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4 Ways to Improve Running Biomechanics

Source: www.pacificfit.net
By Ben Greenfield

Before reading this article, please understand that there is no such thing as "perfect" running form. Since everyone has different limb lengths, varying muscle fiber sizes and angles, diverse masses, and separate running distance requirements, no single athlete will run the same. But there are *characteristics* of a good runner that remain fairly constant from person to person. Allow me to introduce you to four, and include a drill to improve each.


1. Increase knee range of motion during the swing phase. This means that your right knee should be more flexed (towards your butt) when your right thigh is flexed forward during the run, as opposed to your right knee being more extended (away from butt). Same goes for the left, of course. Think of it this way - if you were swinging a weight attached to the end of a stick, you could move the weight faster with less effort if the stick were shorter. In this case, the stick is your leg, and the weight is your foot. By having your knee (the stick) more bent (or shorter), you are able to move the weight (your foot) much faster with less effort. The result will not only be a faster swing time (meaning a faster foot turnover), but also reduced fatigue in achieving the desired stride length.

Drill: Heel-to-butt kicks. During your normal run, begin to exaggerate knee flexion, touching the butt with the heel during each stride. Do 20 touches for both the right and left legs, then continue in your normal gait pattern.

2. Maintain flexible quadriceps and hip flexors. These are the muscles along the front of your thigh that act to straighten the leg. If they are tight, insufficient flexibility can inhibit your ability to fully extend the leg in the push-off phase of the running gait.

Drill: Platform stretch. Ideally, your pelvic bone should be tilted backwards when stretching the quadriceps and hip flexors. To achieve this, find a platform or elevated surface that is approximately at knee height or slightly higher. Facing away from the platform, and standing on your right leg, bend your left knee and lock your left foot, shoelaces down, onto the surface. Hold 15-30 seconds, then switch.

3. Deliberately focus on pushing backwards with each step. This will not only incorporate your gluteal and hamstring muscles in the push-off phase of the running gait, but also keep your center of gravity consistently rolling forward. Rather than focusing on using the muscles around the knee to provide the driving force, focus on running from the hips.

Drill: Lean-fall-run. Stand completely still and as tall as possible. Without bending the knees, let the entire body lean forward until you "fall" toward the ground and are forced to take your first step forward. Transition directly into a short 10-20 yard run, continuing to lean forward and push backwards with the hips.

4. Avoid excessive ankle and hip flexion. Do not bend your knees or flex your ankles excessively during the landing phase. While it may seem that this decreases joint impact forces, there is no empirical evidence that runners who bend the knees more have less injuries than runners who do not. However, there is evidence of increased time spent in contact with the ground, which decreases your elastic rebound from the ground and the overall power of each stride. You will naturally avoid excessive knee and ankle flexion if your focus on minimizing footstrike time.

Drill: Cadence counts. During your run, count the number of right footstrikes achieved in a span of 20 seconds. There should be 30 or more, indicating a cadence of 90 or higher. Increased cadence indicates decreased ground contact time.

Focus on making these changes to your gait pattern, and you will notice a marked increase in efficiency and economy. As you prepare for race season and design your weekly and monthly training plans, look into the triathlete training specials offered by Pacific Elite Fitness, at www.pacificfit.net.



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