Running Basics – by Michael Matyevich

Running is one of the most popular types of physical activity that general population engage in to get fit, lose weight and to stay generally healthy overall. It is of course extremely beneficial to your cardio-vascular system, aerobic fitness and a great number of other positive health benefits including a reduced risk of acquiring a plethora of diseases. As the benefits of cardiovascular activity are very well documented, this guide is not about why you should run, but much more focused on the question: how should I run?

Why is this important?

Let me give you an example that I have come across many times with a new client. Mark is 35 years old and works full-time in an office, sitting at his desk for most of the day and hasn’t got out to do any real physical activity since before his early 20s. After a check up with his GP he has been told that he is required to begin some cardiovascular training as he is overweight and needs to regain some of his fitness to lower his risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. He gets a massive surge of motivation to get started and take back control of his life! He starts running a few kms 4 times a week and has set a goal to complete a half marathon in 6 months’ time. He continues to push himself harder and harder increasing the distance he can run in one session as much as possible, always pushing through the pain and finishing on a high. However after a few weeks, after everything is looking fantastic and is right on track, he pulls a muscle and is now injured. All of a sudden he has to stop running completely. He is recovering from this set back and he can’t get back to doing any activity in time to train for his marathon. He quickly loses motivation and feels like he has failed to achieve his goal. Without even realising he is now back to square one and has made no progress with his fitness since the start. This progress can occur again and again as injury after injury pops up. This can create a cycle of re-occurring rise and loss in motivation and activity, which is a recipe for constantly landing back at square one.

The good news is, even though (sadly) someone like Mark will often blame himself for failing the program, it is not his fault! Quite simply the idea that any exercise (including running)  is easy and can be picked up and improved on quickly with no real thought as to HOW you are actually moving is totally false. Running is actually a highly technical skill to be done correctly and it is absolutely vital that you build your running technique on a strong and solid foundation so that you don’t crumble like Mark did.

Here is how most injuries and negative occurrences with running occur. You want to run say 2km (already a problem with this line of thinking but we will get into that later) with very little experience. You are fully committed and will do anything to reach your goal. After you begin the run you start to tire quickly and your body starts to conserve energy by tending to ‘lumber’ more. That’s fine though because you are purely focused and getting to that 2km mark, right? You finally get to the finish line with that ‘lumbering’ or somewhat inhibited gait and feel a great sense of accomplishment! What is the problem with that?
You have essentially compensated for a lack of lower body strength and cardio vascular fitness by inhibiting technique so that you have a much shorter gait. This is incredibly inefficient for your body as you use less musculature to help you move! The less you use your muscles, the more your joints, tendons and ligaments are subject to forces your muscles should be protecting, so you are constantly overloading your joints! Even with this inefficient gait movement your muscles are put through inefficient patterns so they are worked harder and you are at a higher risk of pulling a muscle! So see how overtime without a good solid base you can easily succumb to joint/ muscular injuries as a result of repeated inefficiencies?

So we’ve established that good running technique/mechanics is essential, what else is wrong with this mindset of running say 2km off the bat? Quite simply if your body cannot run 2km with good mechanics then you have no business running 2kms in the first place! As soon as you lose the technique then your body is compensating and is at risk. And besides, your body doesn’t know the difference between 1.6km, 1.9km and 2km. Just getting to a certain distance in your head doesn’t make you that much fitter, especially if you are regressing form over time.

They key here is to not let distance be your limiting factor, but your technique!! As soon as that starts to fail, you rest. You have pushed your body to its limit. Recover until you can go again with good technique for as long as you can again. We are now training your body mechanics and muscles to run in a certain way and begin to progress that until you can run say 2km with perfect form. For example:

A) Good training protocol:

Run with perfect technique for as long as possible (e.g. 500m)
4*500m with 1 minute rest in between each 500m interval (for muscular and cardio recovery)
Total distance covered with good technique= 2km

B) Bad training protocol:

Run 2km as quickly as you can
1*2000m (just keep going mindset)
Total distance covered with good technique= 500m
Regressing form and inefficient running= 1500m

Training program A is far more effective as it takes into account your body’s limits and will progressively overload this over time i.e., once you can run your 500m with perfect technique relatively easily, you up it to 600m or 700m, or however far your body can go! Now you are progressing strength and fitness without risking injuries like you do pounding your body constantly trying to live up to the distance you have generically set.

