The Coach Generali Vitality Guide to: How to Run
While there is no right or wrong way for us to run, there are certain fundamentals — keeping an upright posture, hitting the ground with the center of your foot, maintaining a strong core — that will help you run more efficiently and effectively at every level. This not only improves performance, but can help to prevent injury.
We asked coach Jonny Mellor to break down the ideal runner’s form from head to toe, and to make some suggestions for complementary exercises that could improve your running style.
Good posture starts with your head. Keep it straight, with your eyes focused on the ground around 5-7m ahead of you, your chin parallel to the ground. This will help ensure your neck is appropriately aligned and in turn help your shoulders to be relaxed, enabling your arms to swing backwards and forwards beside your body. You’ll need to look at the ground much more when running on uneven trails, but try to scan ahead rather than focusing directly on the ground. Many runners find yoga helps with head and neck posture, improving flexibility and range of motion while also strengthening neck muscles essential to help with good running form.
Good neck and head posture will help with keeping your shoulders nice and loose and relaxed, as they need to be. Remind yourself to swing from the shoulders when running, keeping your arms beside your body. A tight chest can cause your arms to swing across your body and hinder your breathing, so it’s important to keep your chest muscles loose with regular stretching. A good exercise is to stand in an open doorway and raise each arm up to the side at a 90-degree angle with palms facing forwards, resting on the door frame. Slowly step forward with one foot and feel the stretch in your chest. Stand tall and resist the urge to lean forwards, holding the stretch for 30-seconds before repeating with the other side.
CRADLE THE EGG
Should the hands be tightly balled or loose and free as you run? Ideally, it should be somewhere between the two. The trick is to imagine that you’re holding an egg in each hand as you’re running. You don’t want to drop the egg, but you also don’t want to hold it so tightly that it breaks. Find the point between the two and you’ve got it right.
FRY THE SAUSAGES
Working effectively, your arms help propel you forwards and drive your legs. If you just let them hang by your sides they become a deadweight. The correct position is to have a 90-degree angle at the elbow, so the lower arm is just above your hips. As you run, imagine that you’re frying sausages, rather than tossing pancakes – pancakes require much more tension in the arms than sausages. This will also help your shoulders and chest relax and help ensure you don’t waste unnecessary energy as you run. Try not to let your arms cross over the center line of your body; instead focus on keeping them beside your body.
Having a strong core is important to keep everything upright. While I tend not to think about my core muscles when I’m running, having a strong core quietly allows everything else to function effectively and efficiently. As a result, I keep my core muscles strong and activated through regular strength training. The plank is a classic exercise for building a strong core.
THE CENTER POINT
Your hips are the center point of your body and having that strong core will help support both the hips and the pelvis, particularly as you get tired towards the end of a run or race. If your pelvis tilts forward when running due to a weak core, it pushes the hips back, which can then cause tightness in the glutes and hamstrings.
Your stride will vary depending on the speed and effort you’re running at. The average runner usually takes around 150 to 170 steps per minute. In comparison, I may have a step count closer to 200 per minute. Given that all of our running styles are different, it’s important to run with a stride length that feels comfortable for you, aiming for your feet to land directly underneath your body, with your knee just slightly bent on impact with the ground.
Always aim to run tall when running, without being too stiff and rigid. If you are too stiff, you won’t absorb the impact of the ground as effectively. Keeping good length in the spine – along with relaxed shoulders – also helps with arm carriage and being able to breathe freely as you run. If you're tight in your back it can have a knock-on effect further down the chain and cause injury through overcompensating. Many of us spend so much of our lives sitting, whether that’s driving, watching TV, working or relaxing, so it’s important to take regular breaks and move around to keep everything moving freely.
HIT THE GROUND
The majority of runners are rearfoot runners or heel strikers – they make contact with the ground using the rear or heel part of their foot first. However, it is widely accepted that runners can run faster with midfoot contact; where contact is first made with the ground in the center of the foot, with bodyweight evenly distributed to the ankles, hips, back, and knees. But the most important thing is that you have to run naturally, by which I mean: however feels right and comfortable for you. We’re hard-wired to run in a certain style from an early age and it’s very hard to change. If you try to make changes to the way in which your feet strike the ground without having strengthened the relevant areas first, you’re putting yourself at a greater risk of injury. Unless injury forces you to change, stick to your natural style.