Even experienced runners who have run more than one marathon sometimes wonder about the correct long-distance running technique and the possibility of adjusting it. It is connected with the desire to improve the result or get rid of painful sensations. But most of all – with the desire to prevent further injuries.
Nature has created a unique locomotor apparatus and as a child, when running barefoot on the floor for the first time, the child instantly learns the perfect running technique without thinking about it at all. He simply uses an innate method of so-called feedback. It dictates to the nervous system and the motor center how to position the foot to avoid pain and to move in space in a productive, safe manner.
From the moment a child buys his first shoes or sneakers, this feedback begins to break down. Subsequently, the negative feedback elements that protected the feet from injury disappear for no reason at all. After all, there is now a thick and soft sole between the foot and the ground. Sometimes even with silicone insoles.
Further developments you know yourself, because that’s why you are reading this article.
- Foot position
- Heel run
- Cushioned sneakers
- Learn the technique at once
- How to run properly and what you need to know
- Running on tiptoe
- Landing on the entire foot
- What does proper long-distance running techniques look like?
- Run around more barefoot
- The subtleties of preparation
- Changes in running technique and injuries
- Sock running is not always right
- What to remember
The greatest questions and discussions are caused by methods of landing when running: on the toe (more precisely, on the front part of the foot – pad or metatarsal) or on the heel. These two variants are commonly referred to as the heel or toe technique. There is a third option, when the landing occurs on the sole. This is often referred to as running “flat footed” or “flat footed.
It is incorrect to call either one or the other a technique. Because running technique is a large complex of biomechanical cyclic movements. But, nevertheless, methods of landing are considered by modern amateurs in the first place when it comes to technique.
It should be noted that we are talking here mostly about running on asphalt and flat distances, because in trail running, depending on conditions, everything can be exactly the opposite.
Ever since the leading manufacturers of running shoes created an artificial frenzy around heel cushioning of the sole in sport-style shoes, the wave of recreational running fashion has picked up on the innovation and introduced it into the runners’ closet. Since then, heel landing has come to be seen as one of the natural options.
Demand gave birth to supply, so similar shoes appeared instantly, especially for running. To the delight of the brands, the ranks of running enthusiasts were mostly filled with self-taught runners, brought up on the advertising articles of the same manufacturers. The brands did not intend to teach everyone to run only from the heel. People who had the necessary “training” in the form of disturbed biomechanics by wearing fashionable shoes for a long time got used to it. Now we can’t imagine that it is possible to land in running in any other way than on the heel bone.
Along with the wave of fashion for running came a wave of injuries. But pseudoscientific publications in sports magazines about how landing on the heel is very natural and safe raised doubts only among those who had already been injured. But the other mass of runners fueled demand for new shoes with even cooler cushioning technologies.
Until running became a very fashionable part of “bootyful life,” no professional runner expressed a desire to soften the heel area with silicone or something else for obvious reasons. The heel bone did not take any shock loads. However, advertising fees often reach impressive sums, even for elite athletes. So their faces soon appeared on the posters of sports and footwear brands.
Not surprisingly, many runners (exclusively amateurs) still seriously consider heel running to be correct and natural. Even despite the opportunity to read numerous publications of independent sports studies of the biomechanics of top long-distance runners. And you can also analyze the training of professionals on your own.
In general, the whole “root of the evil” lies in the fact that a person, who ran for the last time in the distant childhood and suddenly decided to change his lifestyle to a more athletic one, replaces the so-called running step with the walking step. That is, he still continues to “walk”, only now in the movement there is a phase of flight. Of course, in fact, it is already running, but rather unproductive and traumatic.
The problem is not that the landing happens on the heel, but that it happens far ahead in front of the runner’s center of gravity. The athlete seems to stick his heel into the surface, while having his leg practically straightened at the knee. It is not difficult to guess that the harder the surface, the tougher the consequences of the impact spread throughout the body through the knee joint.
Such shock loads are only slightly helped by the thick and soft soles of the shoes. Unfortunately, attention to this nuance is paid only after the consequences of such a run have occurred. And in the best case it will be a slight headache, and in the worst – the typical injuries of a runner, including inflammation of the knee joint.
Another significant problem is that most amateur marathon runners who practice heel landings have muscles that don’t work properly and are constantly overstretched. This is a kind of self-protection of the body, which is not controlled by the person.
