Written by Jessica Anwyl

Improve Your Running Technique And Times (Advice From A Physio)

Running doesn’t come easy to everyone. Finding and maintaining motivation to tread those pavements can be tough. We all want to see our times improve and ultimately this is the biggest motivator of all.

So I’ve prepared a three-step guide to help you improve your running.

First I’ll share some simple tips to find your initial motivation and make basic improvements to your running. Then I’ll help you improve your technique because this can really slow you down. And finally, I’m going to introduce you to a training technique that will help satisfy your need for speed. Let’s begin.

3 Simple Ways To Keep Motivated And Improve Your Running

If you’re finding your motivation levels for running are low, here are 3 simple ideas to keep yourself out there and even improve your running at the same time!

1. Run to a beat

Picking out your favourite music is an easy way to stay motivated and keep rhythm with your running. You can use your music to help regulate your steps per minute. We call this cadence. Cadence can usually be measured by a running App or watch (such as Garmin or Fitbit), or simply by understanding the tempo beat of a song.

An easy way to start to understand how you run is by picking music that displays beats per minute. Spotify allows you to search for playlists which are created with a range of songs that have the same beat. Sticking to the beat of the song will help to regulate your steps per minute.

But why is this important?

If you’re considering improving your speed with running, this is a simple and effective way. By increasing your cadence you reduce the amount of time spent in contact with the ground, therefore reducing your ground reaction force. This allows you to move faster whilst reducing injury risk.

Utilising a metronome or playlist may assist in keeping your steps to a particular count.

Focus on smaller steps not on running faster – think baby steps like Fred Flinstone!

The research says that most intermediate to advance runners try to have an average cadence of 160-180 beats per minute.

Here are some songs to help get your playlist started…

If I Could Turn Back Time – Cher
Bright Side of the Road – Van Morrison

Shake it Off – Taylor Swift
Whip it – Devo

JOIN ME: Want to listen to my Spotify playlist? Here’s what I’m running to.

2. Schedule

Prepare your week. Being organised and motivated can be tricky, but sticking to a plan can help to keep consistent with your running.

Plan out when and where you’re going to run.

The human body responds very well to structure. Start your day with good decisions, which leads to more good decisions. Healthy habits can have a domino effect on your daily choices. If it’s not a run then start with your favourite breakfast or play your favourite music.

Planning your runs with a friend always keeps you more accountable. Running with someone or a group creates a positive mindset, helping you to push your body further.

Accountability is so important to keeping a balanced week and to prevent injuries associated with running. Having a scheduled plan on how to manage your running week will help you get to that next step.

There are some really great apps that you can use to monitor and track your runs to do so. For example Map My Run, Run Keeper and Strava ( I will review these at a later date). I tend to use my diary and schedule after each run my next one or a goal for the next one – it keeps me motivated.

" Accountability is so important to keeping a balanced week and to prevent injuries associated with running "

- Jess Anwyl

3. Rejuvenate

Give your body some TLC. Smart runners are those that understand their body and how to manage their weekly load.

Running takes its toll on our body tissue. Sleep, hydration and food are super important in maintaining a healthy body for running. Every runner’s sleep regime will be different, but what we do know is that sleep has a large impact on recovery for the next run.

Try to map out your body’s natural amount of need for sleep to understand what your body requires for optimal recovery.

In conjunction with this fluid and fuel replenishment is just as important. We know from the research that most runners need a balanced diet to obtain optimal vitamins and nutrients for performance and recovery.

Try to make sure your body is fuelled not only before but also after a run. Prepare a post running yummy snack to replenish essential fuel source lost (my favourites are blueberries, Vanilla yoghurt or crackers and dip!).

In terms of hydration, it can vary depending on how hydrated you were before your run, how far and hard you ran and also the type of weather. The current advice suggests we drink to thirst. Remember if you have lost fluid it is likely you have also lost electrolytes. Electrolytes are chemicals that conduct electricity when mixed with water. They are used in nerve and muscle function and help to rebuild damaged tissue. Therefore it is also important to replace them after a run– try mixing some Hydrolyte into your water bottle for a non-surgery replenishment.

Being organised, getting enough rest and recovery and sticking to a beat are 3 simple ways to improve your overall weekly running goals. I’ve just started running to songs at 180beats per minutes for part of my distance runs – it’s super challenging but very rewarding to see my improvement in time at the end.

These are the simple tips to improve your running but what if it’s your technique that’s holding you back?

Improving Your Running Technique. There’s actually a lot that goes into a technique. Let’s try and simplify it and see if you can do some simple self-analysis to help understand more.

