There's no doubt that running impacts our joints, especially if you're a city runner like me who can't avoid pavements for at least part of each run. But just how much strain do our joints really need to take?
In my experience working with runners of all abilities, most people load their feet, legs and backs with significantly more impact than is necessary. Often people stride out too far with each step and land with a heavy footfall, encouraging stress to shoot through the feet and all the way up the chain.
But the trouble is, many runners either don't know they're doing this or don't know how to address it. That's where running technique lessons can help, offering video analysis, expert tips and a safe space to explore habits to find a new, lighter and easier way of running.
If this isn't an option for you, here are a couple of quick tips to take some strain out of your running:
1. Good runners run tall
Take a look at other runners when you're next out and you'll probably notice a lot of them lean forward from the waist or have a rounded back and shoulder and a forward-protruding head. These characteristics bring a heaviness to their gait and cause braking forces to shoot up their bodies. This style also restricts the torso's ability to breathe efficiently and brings unnecessary tension into the musculo-skeletal system. Contrast this to the lightness we see in elite athletes like Eliud Kipchoge or recent 10k world recorder holder Rhonex Kipruto who run beautifully tall and the differences are obvious.
To achieve greater height in your own technique, look to initiate slight lean forward from the ankles, with the rest of the body remaining in one long, relaxed line. Picture a ski jumper's position makes after taking off, or imagine your head, chest, hips and feet having a race, with your head just in the lead, chest close behind, hips a little further back and feet trying to play cacth-up with the rest. And to bring even more ease to your running, think of your head gently releasing away from the top of your spine while your feet connect down to the ground as they land in the opposite direction.
2. Get to know your cadence
A cadence of between 170 and 190 steps per minute is generally acknowledged as a good way of prevent over-striding. By having a quick turn-over of feet, your legs don't have the time to reach out and land too far in front of you; instead your knees will stay bent throughout the cycle and land closer to your centre of gravity, offering more shock absorbancy and reducing the amount of impact going into your body.
A simple way to measure cadence is to start running at your normal pace and count your steps for 30 seconds, then double it. Alternatively most running watches can also do the job. If you have a low cadence, be mindful not to raise it too quickly, as big, sudden changes to technique can lead to injury. Instead, aim to raise your cadence by 5-10% initially, and once that become comfortable, raise it by a similar amount again.
And one final bit of advice - remember that there's no one-size-fits all, perfect cadence for everyone and that technique and body shape also play a part in what is achievable. A 6ft 5in runner, for example, is unlikely to have a cadence as quick as a 5ft 1in runner. Likewise, faster athletes also tend to have a quicker cadence than slower runners.
So next time you are out for a run, bring some curiosity to what exactly your habits are. Then once you've identified an area to work on, play around with these ideas and notice what changes occur and how much lighter your running becomes.