Increasing the thickness of the rear (heel) part of the sole in order to make it softer does not solve the problem, but rather seriously changes the biomechanics and makes the foot even more unstable.
A standard and for some reason nowhere mentioned problem of sneakers with a strong sole height difference is back strain and lower back pain after running, especially if you have scoliosis. However, this is not the only problem, because one thing leads to another.
Obviously, all the high-tech types of maximum heel cushioning, as well as the hyperpronation and hypersupination compensators in running shoes produced today, are a response to the need to protect the feet of novice runners from injury. In view of the fact that most of them initially run incorrectly. But now every brand already has separate lines of shoes for completely different running techniques and landing methods. Even for those that don’t exist.
Learn the technique at once
Practice shows that a very small percentage of people start researching information about proper running technique before they start training. More often they do it after they get their first injury.
Against the background of the problems of novice athletes, it seems rather strange that some “running experts” recommend first working on endurance, continuing to run as before, and then proceeding to learn correct technique.
How to run properly and what you need to know
To better understand what is at stake here, start running barefoot on the spot. It will just be physically uncomfortable for you to land on your heel. And then, tilt the body forward very slightly – and now you are already running easily, landing on the front part of the foot.
Notice that you don’t make any noise in the process. Increase your stride and the heel starts to participate as well, landing a fraction of a second later than the toe, taking some of the weight on itself and connecting the cushioning with the arch of the foot. This happens very quickly, by rolling over, in a moment the heel is already off the surface.
A simpler option is a sprint “explosive” start from the spot with maximum acceleration. This will practically eliminate the possibility of landing on the heel in the first meters, but it will begin to interact with the surface as the speed decreases. This option requires initial general physical preparation and, of course, a warm-up.
To run even softer, the outer, lateral part of the foot (on the pinky side) should touch the surface of the first. Compared to landing on the heel, you connect an additional shock-absorbing knot – the ankle. And the roll from the outer part of the foot removes strong shock loads. So we’re back to the original, natural mechanics of running.
Running on tiptoe
Be sure to note that it says nothing about running on your toes, when the heel does not make contact at all. This can be seen on the streets mostly by girls who have heard that “it’s the right thing to do. It’s amazing how strong the ligaments and muscles of the lower leg must be for a beginner to run a few kilometers this way. But the main problem here is that the Achilles is not fully working. Therefore, most of the elastic energy is lost, and the arch of the foot does not work at all. This way only a sprinter runs the whole distance, but for a stayer it is extremely irrational and traumatic.
Although it seems as if landing on the metatarsus requires even more muscle tension than the heel variant, this is not entirely true. In fact, it requires more relaxation while the foot is out of contact with the ground.
Landing on the entire foot
Running with the landing on the entire sole at once is a good neutral option, but it is suitable for a slow and perhaps medium pace, but not for a high one.
Landing on the whole foot provides good cushioning by the arch of the foot. And if you don’t slap, but start touching the surface with the lateral part of the sneaker sole, the arch is partially connected to the same cushioning mechanism as when running from the toe.
Landing on the whole foot does not require skill and is easy to do when jogging. If you land with a relaxed foot directly under your center of gravity or as close to it as possible. Trailrunning, ultrarunning are the most suitable areas of running where you can use this method because of the specific conditions and shoes.
What does proper long-distance running techniques look like?
- The landing occurs on the outer (lateral) part of the forefoot (metatarsal). That is, on the pad of the foot, slightly on the outer side.
- The landing point of the foot is close to the overall center of gravity of the body and is directly below the knee.
- Following the forefoot, the heel lightly touches the surface, but very briefly, to immediately start the movement back.
- Vertical body movement is optimized with horizontal movement.
- The pushing leg is fully straightened.
- When running, there is practically no noise produced by the feet: stomping, sole slapping, etc.
- The back and neck are straight, shoulders are relaxed and lowered, and the face looks forward.
- Arms bent at the elbows at a comfortable angle close to 90 degrees (to be picked up over time), working along the body, clearly in opposition to the body twisting and for overall balance. The range of motion and elbow angle depends on the intensity of the run.
- The body leans slightly forward when running, but only at the expense of the ankle joint.
- Twisting of the torso is minimal.
- The feet are placed almost on the same line, parallel to each other.
