Every runner has two things in common: they want to improve running form and are eager to prevent injury.
Here are five easy tips that will help you do both:
One of the best ways to enhance running form and performance is to be aware of your cadence. Cadence is simply how many steps you take over time. An average runner takes 160–170 steps per minute. Watch an elite runner and you'll discover that they take over 200 steps per minute; by increasing their cadence rate, they increase their speed. But what's even better? A study found by increasing cadence by 5–10 percent, you can substantially reduce the impact forces to the hip and knee joints, beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries such as shin splints, iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome and anterior knee pain.
Often a runner who is still a beginner strides with a heel strike. This means that you're probably overstriding, and the first part of your foot to hit the ground is your heel. There is no conclusive evidence as to whether a heel strike or forefoot strike is better, as both can lead to injuries, it's just that the injuries are different. One way to reduce the possibility of injury is to make sure you aren't overstriding in either case. You want your foot to be as much under your hip and knee as possible when it strikes the ground. This reduces the amount of load and impact that is absorbed from ankle, to knee, to hip. Also, try running with lighter shoes featuring a flatter heel-toe ramp angle and visualize running "as light as a feather" to take the stomp out of your stride.
Good posture will also improve running form and reduce injury. A strong core and a "sit up straight" stance will help keep major joints in alignment. Lower back pain, ITB syndrome and hip-flexor inflammation can all be aggravated due to a weak core and/or pelvic instability. Incorporate pelvic tilts, abdomen and glute strength work and overall balance exercises into your training schedule to improve your running form.
4. Muscle Imbalance
Running relies on a few specific muscles, and you risk creating a muscle imbalance that can impact both form and function if you neglect the minor players. Common injuries from muscle imbalance are joint pain, ligament inflammation and muscle tightness in your hamstrings, calves, groin and hip flexors. Strengthening your quads, glutes, lower back and shins will help keep your muscles working in a complementary fashion.
Much has been written on stretching, including when to stretch versus whether to stretch at all. Regardless of the controversy, overall flexibility of joints and muscles has been proven to prevent injury. For example, there would be no ITB syndrome without a tight ITB, no hamstring tendinitis without a tight hamstring, and no Achilles tendinitis without tight calves. Enough said? Incorporate flexibility training, such as yoga, into your weekly workout to stay loose and stretch your muscles out.
Kelly Tweeddale's journey from nonrunner to marathon qualifier was accomplished in just under 12 months of determination and naivete. Since then, she has run seven marathons (four in Boston, two in Seattle and one in New York), set personal bests in 5K, 10K and half marathon events and finished in the top 10 in her division on a regular basis. When she isn't scoping out a course or pacing her runs, she can be found leading change in the performing-arts sector in Seattle.