How to run properly: technique, breathing, step rate

A guide for those who want to run fast and without injury.

Proper running technique is not only important for professionals. The placement of your feet, leg and trunk position, breathing and stride rate all affect the efficiency and safety of your runs.

It’s not just the pros who need proper running technique. Foot placement, foot and trunk position, breathing and step rate affect the effectiveness and safety of your runs.

How to place your feet correctly

When you run, you should land on the front of your foot. In their book “Run Faster, Longer and Without Injury” Nikolai Romanov and Kurt Brunhardt suggest that the reader try to take off and run from the heel: you cannot run for long this way, because the heel will hurt. The cushioning of modern running shoes will absorb the impact, but pain is not the only problem with this kind of foot placement.

The human foot is designed to absorb shock effectively. Its arch flattens out as you step, then straightens out and expels the stored energy.

When you step on the forefoot, this mechanism works. But if the heel goes down first, no cushioning occurs. You just hit the ground.

When you land on the heel, you literally hit the brakes in terms of biomechanics. Real runners don’t slow down every step of the way.

Coach Rodney Wiltshire

In a proper landing, the outer edge of the foot is just slightly turned down and the big toe is up. The pad of the foot touches the floor first, followed immediately by the heel.

You should not run only on the pads, and even more so on the toes: this is fraught with overstrain and injuries.

The video below shows the foot position of Ethiopian stayer and marathon runner, Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie.

When you transfer your body weight to your foot, the foot is clearly under the center of gravity, not in front of it. Your body at this point resembles the letter S. The knee of the supporting leg is over the toe and pointing forward, the foot is under the pelvis.

After pushing off the ground, your shin lifts to parallel with the floor and the knee is brought forward. And the cycle repeats. Below is a snippet of a Sage Running technique lesson from marathoner and running coach Sage Canaday.

Sage Running Pose Exercise

This exercise is from Romanov and Brunhardt’s book. You can use it to get a feel for the right landing pose before you even get on the track.

Take off your shoes, stand up straight and transfer your body weight to the front part of the foot, don’t take your heel off. Bend your right knee and lift your leg so that your right shin is at the level of your left knee and your feet resemble the number 4. Raise your left arm to counterbalance.

In the picture below, the correct position is on the right; on the left is the same pose while running.

Illustration from the book The Running Revolution: How to Run Faster, Farther, and Injury-Free—for Life.

Hold the running pose for 10-20 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. Do three approaches for each leg. If you’re outdoors, you can run between approaches to get a feel for how your body takes on this pose while you run.

How to find the right body position

How to Hold Your Neck

Your neck should be level with your back. Don’t lower your head or scootch it up. All this affects your posture and messes up your posture. You may look at the horizon or, if you’re afraid of tripping, at the stretch of road 20-30 meters ahead. The main thing is to lower your eyes, not your head.

How to hold shoulders

They must be straightened out, so that the thorax is as open as possible. Do not slouch or bring your shoulders forward, even if this is your usual posture. It messes up your body alignment and forces you to bend.

It’s also important not to lift your shoulders. This overstrains the muscles, keeps the arms from moving freely and increases energy expenditure. If your shoulders go up in the face of fatigue, spread them out and shake your arms off.

How to work your arms

Arms bent at elbows at right angles. The forearms are relaxed and move close to the body. Your elbows go clearly back. If you spread them out, it will increase the sway of the body from side to side, take away strength and reduce the economy of the run.

Your hand is made into a loose fist, and your thumb looks up: if it’s positioned like this, you won’t be able to move your elbows apart.

How to hold the torso and pelvis

The body is positioned straight ahead with a slight forward tilt. You don’t need to lean or lean back much. Otherwise you will slow down at every step.

Bring your pelvis forward and upward, and tense your glutes. This will make it easier for you to lift your knees and run.

How to breathe correctly

Proper breathing will help avoid cramps and discomfort while running. It should be:

  • Diaphragmatic. This means that when you breathe in, your stomach inflates and when you breathe out, it deflates. This kind of breathing will make your diaphragm work and provide you with enough oxygen.
  • Rhythmic. Rhythmic breathing in a 2: 1 format (two steps — inhale, one — exhale) helps reduce the fatigue of the muscles responsible for breathing, and therefore the energy cost of running. In addition, breathing in this format allows you to stay longer in the inhalation phase, when the body is as stable as possible. If you are uncomfortable breathing in this format, try 5: 2 or 4: 1.
  • Nose and mouth at the same time. The nose warms the air and the hairs clear the dust. But while running, breathing through the nose may not be enough, so you need to involve the mouth. If you run in the winter, press the tip of your tongue to your palate. Cold air will have to go around this obstacle, and it will have time to warm up a little.

Exercise “Diaphragmatic Breathing”

Lie on your back or sit up straight, straighten and lower your shoulders. Place your palm on your stomach to control its movements. Take a deep breath, as if you need to fill your belly with air: it should rise under your palm. Then exhale, at the same time retracting your belly.

Do this exercise 15-20 times to get used to it, and then practice it any time you remember it: at work, in transport, while walking. Ideally, you should breathe like this all the time.

How to find the right step frequency

Step frequency per minute, or cadence, is important not only for your running speed, but also for your joint health. Optimal cadence reduces stress on your knees and hips and improves your running performance.

It is generally accepted that the ideal cadence is 180 steps per minute: this is the step rate of most professional runners. However, it may vary depending on the individual’s constitution.

Start by counting the number of steps per minute. If the cadence is less than 180, gradually increase your step rate. Start by 5%. Run like that until you get used to it, then add another 5% and so on.

To make it easier to count your cadence, download a metronome app, set it to 160 beats per minute, for example, and adjust to the beats as you run.

You can also listen to music at a certain bpm (beats per minute) and run to the beat.

Leave a Comment