Nicole Thompson by Nicole Thompson

Running is a fundamental exercise that offers numerous benefits, from cardiovascular health to mental well-being. Mastering proper running technique is the key to unlocking its full potential and minimizing the risk of common injuries. As a health and exercise professional, guiding your clients to improve their running form can significantly enhance their performance and enjoyment of the sport.  

Here are some tips you can offer clients to improve their running economy, including advice on increasing running volume, footstrike, ground contact, arm swing, posture and cadence. 

1. Increasing Running Volume Safely

When it comes to increasing running volume, the approach should be tailored to each client's goals and experience level. New runners, those running to improve general health, and seasoned racers each have different needs. 

Starting with a walk-jog approach can be particularly effective for beginners. Suggest that they begin with a 30-minute workout, jogging for one minute out of every five. Over time, they can extend the jogging intervals and shorten the walking intervals. Once they can jog for 30 consecutive minutes, they can work on improving speed. 

For newer runners and those looking to improve general health, gradual progression is key to minimizing the risk of injury. Encourage them to follow the 10% rule, which suggests increasing weekly mileage by no more than 10% from the previous week. Additionally, it may be beneficial for new runners to maintain the same mileage for three to four weeks before making any increases. This allows their bodies to adapt to the new demands. 

For clients training for a race, the 10% rule is still a good guideline. However, their training plans should include additional structured elements like intervals, tempo runs and long runs to build speed and endurance effectively. 

2. Footstrike and Ground Contact 

Footstrike refers to the part of the foot that makes initial contact with the ground. There are three main types of footstrike: heel strike, midfoot strike and forefoot strike. Research on footstrike has shown mixed results, but one key factor is where the foot lands in relation to the body. Whether a runner lands on the heel or midfoot is less important than ensuring the foot lands directly under the hips. This position allows for a smooth transition into the next stride, reducing the risk of over-striding. 

When running slowly, heel striking isn't necessarily bad, but overstriding, where the rearfoot lands sharply with the leg extended in front of the body, should be avoided. Encourage clients to focus on landing softly and lightly, with a springing motion off the ground with each step. This reduces impact forces and promotes efficient running mechanics. 

Encourage clients to find a footstrike that feels natural for them, as forcing a specific type can lead to discomfort and injuries. Emphasize a soft and quiet ground contact, which usually indicates a lower impact and more efficient running form. 

3. Arm Swing 

Proper arm swing plays a vital role in maintaining balance and rhythm while running. Arms should be bent at a 90-degree angle, swinging forward and backward (in the sagittal plane) from the shoulder, not crossing the midline of the body. This movement helps to counterbalance the legs and maintain forward momentum. Ensure that clients avoid clenching their fists or letting their arms swing too high, which can lead to unnecessary tension and wasted energy. The arms swings should be swift and compact movements.  

4. Posture 

Good posture is fundamental for efficient running. Runners should maintain a slight forward lean from the ankles, not the waist, which helps engage the core and use gravity to propel forward. The head should be up, looking ahead rather than down at the feet, to keep the spine aligned and reduce strain on the neck and shoulders. Encourage clients to relax their shoulders and keep them down and back. 

5. Cadence 

Cadence, or step rate, is the number of steps a runner takes per minute. While an optimal cadence is usually around 180 steps per minute, this can vary based on individual biomechanics. Increasing cadence can reduce the impact force on each step, as shorter, quicker steps decrease ground contact time. Encourage clients to curate a running playlist with songs that match their preferred pace, ideally with 150 beats per minute (bpm) or higher, or use apps that track cadence. It's important to note that people can improve their running speed through appropriate training. 

Practical Tips for Health and Exercise Professionals:  

  • Video analysis: Use video analysis to review and correct your clients' running form. Slow-motion playback can highlight areas for improvement. 

  • Drills and exercises: Incorporate running drills and strength exercises focused on the hips, glutes and core to support proper form and prevent injuries. 

  • Feedback and encouragement: Provide positive, constructive feedback. Encourage clients to focus on one aspect of their form at a time to avoid overwhelming them. 

  • Custom plans: Develop personalized training plans that consider the client’s current fitness level, running experience and goals. 

Final Thoughts 

Helping your clients improve their running form involves a comprehensive approach that includes proper technique, gradual progression and individualized plans. By focusing on these key areas and staying informed about the latest research, you can support your clients in achieving their running goals safely and effectively. Remember, the goal is to enhance performance while making running a more enjoyable and sustainable activity for everyone. 

To strengthen your coaching with specialized TRX training for runners, check out TRX for Runners (worth 0.2 ACE CECs). In this course, you will learn to utilize exercises tailored for strength, stability and mobility to create runner-specific training programs that will enhance your clients’ running performance while minimizing injury risk.