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Running - Where to Start, Pt 4 - Running Form Continued!

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Running - Where to Start, Pt 4 - Running Form Continued!

Where do you start with running form?

Ultimately, I’d suggest finding a coach, someone who has a qualification or track record in running form. There may be a local trainer that is well respected, ask them about their thoughts on form and what you can expect them to do and the process they take you through. If someone is just getting you to do repeat sprints up a hill to train you for a marathon continue to sprint and don’t look back… this is not running form. Any bozo can smoke you.

Many good running clubs coach form, but it’s really worth asking and getting their thoughts on what they do to work on form. Some clubs just like to run and there’s no thought applied to form or shoes or aerobic conditioning etc. which is fine but if you are wanting to eliminate nagging issues and increase your speed you need to think beyond this.

If you can’t find a coach or you want to save some money take a look at the two video’s in Part 3, plus read the resources on the sites at the bottom of this post. You need to start building a mental image of good form and a language of coaching cues.

I’d recommend filming yourself run both on a treadmill and on a road (use a mate). I would download the Vivobarefoot form app, and look at the slow-motion footage of yourself compared to the ideal form on the app / videos. Do you heel strike? What is your cadence? Are you upright and relaxed or do you run like your sitting at your desk?

Key Terms used when talking about running form:


This refers to turn over of your legs, this doesn’t mean a faster cadence means faster running. If you’ve read my article on shoes you’ll hear me natter on about utilizing the natural energy recoil abilities of the body. Finding the right cadence can optimize energy reuse, reduce impact on your joints and allow for more efficient movement for longer. The right cadence will allow the optimum inter play of all these factors. The rule of thumb cadence is around 180 beats per min, most runners with poor form run at about 160, so each foot spends more time on the ground transferring force backup the leg.

So whether you are running 10 min miles or 7 min miles your cadence will stay (roughly – there are always exceptions) at a similar rate. Speed is determined by a number of factors – how fast you ‘fall’ after the POSE, the movement phase (determined by your angle of fall), you movement efficiency, muscle power, aerobic fitness, and flexibility to allow hip extension.

Heel striking:

I’ve discussed why heel striking could be an issue for a running in my article on shoes. It often means more force is transferred up the leg and knees. Good form should minimise this and encourage a fore-foot strike ideally, which has the added benefit of increasing running economy.

Hip flexion / extension:

This is a difficult term to discuss. Most of us have hip flexors that have fallen asleep due to the amount of sitting we do. It’s not surprising then that they don’t wake up for a run. You’ll see many runners waddling along.

A person with limited hip extension can suffer from a major reduction in running efficiency and power. The will result in a loss of efficiency and a greater probability of injury under fatigue.

Hip extension is key to optimal form. Tight hip flexors will result in a runner failing to engage their glute’s sufficiently, and glute’s are the powerhouse of the body. A tight hip flexor will lead to an individual over-striding and an over reliance on the hamstrings. The hamstrings subsequently become vulnerable to fatigue and then injury. I have many exercises to help with this issue.

A common mechanical issue is Anterior Pelvic Tilt which can be caused by limited hip extension, a correlation proposed in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This is because the body steals from Peter to pay Paul. In the case of APT, the back is hyperextended via anterior pelvic tilt in order to gain the necessary extension. Here lower back pain is the messenger, pain means that something is wrong in the movement chain, perhaps above or below the region of issue in some cases tight hip flexors in other cases thoracic spine mobility and so on.

Mobility / Flexibility

Mobility, mobility, mobility… but you just want to run! Running is an incredibly linear activity. It’s generally in a straight line and involves many hours in a single plane. It’s not surprising that our muscles can become imbalanced. Runners do not need gymnastic levels of flexibility and mobility but you need muscle length, muscle balance, tissue quality and joint mobility to recover quicker and reduce the incidence of injuries. If the bones move through the joint capsules optimally then you are less likely to cause wear and tear and also minimise muscle imbalances. Remember as you get older you need to spend more time developing mobility and flexibility. Running only tightens the hips, and Gray Cook's ‘joint by joint’ approach suggests that a restriction or stability issue in a particular joint can have major implications for the health of the joints above and below.

Without mobility the chances of quality hip extension, ideal foot placement and back health are greatly reduced.

But before I leave this subject, note I said ‘mobility’ not ‘stretching’, which is another subject that needs more discussion.