Let’s start with your stride or the way you take your steps. Typically we want to look at stride length and width.

Step Width

Research suggests that having a narrow step width may contribute to running injuries – such as ITB pain, knee pain and shin pain.

An easy way to know that your step width may be too narrow is when your heel clips the inside of your other leg during the swing phase of running.

It may be that you’ve always run like that or it may be that there is some weakness in your lateral stabilising muscles, such as your glutes. Weakness may cause runners to place their foot closer to the midline and rely more on other structures, such as your ITB to maintain balance, support and control during the single-leg standing phase of running. This pattern of running may be referred to as a cross over gait. It is an inefficient way to run due to the increased rotation at the body, hips and pelvis.

If this is you…

Use visualisation to help make a change. Imagine you are running along tram tracks or running with a ball between your knees. If strength is an issue then strengthening your glutes can help – I will go through this in another blog!

Step Length

This is all about how long your strides are.

An easy way to know if you are an over-strider is by looking at your cadence or step count per minute. If you have a higher cadence you spend less time in contact with the ground and therefore move quicker.

For many years a ‘good’ running cadence was considered to be 180 strides per minute.

However, cadence is not a one size fits all.

Your optimal cadence depends on several factors, including height, weight and running ability. It can take about 2 months for your body to adapt to a faster cadence and for it to feel normal. So if you want to increase your cadence take it no more than 5 steps per minute faster at a time. And don’t do it for your entire run. Run to a beat. Focus on smaller steps not on running faster!

By increasing your cadence, you’re doing more than just moving your feet faster; you’re changing the positioning of where your foot lands. Rather than having your foot land in front of your hips, with a higher cadence, it lands underneath you – in your centre of gravity. This naturally decreases your stride length and increases your turnover, which means you’re wasting less energy moving up and down.

Rather your body is focused on moving forward, making you faster. If you are running for endurance consider shorter, quicker strides which tend to be more efficient and easier on the legs.

Runners who tend to overstride, create a choppy, bouncy gait, and put extra pressure on muscles and bones, making you more susceptible to injury.

Overall, pick one thing to work on with your running technique.

For me it was to take small strides and turn my feet over faster – I thought to myself quick feet (pitter-patter) and successfully reduced by average pace by at least 10seconds over 2 short weeks.

You’ve now found renewed motivation and improved your technique…Now it’s time to step up your training to improve those times.

Need for Speed: Mix up your week with Interval Training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to improve your running performance.

It consists of short bursts of intense effort followed by lower intensity recovery periods.

It has been shown to improve VO2 Max (how efficiently your body uses oxygen) and increase muscle size, strength and power, therefore overall endurance.

Incorporating a HIIT workout into your running week challenges you to keep pushing your running limits and improve your speed.

Experts report training 1-2 times a week with help to get improved running times.

It’s also a great way to burn calories fast and keep enjoying your running. So how do you do this?

There are different types of interval training, but before you consider it, make sure you have a base of running under your belt (i.e. 3 weeks of steady-state runs). Now you are ready.

Interval Session

Usually, a higher intensity effort (where you’re unable to talk) followed by a rest period (walking).

For example:
500m (2mins30secs:1 min rest) x 4 (2km)
400m (2mins:1 min rest) x 5 (2km)

Fartlek Session

Swedish for “speed play”! So you vary your speed throughout a run. Your work efforts and rest periods are flexible in duration and intensity. You can use visual markers (i.e. light poles or trees) try increasing your intensity for short bursts.

Or try this workout for example:
5km 1minute high intensity every 500m

Hit the hills

Hill repeats! So tough but oh so good.

They make the body consume higher rates of oxygen without increasing your pace whilst strengthening all your leg muscles! Building strength to the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves, improving your power and endurance.

Find a hill near your favourite running path and get started.

Try 6 x hill repeats with 30seconds-1minute rest in between depending on the hill length.

My favourite is to take the beach track along Mentone to Mordialloc foreshore, jog until you reach a set of stairs or hill leading up to the road. Push up it and then jog to the next. Up and back – it’s tough but so rewarding!

Get set to sprint

An effort that is performed at 90 per cent or greater of your max speed. It’s a great way to challenge your running speed, running faster makes you faster. Usually for 15-20seconds with a longer rest period.

For example:
1 km warm-up jog
5x200m (60seconds, 30seconds rest) 1km
5x100m (30seconds, 20seconds rest) 500m
10x50m (15seconds, 20seconds rest) 500m
1 cool down jog

Have a go at introducing a HIIT workout into your week, keeping in mind to start slow and build up over a number of weeks. You’ll love the results.