This is of course relative to your own fitness levels too. A total beginner could start with very small distances (100-500m) whereas a more experienced runner could go longer (2000m+), it all depends on your fitness level and experience. The sky is the limit with how far you can go, with a very high level of fitness and mechanics base you can run indefinitely at a steady state with perfect technique, think Olympic runners in the long distance categories! It all depends on your goals and where you want to get to with your running.

Technique Guide

So a quick re-cap of what we’ve learned so far:
– Good running mechanics improves efficiency and reduces chance of injury

-Your limiting factor should always be your technique, not how far you have set yourself

– Once you can run (continuing the 2km distance example) 2km with good technique, you use less energy per step, take bigger strides, and overall increase your speed far more than running the 2km with regressing form, so it is safer and faster!

But what constitutes good running technique?

Here we will go over 4 main key components of proper running mechanics; Mid-foot strike, high knee drive, close heel contact and arm movement.

1. Mid-foot strike

This phase deals with the planting of the foot onto the ground transitioning up off the ground and driving the body forward. In this phase you must ensure that your foot is in dorsi flexion as it descends to the ground and upon contact of the mid-foot with the ground transfers to plantar flexion. From here it is very important to then drive the foot and knee forward to eliminate back drag and get ready for the high knee phase. It is vital that your feet don’t kick back, rather that they drive forward. This motion activates the shock absorbing musculature around the ankle-calf complex to allow for a safer, more efficient and more powerful movement pattern. This is contrast to running heel-toe which doesn’t allow the musculature around the ankle to act as a shock absorber to provide these benefits.

2. High Knee drive

This phase is about optimising forward momentum and power generation at the hip. One of the most important factors is the reduction of back drag. Often thinking of just driving the knees high and forward eliminates this effect. From the mid-foot strike, you aim to bring the knee up as high as possible and as straight as possible i.e. keeping the knee tucked in close to the hip. The higher, faster and harder you can drive the knee up, the more forward momentum you will have, the faster you will run and the better set up you will be for the next stride to produce maximum power.

3. Close Heel contact

This phase makes up a part of the high knee phase, but focuses on the ankle and the beginning of replant into the ground. As the knee drives up high and close to the hip, the ankle should also be kept as close to the hip as possible to maximise torque around the hip by reducing the length of the moment arm (the leg) from the fulcrum (the hip joint). In this phase the angle is also moving from its plantar flexion to dorsi-flexion, maximised at the top of the knee drive. From here the leg should aim to plant back down into the ground and begin the mid foot strike phase again.

4. Arm movement

The last component is to ensure the upper body is also contributing as best it can to the movement. Your arm position should be kept at 90 degrees through the whole movement. The motion should range from the forearm being roughly parallel to the ground, to the hand just touching but not going past the midline. Whilst the torso should be kept upright in this movement, there will be ideally some slight relaxation in the upper body to allow contribution to forward momentum of each arm. Really think of driving the arm forward fast from the midline, not trying to load the arms backwards to push forwards.

Note this is overall the ideal technique, but depending on the speed and intensity you are running at, the magnitude of the technique execution will vary. For example, at a light jog you still have a mid-foot strike with a slight knee drive forward and the arm motion in the same movement pattern, but it is not necessary to drive the knee maximally high or push off into the ground as hard as possible as would be necessary in a sprint.

So essentially, as the intensity of the running increases the more important and the more pronounced this technique will be.

I hope this helps you improve your running and if you would like any specific help, guidance of training, please feel free to contact me.


Michael Matyevich

Personal Trainer

Just In Time Personal Training






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