Keys for Running Success

      Do you want to run faster and more efficient without compromising your body? High percentages of runners are sidelined each training season due to injury setbacks. Small movement flaws slow you down and can even lead to tissue breakdown over time if left alone. Speed increases with running efficiency. The keys in this article will place you ahead of the game. You will gain insight into how your body moves. Learning how to run more efficiently allows you to sustain speed changes over the long haul. It will take a conscious effort to implement these keys and is not for the faint of heart. The changes will seem hard at first, and you may even fail initially. However, by adopting these keys it will pay dividends down the road. Keep pressing forward. When implemented correctly, they will keep you out of the doctors office and ensure sustained success as you keep logging those miles. One cautionary disclaimer. These tips are not one-size-fits-all. If you have pain while making any of these changes, please don’t continue to run through the pain, thinking it will go away. Go see your local Physician who treats runners or a Physical Therapist that specializes in treating runners. You may have an undiagnosed injury or physical limitation that prevents you from using my keys. A specialist will be able to guide you and provide you with more specific insight that is unique to your body and help you to ensure success.

    The first running key is to utilize your entire posterior chain, namely your glutes. Your glutes are a powerful muscle group, but are often underutilized due to position flaws or weakness. The glutes and posterior chain as a unit provide a large push to propel you forward. One common flaw that prevents you from using the glutes effectively is running while bent over at the waist. We can blame this on desk based employment, where too much sitting causes your body to adapt to this bent position. It can also happen when triathletes run a brick workout, which is a bike workout followed immediately by a run. If you don’t stretch out after riding on the bike, then your hips will stay slightly bent in that position, making it harder to run efficiently by tapping into the posterior chain. One way to solve this issue is to visualize your pelvis as a bowl. You want to orient the bowl upright and avoid tipping the bowl forward. This will help elongate your hip flexors and lengthen you through the waist. Another way to think about it is to imagine a rope wrapped around your waist that someone is pulling from behind you. Press your hips forward into that rope, stay tall through the waist, and feel your muscles stabilizing your pelvis upright. The rope and bowl imagery are meant to help you avoid bending at the waist and compromising form. Creating stability and control in this way allows you to achieve a more powerful posterior chain contraction to propel your body forward. You want to put your body in a position where it can be successful.   

   The second running key is to increase your cadence. Ideally, you want your cadence to be greater than 170 steps per minute or 85 steps per leg. Most running watches will calculate cadence for you. You can also do it the old fashioned way and count the number of steps on one leg in 30 seconds and then multiply by 4. The primary goal for increasing cadence is not to get you out of breath, even though initially this may be the case. The purpose is to increase your running economy. In other words, to increase efficiency. The slower your cadence, the less you take advantage of elastic recoil and stretch reflexes. Faster cadence allows you to spare energy over time.

       The third and final key is to determine the direction of your momentum. It is possible to propel yourself forward, up and down, or backwards. Both leaning backwards and vaulting up and down sabotage your momentum when you are trying to get from A to B. In a perfect world there should be a small amount of vertical motion up and down while running forward and no loss of momentum backwards. The majority of your momentum should be in a forward direction. This cycles back to key number one.  If you are utilizing your glutes and posterior chain effectively, then you will be pushing yourself in a forward direction. Saboteurs to your momentum by leaning backwards or excessively bounding up and down can be easily solved. For the backwards lean, you will want to practice “falling forward” or leading with your chest as you run. Stay tall and avoid bending at the waist. Aim to shift your body weight over your feet instead of behind your feet. For too much vertical motion up and down, find a stationary object in front of you and try to keep that object in your view without it moving too much.  You can tell right away when you are looking at a stationary object if you are bouncing too much. Are you a gazelle or a cheetah? Minimize the vertical component as best you can.

    Start implementing these keys and watch what transpires in your weekly runs. Small changes made over time become easier, and you are more likely to maintain gains. Avoid over-correcting your movement flaws. Be good to yourself as you analyze and make changes. If you have difficulty in any of these areas or if something remains unclear, please reach out and email me at I would be happy to help and provide clarity and further detail. If you are in the Northern Virginia area come see me for a session at Sports PT Lab. I can film your run to specifically address which run flaws are pertinent to you. It is important to be mindful of the why behind all of these changes. It all comes down to efficiency. These three basic keys are just the tip of the iceberg and are by no means an exhaustive list of solutions. There are many more nuances to the run and areas to show improvement. Good luck and happy running!

Kristin Sykes