Since I’ve been working with recreational runners on a day to day basis, I’ve noticed that some running technique errors are far more common than others. In fact, I’ve noticed three running technique errors that are super common. Interestingly, these three errors are linked to each other. If you do one you’re more like to do the other two.
This is actually an advantage for those for us looking to improve our running form. If we can improve one of these three errors we are likely to improve the other two. In this article we are going to unpack the top three running technique mistakes and how to avoid them.
What are The Top Three Running Technique Errors?
I call the top three running technique errors the “Unhappy Triad of Running Technique”. They are low running cadence, high impact forces and over striding. I’ve put the unhappy triad into a beautiful graphic designed by yours truly.
Let’s start with Cadence
Running Cadence is the number of steps you take each minute. You can work your own cadence out pretty easily by counting the number of times your left foot hits the ground in 10 seconds. Then multiply that number by 12 to get your cadence in steps per minute. For example, if you count 15 steps with your left foot in 10 seconds your cadence would be:
Cadence = 15 x 12 = 180 spm (steps per minute)
I define a low cadence as anything below 170. Most recreational runners that I work with have a low running cadence and it’s commonly in the 150-170 range. I call this the “Unhappy Zone of Running Cadence”. Most professional or high performing runners adopt a cadence somewhere in the 170-190 range and I call this the “Happy Zone of Running Cadence”. Prepare yourself for another magnificent graphic.
So why is the lower cadence zone the unhappy zone? Well, that’s because if you run with a lower cadence you are more likely to demonstrate the other two of the top three running technique mistakes. As I said, these three are all linked.
When you run at a given speed with a lower cadence you take less steps in that minute. To maintain the same speed those steps will have to be bigger. Taking bigger steps is likely to make you reach your foot out quite far in front of you before you land. This is known as Over Striding.
Over Striding is landing with your foot too far out in front of you as you run. Specifically, your initial contact with the ground is too far out in front of your centre of mass. This means that you are creating a braking force that you will need to overcome in order to continue to propel yourself forwards.
I have written previously about the negative effects of over striding so check out that article if you want to go in a bit more depth. Essentially though, over striding is running with the brakes on. Imagine driving your car with your parking brake on. You may still be able to drive the car but you will have to work the engine way harder to produce the same speed. That’s exactly what runners who are over striding have to do. They can still run but they need to work harder to maintain the same speed.
Another negative aspect of over striding is the fact that you tend to hit the ground harder. I call this high impact forces.
High Impact Forces
When you are over striding you tend to keep your knee quite straight and hit the heel hard as you land. This means that you can’t effectively cushion the impact and you will make more noise as you land.
For a quick example just stand up and jump up and down. Now try and land as quietly as you can. Now try and land on your heels with your knees straight (don’t jump very high). Pretty noisy, right? That’s those high impact forces.
High impact forces have been correlated with increased injury incidence. I talk a lot more about this in my article Am I a Heavy Runner? So check that out if you want to learn more. Briefly though, landing hard and noisy is a good way to increase your risk of developing a running injury.
How it all fits together
Running with a low cadence of 150-170 steps per minute is likely to lead to over striding. Over striding is bad for your performance as it effectively means you are running with the brakes on. Over striding also tends to make you land harder with higher impact forces. This makes you more likely to get injured.
What should I do about it?
There is no magic formula here. The goal is to avoid all three aspects of the Unhappy Triad of Running Technique. So we want to avoid low cadence, over striding and high impact forces. So here is our checklist:
- Cadence 170 – 190
- Land with your foot close to underneath your centre of mass
- Land quietly
There are specific cues for each aspect. I usually recommend runners start by determining their current running cadence. You can do this by counting the number of steps you take with your left foot in ten seconds and multiplying that number by twelve. Alternatively you can download a metronome for your smartphone (I use Pro Metronome) and just try and match the metronome beats to your footsteps as you run.
If your cadence is between 170 and 190, that’s great. Your cadence is in the happy zone and you don’t need to work on it. I would recommend that you check out my articles on over striding and high impact forces just to check you are also avoiding those errors.
If your cadence is between 150 and 170 you are very normal. Your cadence is in the unhappy zone and needs to increase. There are many ways to try and do this but the easiest is to just set the metronome to a value over 170 (I suggest 180 as it is in the middle of the happy zone). Now try and get your foot strikes to match the beats of the metronome. If you can do that without too much trouble then try and run with the higher cadence for 1 minute of every 5 minutes on your runs. Once you feel like you are doing well with that increase to 2 minutes of every 5. And so on and so forth.
About the Author
Matthew Boyd is a Physiotherapist and Running Injury Expert
This article originally appeared on his blog and can be found here:
Top Three Running Technique Errors to Avoid