5 Activities to Improve Your Running Form
There are a number of reasons why someone would want to improve their running form. Two that are relevant for most people are first, better form can make you faster, and second, better form can reduce the chances of getting injured. In this article I will present a few exercises and activities that if done consistently, can lead to improved efficiency of movement, which in turn can improve your overall running form.
Ideally, a well laid out, comprehensive plan that addresses various aspects of strength and movement would be the best way to approach “better form” (You can find one of those here). However, some days, time constraints get in the way or maybe you’re just getting started with running and don’t want to commit as much time to secondary activities. Whatever the reason, my hope here is to select a few activities that address some primary components of running mechanics, thus improving overall form.
The activities below are based on the concept that limb movements originate from the pelvis and spine as small “wiggles.” These little oscillations are then amplified as they move out towards the limbs. The more efficiently the body can amplify the initial movements, the more effective they can be. The intention is to present exercises that enhance this transfer of movement.
The order in which the exercises are presented is done “generationally.” This is a system of organization I learned from coaching veteran Dan Pfaff. Pfaff explains this as, “how closely does the activity you are doing resemble the final movement.” So while isolating specific parts of the body has value, the goal is to incorporate tasks that resemble the end goal, in this case running.
Activity #1 – Table Position Exercises
The table position requires you to kneel and place your hands on the ground. Now with four points of contact and a properly aligned back, you look like a table, hence the name – table position. All the exercises done in this position emphasize pelvic and spinal alignment, strength and mobility. The idea with this group of exercises is to increase the strength and mobility of your back and hips. Many folks know this area of the body as their “core.”
- Camel/Old Horse – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zxPpYfqDTw
- Fire Hydrant – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aXfylCg1GU
- Circles – forward/backward – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDZ1OvpHhhs
- Birddogs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cxmx6dp0SyA
Activity #2 – Weighted Squats
Done properly, squats are one of the best “core” strengthening activities out there. They engage many different muscle groups from prime movers to postural muscles along the spine. You don’t need any weight for squats to be affective. However, adding some resistance in the form of a barbell, dumbbells, medicine ball or even a gallon jug filled with water will engage postural muscles a bit more as you stabilize the weight. If squats are new to you, start with body weight only until you are proficient at the whole movement. Squats get at the main premise of this article, a stronger core will improve the mechanisms of movement involved with running.
- Body Weight Squat- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnfoH6-lLjw
- Arms over head squat with medicine ball – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cjzLqqkWhs
- Squat with medicine ball – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNhTvN-rjZo
Activity #3 – Lunge Matrix
This activity is a series of lunges in multiple planes of movement. It is simple and only takes a few minutes. The idea here is that lunges activate muscles; they also employ a fairly large range of motion. The larger range of motion requires core stabilization. Both activation and stabilization benefit the concept of increasing the body’s ability to transfer movement.
Here is a video of Coach Jay Johnson demonstrating the Lunge Matrix as a warm up activity (it can also be used post run). He also gives some of the rationale behind it.
Activity #4 – High Knee Series: Walk, Run
These two activities are exactly what they sound like, moving your knees in an exaggerated motion that is higher than normal as you walk or run. Pelvic alignment and postural stability are two requirements to execute these exercises. As we have determined, alignment and stability are good characteristics in regard to running form. To ensure better execution of these movements, the leg being lifted should only come to parallel with the ground, no higher.
- High Knee Walk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPsPUSDOuPI
- High Knee Run – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teS7o-kR0aY
Activity #5 – Strides
You might be asking, “If I need to improve my running form, how does running make it better?” Strides, as I am going to define them, are shorter faster running efforts. They involve running for 15-25 seconds at a smooth fast pace. Think sprinting but not quite all out. For most of us, the faster we go, the better our form gets, at least for a little bit. Higher velocities result when forces are transferred in an efficient manner. With this in mind, doing strides allows for a very specific way to “teach” the body to run with better form. A key here is that you maintain this good form for the entire duration of the stride. So if you feel like you are straining to maintain the pace after 20 seconds, shorten the duration to 15 seconds and avoid the breakdown. Rest between strides will vary, but should be long enough to ensure you can execute pace and form with relative ease for each trial. Probable rest times are 45 seconds to a minute.
So now having identified a few activities, here is one method for adding them over the course of a week. Incorporating these extra activities in the prescribed manner will add 5-15 minutes to the total exercise time of a given day.
Sunday – Long Run
- Pre Run – lunge matrix (from video)
- Post Run – 6 x strides, table position exercises x 5 each
Monday – Recovery Run
- Pre Run – lunge matrix
- Post Run – table position exercises x 10 each
Tuesday – Faster Workout
- Pre Run – easy run, High Knee Series – 2 walks x 20 meters + 2 runs x 20 meters, 4 x strides
- Post Run – Squats – 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
Wednesday – Recovery Run
- Pre Run – lunge matrix
- Post Run – 10 x strides, table position exercises x 5 each
Thursday – Recovery Run
- Pre Run – table position exercises x 5 each
- Post Run – lunge matrix
Friday – Faster Workout
- Pre Run – easy run, High Knee Series – 2 walks x 20 meters + 2 runs x 20 meters, 4 x s strides
- Post Run – Squats – 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
Saturday – OFF
As a closing thought, change takes time. Be consistent with a training routine and be patient while waiting for the results.