence (beats/minute) and try to match your steps to the beat.
Striking the ground underneath your body while landing on your midfoot or forefoot will reduce force through your knees and hips. It’s best to reinforce a midfoot landing prior to your run by marching in place as part of your warmup. Heel striking and over striding causes braking that slows the body down and requires more momentum to move forward in space.
Forward Trunk Lean
Leaning your body slightly forward at the ankles and standing tall through your posture will allow you to use your glutes more efficiently and reduce stress on your back. We think of running as a series of falls then catches to stabilize yourself. So, the lean allows you to use gravity to your advantage instead of excessive muscle force.
Pushing with your glutes will propel your body forward and assist you in pulling the heel back. This creates potential energy to swing the knee up high on the front of the stride so the midfoot can drive into the ground. Ideally your shin should pull back so it’s parallel with the ground before the leg moves forward in space.
Coordinating opposite arm and leg movements will help in establishing cadence and generate stability through the running cycle. Think about driving your hand from hip level to heart level. Your hand should be in a light gripping posture as if you are holding a potato chip between your fingertips. The elbows should be bent at 90 degrees and act as pendulums along your torso. Avoid swinging your elbows out to the sides or allowing your arms to cross midline.
Now that we’ve given you the 5 tips to faster running, it’s time to check in with yourself:
Are you running at an ideal steps per minute? Check!
Are your feet landing under your body? Check!
Are you leaning your body forward on a slight incline (at the ankles) as if you are wearing ski boots? Check!
Are your arms swinging like pendulums at your sides? Check!
Are your feet driving back using your glutes or are your hip flexors pulling them forward? Check!
If any one of these questions do not fit with your form, keep practicing. These tips will feel slightly awkward when you first begin implementing them, so pick one at a time to practice. In fact, it takes 4-6 weeks of frequent practice before the brain begins to recognize a pattern as “normal”. Stay with it and don’t give up on your form!
If you would like more help improving your running performance, we can show you how! A quick video running assessment by one of our PTs will give you the tools to be a runner for life. Give us a call today to set up an appointment, or to learn more about our Master Your Running program.
If you are looking for additional resources, check out New Balance’s Good Form Running graphic below.
Thanks for reading!
Lauren Sok PT, MPT
Fearless leader and mother of the team, Lauren took the leap to found Functionize in 2015 after nearly 20 years in conventional physical therapy practice with the ultimate goal of creating a new legacy for her family and her colleagues.
encouraging and enjoying an active lifestyle; as a result, she grew up watching them age
Finding energy in helping others and joy in watching them succeed, Lauren embraces childish enthusiasm and overt optimism in the face of entrepreneurship. Despite doubts and challenges, Lauren braved starting a cash-based physical therapy practice at a time when private-pay was a novel concept in the healthcare industry.
Raised in a small, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, Lauren grew up with her parents constantly with grace and agility, which became a prime motivation for her to help others do the same. Lauren came to learn that a proactive approach to health and wellness is the key for living your fullest life. The first in her family to go to college, Lauren laid the foundation for Functionize in hard work and determination.
To create the dream team, Lauren carefully curated a culture comprised of dynamic, invested and innately curious experts in relentless pursuit of providing best-in-class care and a customized approach for each individual patient.
Lauren’s intention is for her clients to feel they have a coach, partner and friend in with Functionize. Her goal is to ensure every person who comes into the Functionize fold leaves the education, support and empowerment to regain control over health and optimize wellness. Ultimately, she is dedicated to disrupting the current approach to healthcare for one that focuses on humans as a whole as opposed to the sum of symptoms.
Today, Lauren lives in Dunwoody with her husband, Kevin, teenage twin boys, Ethan and Austin, and spunky daughter, Sienna. When she is not running between sporting events, networking socials, supper clubs, carpooling, and school volunteering, Lauren enjoys traveling, running, a lazy day on the beach, OrangeTheory Fitness, and exploring the food and events in Atlanta, GA.