82% of runners will eventually experience an injury associated with their athletic activity. But why do they get hurt? Do the injuries come as a result of repeated microtraumas, incurred kilometer after kilometer? Or from a sudden increase in the level of exertion? From inclines? Sessions that are too intense? Perhaps insufficient recovery?
Many factors inherent in training can cause an injury to occur. However, running is not only a question of adapting to a physiological stimulus, but also a biomechanical issue.
In fact, the least often mentioned yet most likely cause for the occurrence of injuries is running technique. Obviously, the motion of running feels like something that just comes naturally. Yet, it is necessary to learn proper running technique in order to limit your risk of injury. Mastering control of the kinematics of running will help reduce the biomechanical constraints of the sport, leading to fewer injuries in the long term.
Running technique that is impaired due to a muscular imbalance, a lack of mobility, placement, or bad support can lead to biomechanical dysfunction and result in injury or weakened performance.
Running Care has come up with a list of the most frequent technical mistakes runners make and how you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: the knee doesn’t rise high enough in the driving phase
This mistake is mainly due to a weakness in the hip flexors.
These muscles are located in the joint between your pelvis and the back of the thigh. These muscles, the psoas and the iliac comprise the hip flexors. They are important for runners because they make it possible to raise the knees and to push forward. They also play an important role in the length of your stride.
To help with this problem, we suggest doing, in a straight line, knee lifts, bounding drills, and mountain climbers
Mistake #2: Excessive rotation of the shoulders and arms
It’s not uncommon to see runners adopting a movement where they cross their arms in front of them in order to compensate for the rotation of their hips. However, the more the arms are oriented toward the sides, the more the hips will tend to rotate. This mistake can indicate a lack of core strength or may simply come down to bad habits.
In order to limit the rotation of the shoulders and arms, we suggest reinforcing the shoulder (scapular attachment) and arm muscles using free weights or an elastic band
Mistake #3: Inability to maintain an elbow angle of 90° or less during long-distance runs
This lack of range reflects a loss of energy which manifests by a flexion and extension of the forearm toward the arm.
Unlike a sprinter, whose back arm unfolds to generate more power, the elbow should rest in a right angle for long-distance running. The arm stays in line with the axis and moves forward and backward. The idea is to economize energy expenditure by keeping the arms close to you in order to limit incidental movements.
Suggested exercise: Arm movements with free weights
Mistake #4: Torso bent too far forward
Bending the torso forward is only effective while accelerating. A long-distance runner must keep their torso upright or bent no more than 5 degrees forward. Bending the torso too far forward will hinder the elevation of the knee by blocking it from moving higher in the driving phase.
Suggested exercise: Eccentric hamstring reinforcement
Lay down and rest your heel on a chair. Press down with your heel along the vertical axis enough to raise your pelvis from the floor. Maintain this position for a few seconds in contraction, then slowly release and start again.
Mistake #5: Back leg is over-extended at the end of the driving phase
During the driving phase, if your leg is too extended, you will waste energy contracting your quadriceps. You should therefore try to minimize your energy expenditure by keeping the angle smaller during the driving phase. Actively controlling your ankle will allow your leg to return to the front more quickly and will limit the extension of the back leg.
Suggested exercise: Dynamic stair climbing, ankle stretches, working your feet out with your legs stiff
Mistake #6: Too much vertical oscillation while running
In order to limit your energy expenditure, your center of gravity shouldn’t oscillate too far up and down. This mistake is often caused by a lack of strength in the quadriceps which helps support your weight while running.
Suggested exercise: stato-dynamic lower limb exercises
Stato-dynamic exercises pair a static movement with a dynamic movement. This way, the workout alternates concentric phases with isometric phases. Flat-footed split bench jumps including an isometric phase with the feet on the ground is an example of a stato-dynamic movement for the lower limbs.
Mistake #7: Landing far ahead of your center of gravity with the knee in extension
Some runners place their foot way too far in front of them during their landing. Your foot should land close to directly under your center of gravity rather than far in front with the knee in extension. This is a mistake than can sometimes be corrected by quickening your stride. The more steps per minute you take, the more your knee will tend to bend and, without much effort, bring your foot down under your center of gravity. We recommend you try to reach 180 steps per minute.
Suggested exercise: scratch drill, skipping
While running, contact with the ground is made by the front foot with the legs stiff. The arms should remain loose. When the foot comes down, it should meet the ground with the sole, and when it leaves the ground, the tip of the foot should be pointing upwards. Don’t meet the ground with the tip of your foot.
Mistake #8: Taught face
During difficult sessions, the face sometimes becomes tense. This comes from muscular tension in the upper limbs.
Suggested exercise: run while relaxing your facial and trapezius muscles
Guillaume Boitel – Doctor in Physiology, Biomechanics & Sports Sciences
Dicharry, J. (2012). Anatomy for Runners. New York : Skyhorse.
Novacheck, T.F. (1997). The Biomechanics of Running. Gait and Posture 7, 77(95).
Puleo, J., Milroy, P. (2010). Running Anatomy. Champaign : Human Kinetics.
Yessis M. (2000). Explosive Running – Using the Science of Kinesiology to Improve Your Performance. Etats-Unis : The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Guillaume est Sport Scientist spécialisé dans la nutrition, biomécanique et physiologie sportive. Il accompagne des athlètes de haut-niveau dans leur préparation sportive.