How to Improve Your Running Mechanics: Tips From a Pro Coach
The debate has endured for decades, and everyone from athletes to biomechanics have weighed in. And yet the question still remains: Should you run with a heel strike or toe strike?
We spoke with ZAP Fitness running coach Pete Rea, who has guided more than three dozen runners to Olympic Trials berths, to get a coach’s perspective. Does the debate really matter? If not, what should runners think about instead?
It turns out that both heel striking and toe striking is common among elite distance runners of any distance.
But Rea argues that foot strike is less important than efficiency.
“More important than which portion of your foot impacts the ground is the question of where your feet land in relation to your center of gravity. Whether you heel strike or toe strike, you need to focus on landing with your feet under you.”
“If you reach and land with your feet well out in front of your center of gravity, you will spend more time on the ground and be far less efficient,” he says.
Rea recommends focusing on three important mechanics to maximize your running efficiency.
Tip#1: Keep Your Shoulders Relaxed and Down
“Athletes often allow their shoulders to creep up toward their ears when they fatigue,” he says. “By keeping your shoulders down you will be more relaxed and fluid from head to hips.”
Practice Drill: “Hill repetitions are an excellent way to improve toe-off and extension as well as the overall fluidity if your mechanics,” he says.
Try adding eight 20-second hill sprints to the end of your run a couple times per week to improve your stride. Additionally, aim to have your shoes impact the ground a minimum of 172-176 times each minute, or 86-88 times per foot, which will prevent over-striding.
Tip #2: Move Your Arms in a Fluid Motion
According to Rea, “arms should flow in a relaxed, fluid motion brushing the body at the waistline.”
When your arms are too high and tight or open and low, you reduce your cadence and slow your efficiency.
Practice Drill: Perfecting your arm swing only takes a few minutes in front of a mirror.
“Stand in front of a mirror with small hand weights and allow your body to drive the arms in normal running fashion so you can see your form as relaxed and driving forward,” he says.
Try one minute at a normal cadence followed by one minute at a more intense effort repeated a few times, using the mirror to guide your arm movements.
Tip #3: Use Your Muscles
Lastly, maximize explosiveness by using your major muscle groups.
“Focus on engagement of your primer movers (soleaus, calves, hamstrings and particularly your gluteus muscles) as you extend your legs behind you,” he says.
“Upon impact allow your prime [muscles] to engage and drive with feet toward your butt for maximum power output with each stride.”
Practice Drill: Walking lunges, with or without weight, will improve stabilization, balance and power.
Adding these drills to your fitness routine and focusing on stride, arm swing and major muscle groups will help you get the most out of every run and clock that next PR.
What drills keep you in top running shape? Let us know by tweeting @Reebok!