Mobility is not achieved by moving joints through range of motion alone, a weak muscle means a scared brain which will brace the joint by limiting length and flexibility. This is why STRENGTH is so important and why Strength doesn’t mean the size of your muscles or the weight you can lift! Strength also means freedom of movement. We teach our muscles to provide more length, we don't stretch them, we convince the brain to give more length. Usually by tension.


Just like mobility this area is greatly ignored by runners who just want to run! Elite runners know the value of this, I hear Mo Farah can do an 80kg back squat, a real feat given his size and weight. Ask the average runners to do a vertical jump and they’d struggle to clear a single step on a staircase. Undertaking strength training will help with mechanical efficiency and also build your strength to endure a long race and maintain form.

It could make you faster in a marathon but more importantly strength training will help maintain a healthy bone density, aid mobility, muscle length and also add a counter point to the single plane of movement you experience as a runner by balancing muscles.

Given the requirements of running it's important to train to build strength not bulk, and that means training intelligently and heavy. Working on technique and low reps with rest, a Deadlift for example, start with a weight which you could do 7-8 reps comfortably then do 3 sets of 5, adding 2.5kg each training session, it'll get heavy very quickly. Approaching strength this way develops neurological strength by engaging as many muscle fibres as possible. You should aim to train muscle fibre recruitment.

Remember that as you get older lean muscle mass decreases and running alone will not maintain muscle mass. Regular strength work can counteract this and also prevent osteoporosis which is common in endurance athletes with poor diets and poor training regimes.


Getting your diet right will be on of the most important things you do. Not only does less weight help with economy it will also support your ability to recover after a hard work out, you’ll also use a more efficient fuel source – fat, and you’ll stave away injury with a stronger immune system, healthy bones, brain and balanced muscles. Diet is the wonder drug for most athletic results.


By stress I mean both physical, chemical and mental. Physical can mean anything from moving with bad form (lifting weights to failure, running to exhaustion or just beyond your capabilities) to sitting at a desk all day. Sitting on a chair is a stress position for your body! Chemical can either be smoking, diet (sugar, additives, grains and gluten can be harmful to your wellbeing), or perhaps you live in an area with poor air or an apartment with no air flow, or you may be on medication. Finally mental stress can be work, family, money, confidence and many other factors. All these stresses will affect your ability run or move well and therefore they need to be factored in when you train. A hard day at work may mean a relaxing gentle run , rather than the killer intervals! You don’t beat your body fit, I’ve tried and failed. Don’t forget stress, because it is the most destructive factor in your training.

So that mean you need to…

Listen to your Body:

If you don’t know how to listen then you could be missing important indicators of overtraining or an emerging injury. Injuries should not happen in training and should not be accepted as part of the deal. Remember nature doesn’t adjust to your level of skill. Learn to prevent injury by learning to trust the signals your body is giving you. A twinge in the knee isn’t weakness leaving the body it’s actually a very real weakness that will become weaker if you don’t adjust your form, slow down or work on strength & mobility!

But how do you learn to listen? To be brief: Get rid of headphones, thick soled shoes, learn to slow down and run to your ability, use a heart rate monitor and train aerobically. Aim to become a technician and listen to experts.

Aerobic conditioning:

This is such a deep subject and one that can transform you into an endurance machine. To learn the very real difference between aerobic and anaerobic running is to fundamentally listen to your body. Anaerobic doesn’t mean sprinting and aerobic doesn’t mean spandex and autotune techno.

Mo Farah at full pelt in a 10000 metre race would no doubt be running faster than you at full sprint. He’ll also be mainly using his aerobic system. To train aerobically is to burn fat as your main source of fuel and also build high levels of speed & endurance at a specific heart rate. Training the aerobic fibres will also help your form immensely. I shall write a separate post on this in the future. I’d ask you how do hill sprints prepare you to run an ultra or a marathon? Really? Otherwise I’d put my money on Bolt winning the next Olympic marathon. He won’t. Aerobic training will get you there and make you more healthy at the same time, but it’s not for those with no attention span.

Parting note:

There is so much to say about all these topics and the internet is awash with articles, experts, book recommendations and videos. Hopefully some of these points will provide you with another element to help you evaluate the sources of the information you are coming across. Exercise and health is an obsession for me, I’m not an elite athlete but I’ve made massive gains in fitness and health. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but made the most gains when I’ve stuck to the basics. I’ve highlighted some resources and thought leaders below. Getting to the good info is always hard, but many of the endurance and strength communities are welcoming and happy to talk about the quality information available.

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