Runner’s Guide Part 1: Improving Your Running Pattern and Pace

By Kaci Cruthis 

Hello! My name is Kaci Cruthis.  I am a physical therapist and have been working at Hillsboro Area Hospital for the past 5 years.  I spend most of my time working with outpatients.  I have been a physical therapist for 13 years and love analyzing and improving the mechanics of movement, whether it is everyday motions, work-related motions, or sports-related motions.   Focusing on form can help decrease injury and improve efficiency. With the weather improving and many people having extra time on their hands with the current pandemic, I have seen a lot of people outside running.  Whether you are an avid runner or a beginner, it may be beneficial to take a step back and analyze how you are running.  Any runner is at risk for injury and knowing why you are injured can prevent futures injuries. 

You can break down running into 4 simple phases:

  1. Initial Contact
  2. Loading
  3. Mid Stance
  4. Push off

Phase 1 - Initial Contact: Midfoot or forefoot is optimal because this activates a natural spring mechanism in your foot, allowing for increased shock absorption and energy conservation.  

  • A good landing should feel gentle, relaxed, and springy.  You should land on the balls of your foot toward the outside and the let the heel down gradually (like landing from a jump)

Phase 2 - Loading: Knee should be bent around 25 degrees and a natural weight shift towards the inner part of your foot should occur.

Phase 3 - Mid Stance: Knee should increase bend to around 40 degrees and your weight should shift to the outer part of your foot.

Phase 4 - Push Off: Knee should bend up to 100 degrees, your hip should extend behind you and your heel should rise from the ground.

These 4 phases can be described as the stance phase and actually should only comprise about 35% of your running cycle.  The swing phase (or float phase) should comprise about 65% of your running cycle, both depending on running speed.

While form is very important, pace is just as important. 

Cadence

180 steps per minute (90 each foot) is the most biomechanically efficient cadence for running, regardless of your height, leg length, or running speed.  When learning to run at 180 steps per minute, try using a playlist with songs at 180 beats per minute (Spotify even has a specific running music playlist for this).  

Here are some tips on other important parts of the running pattern:
Stride Length 

Increased stride length does not necessarily result in increased speed. Speed=Stride Length x Cadence, which means you can simultaneously increase your cadence and decrease your stride length to remain at a constant speed. 

Overstriding (trying to reach your leg too far forward) can result in a heel strike pattern. Stride length and power comes from extending your hip backward, not from the forward reach of your leg. If you lack backward hip motion and try to force midfoot/forefoot landing, it will lead to overstriding and you will have to decrease cadence to maintain speed.

Forward Lean 

Leaning forward at your ankles places your body’s center of gravity in front of your feet, rather than behind them, which requires less energy, and improves the angle at which your hip muscles drive your body forward, which makes running more efficient/less taxing. 

  • The maximum amount of forward lean possible is 22.5 degrees 

Sprinters will have a greater amount of lean than distance runners. Forward lean should come from the ankles, NOT the hips.  Therefore, ankle flexibility is very important.

Arm Swing

Proper arm swing, with arms bent to 90 degrees, hands relaxed and a straight forward and backward motion will help propel you and also improve breathing. 

 I hope next time you run, you can apply this information and maybe even set a personal record or have a passerby marvel at your form!

If you are having pain with running, please contact your doctor and he or she can write a prescription to be evaluated by a physical therapist like me who can include a running analysis with your treatment. Correct pattern and pace is important to prevent injuries and to keep you healthy!

I’ll leave you with a video of the fastest runner in the world, Usain Bolt, for some inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfM4zb1Pq9I

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