- There is no misalignment in the shoulder girdle, pelvic area. The runner is always stretched “in line”.
- The cadence (step frequency) is 180 steps per minute (90 steps on each leg) or more.
- The movements of the legs form what is known as a running wheel with sufficient knee lift and shin splay.
- All movements merge into one smooth progression.
If a pro is running by, opinions tend to differ about the point at which he landed. And the most numerous one is the one that will argue that the runner did not touch the ground at all.
Most of the movements should not come from your effort, but from natural passive dynamics based on the mechanics of stretches, contractions, and rotational-increasing movements. At this level of training, your muscles will be able to relax completely.
Run around more barefoot
Very valuable skills can be acquired even by such small studies as running around the house barefoot. Even at a distance of 5 meters. Running barefoot in the summer on grass and dense sand will be especially valuable.
Such unaccustomed to modern man experiments allow you to feel very subtly all the work of the biomechanical complex, including your individual features of the musculoskeletal system, which cannot be achieved in shoes. After that, the selection of running shoes is greatly simplified and there is an opportunity to save on brands.
Very soon you will develop the right running technique, which will be strictly individual and very productive. Subsequently, it can be honed to perfection. From a passive platform, the foot will turn into an active and developed tool.
The subtleties of preparation
It is very important to pay special attention to the development of muscle strength and elasticity (torso muscles are no exception!), ligaments and joint mobility in the first months. The first distances should be minimal, and all attention should be focused on technique. Running technique is not a way to set the foot. It is a large complex of movements performed with correct body position, with a good step frequency (cadence) and with maximum economy.
A wonderful example of wasting energy is the large vertical amplitude of the runner’s movements. That is, instead of expending energy solely to move forward, part of it goes to unnecessary jumps. But to exclude the vertical component is also a gross mistake. These two vectors must be summed up correctly.
Increase the distance very slowly to protect the muscles and ligaments, especially the Achilles. Before training, it would not be superfluous to include running on the spot barefoot in the warm-up. The exercises with jump rope are also excellent in combination with running.
Changes in running technique and injuries
Most often the amateur cannot change his habitual running from the heel because of the relatively weak muscles of the shin. In addition, by changing mechanics, the amount of training remains the same, or even increases. Unaccustomed innovations for the body are superimposed on old or fatigue injuries and things get even worse.
Indeed, returning to the mechanics that nature originally intended is quite difficult. Physically, the legs of “heel” runners are simply not ready for the effective work of the Achilles, foot, and shin muscles. The risk of injury is quite high because of the degraded energy storage functions of the ligaments and muscles. This is why subconsciously any hints about changing technique are met with hostility.
After unsuccessful experiments, as a rule, there are topics on forums and articles on websites about the great danger of running and its high injury rate. This is not true. Running injuries are just a consequence of a thoughtless approach to training. They are by no means mandatory companions of the runner.
Sock running is not always right
Let’s not be categorical and forget those cases when:
- The structure of a particular musculoskeletal system does not allow you to change the biomechanics. Moreover, changing it is fraught with injury and will only harm the runner.
- When it comes to jogging, landing on the heel with a roll will sometimes be less critical and dangerous than sticking the toe into the surface.
- Super marathons and trailrunning may well combine any type of footwork because of the extreme loads, conditions and types of equipment.
- Some types of surfaces require different foot placement. For example, descending a sloping sandy surface is safest if the heel provides the initial extra resistance to sliding.
What to remember
Do not blindly copy anyone else’s technique, no matter how ideal you imagine it to be. Ultimately, the frequency and length of steps, hand position and work, as well as breathing and other parameters should be set by your body, taking into account its physiological characteristics. Running should not need constant control. Everything should be natural and intuitive.
In general, correct foot placement is not so much a separate goal as a direct consequence of several important factors simultaneously: posture, cadence, landing close to the center of gravity, surface type, running stride length, muscle relaxation and ligament elasticity. But barefoot or minimalist shoes achieve this effect and understanding of footwork the fastest.
Remember that the best indicator of the correctness of your running is the level of noise you make. No footsteps or shuffling should be audible no matter how fast you run. Part of this depends on the shoe, of course.
The main requirement for long-distance running technique is economy and rationality. If you adhere to this principle and carefully monitor the body’s reaction to the adjustments you make, it will lead to the running technique that is ideal for you.