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The key to becoming a more efficient runner is to improve your “interaction” with the ground - essentially how you land and propel yourself forward with each footstep. Recent research has shown that the single most important factor to improving “running economy” (the amount of oxygen consumed in relation to velocity) is reducing the length of time spent in contact with the ground. The shorter the “contact time,” the faster and more efficient a runner you are. Being in contact with the ground slows you down - reducing the natural spring of muscles at impact.
Longer “contact times” tend to be the result of overstriding; running in a way that leads you to land in front of your body and predominantly on the heel. Many runners and coaches have confused “heel striking” to be the issue - but some of the world’s best runners are “heel strikers.”
The key to shortening your contact time is adapting where your foot lands in relation to your body. Efficient runners land underneath their centre of gravity, beneath their hips - with the contact becoming more of a glancing blow.
So, how do we put this into practise? Here are 5 common form mistakes with solutions to help you improve your interaction with the ground.
The next time when you’re out running, pull out your headphones and focus on your footsteps. There are a couple of things to listen for; a loud thud at each footstrike, or “shuffling” stride where your foot remains in contact with the ground as you land and roll over your standing foot.
Try to experiment and reduce the noise at impact or shorten the ground contact. Does increasing the number of steps (or cadence) make a difference? Does changing your posture have an impact (see No.2)? Remember- don’t consciously force any particular part of the foot to hit the ground first. A change to a mid or forefoot landing might be the byproduct of other changes but should never be the primary motivation.
While running it is imperative that you remain tall - “lift” your hips and imagine a straight line that runs down the outside of your body, connecting ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles. A slouched or seated posture invariably leads to a shallow or shuffling stride and increased time spent in contact with the ground. It can help to lean forward slightly from the toes too - helping you bring ground contact under your centre of gravity.
It’s really important to include at least one bodyweight strength session a week in your training routine. Focus on muscles around the “trunk” - with exercises that encourage a stable core with movement in the limbs.
Runners’ form tends to deteriorate as they fatigue, so force yourself to focus on technique when your legs are tired. There are two simple ways to get your mind and body to refocus.
First, structure your longer runs so you consciously pick up the pace over the last few kilometers. Second, try to finish a run with 5 x 20-30 sec sprints (with a 60-90 sec rest between each).
The goal is the same for both approaches - try to focus on fast smooth efficient technique when your body doesn’t want to! It’s really important to focus on the dialogue in your brain - are there specific cues which help you feel light, soft and smooth? Remember those for future races and events.
Just watch the smooth efficient running style of the top distance runners. They make it look so easy - with a high heel and knee lift, and a fast circular step turnover. Not everyone is born with great technique, but it can be perfected with short fast sprints in training each day.
Sprinting is the best technique training a runner can do. Introducing some “strides” or hill sprints in your training will make the world of difference to your running efficiency. In addition to improving power and strength as a result of more ballistic muscle contractions, short fast sprints have an added neuromuscular benefit. You use more of the muscles at your disposal and learn to fire them more rapidly. Being able to “turn your legs” over quickly will benefit you at all speeds.
Run some “strides” once a week after an easy run. Choose a flat uninterrupted path roughly 80-100 metres long. Run hard, fast, and smooth but don't go “eyeballs out.” Aim for roughly 90% perceived effort. Turn around and jog or walk back to your starting position after each stride, aiming to complete 6-8 in total. Don’t wear a rucksack or headphones for these strides as you’ll want the feeling of smooth fast relaxation.
KARHU, meaning “bear” in Finnish, is a leading running brand, and has provided technical running and outdoor gear for 100 years. With an authentic heritage in athletics and a deep connection to the outdoors, KARHU follows the Finnish principles of design simplicity and running purity. KARHU shoes have been worn on the feet of the greatest Finnish runners, including Paavo Nurmi and five Boston Marathon champions. KARHU shoes and apparel are sold globally at running and lifestyle specialty retailers.