There's a great saying amongst the fitness community that running is not bad for you – but running badly is.
According to Sport England, more than 2 million people in the UK don their trainers and head out for a run every week, yet research shows that 79% of runners get injured at least once a year – that's more than 1.5 million people in this country who have to stop or cut down the amount of running they do.
But rather than head straight for the physio or osteopath to receive treatment, how many runners have considered that many of these injuries can be avoided by changing their technique? How many have thought about how their bodies work as they stride along? And how many are aware of where their feet are landing in relation to their bodies, or what their arms are doing?
By taking some key Alexander Technique principles into your running, it's possible to improve balance, coordination and freedom of movement – all invaluable things for anybody who exercises. And by increasing efficiency in your technique you can also reduce your risk of injury and boost your chance of running faster and more easily than you have ever run before.
All that's needed is a willingness to try something new and an interest in how you run. And – as we can both vouch from our own experience – this change of attitude, coupled with some simple ideas about your form, can transform your runs from uninspiring slogs to experiences of genuine enjoyment. Bring an intelligence to your running and you'll never mindlessly pound the pavement again. And the real beauty is, anybody can do it.
1. Think tall
Your brain has an amazing ability to send messages. By simply thinking of having length along your spine and maintaining a soft, free neck, you can prevent yourself from slouching and being heavy in your stride. The relationship between our head, neck and back has a big influence on the way we move, so maintaining a freedom here will bring a lightness to your gait.
2. Land your feet under your hips
Runners who stretch out in their stride normally land on their heels and generate greater shock through their leg, hip and back joints. It's also inefficient, acting as a brake, requiring you to accelerate through every step just to maintain your momentum. Instead, if you can land your feet under your hips (with your foot already travelling backwards) – preferably on the mid-foot – you will be able to glide across the ground with greater lightness and fewer braking forces. Allow your stride to open up behind you. The foot fall is similar to jumping up and down on the spot.
3. Breathe easy
Do you know how you breathe? Do you enjoy breathing, even when your heart-rate increases? Explore what happens to you and your posture when you become tired and out of breath. When this happens, bring your mind back to your breathing and focus on taking longer, relaxed out-breaths and don't worry about the in-breath. Every good exhalation is always followed by a good inhalation and every time you breathe in, you will provide your body with energy in the form of oxygen.
4. Keep your arms free
Unclench your fists and aim for relaxed wrists and a light touch between finger tips and thumb. Pull your arms backwards with each stride then let them naturally swing back forward. This will lead to lower body tension and greater power in your stride. It's also better not to carry a phone, music player or water bottle in one hand as you run as it will lead to greater tension in that side and create an imbalance in your stride. If you are well hydrated before you run, you shouldn't need to drink while you're out unless you're covering very long distances or it's incredibly hot.
5. Look lively
Keep your eyes alert, be aware of your peripheral vision and try to avoid looking down at the ground close to your feet. Look further afield. Your head weighs between 10lbs and 15lbs, and for every 10 degrees forward from neutral that your neck is, you add roughly 10lbs of gravitational force. Leaning forward from the base of your neck by just 30 degrees will be the equivalent of having a four-year-old sitting on your neck as you run.
6. Lie down
Employing Constructive Rest – or lying in semi-supine with books under your head – in your daily routine is a great way to allow your spine to release and your back to lengthen and widen. And when it comes to running it can also be a great way to get your body in a state of relaxed readiness before you head out. Treating yourself to a 10 minute lie-down as part of your warm-up routine can also help let go of any stresses going through your mind, allowing you to bring an alert brain to your run rather than have it wander onto things that may pull you down and lose form.
A short lie-down after your get home can also help your body return to a neutral state, but be mindful not to do it for too long so your muscles don't get cold.
7. Don't forget to enjoy yourself!
Many people see going for a run as a necessary evil to lose weight or get fit. But only when you discover a love of running will you truly enjoy its many benefits. That may be easier said than done, but the simple act of becoming more familiar with your technique can make running easier and more fun. And often personal bests unexpectedly improve when we give up on trying too hard.
Embrace what's happening when you run. Explore what your body is doing and bring a conscious awareness to any habits you might find yourself doing. And when you find your mind wandering, which will inevitably happen, bring your thoughts back to consciousness and remember some of these simple tips that can improve your form and your enjoyment of running.