How important is running technique?

Written by Håvard Nordgård.

Running technique is more important the longer you run. If one defines good running technique as the fastest way to get to the finish line with the least possible use of energy, a repeated technical error will have greater consequences the longer the distance. If you run a marathon and put your foot down in front of the centre of gravity, this can produce a braking effect that is repeated 42 thousand times if the stride length is 1 metre.
Good running economy and running technique are developed in parallel when the goal is to run as efficiently as possible.

  • Correct technique is essential for a good running economy. Studies show that running economy can vary by 30% between exercisers with the same oxygen uptake. That corresponds to many minutes in a half marathon. The difference in running economy between elite runners can vary by 10 - 15%.
  • Many suggest that it is the good running economy of the Kenyan runners that has led to their dominance in long-distance running. Measurements of oxygen uptake show that runners from other countries have equally high maximum O2 uptake.
  • Good running economy is characterized by running with the hips up and forward in the direction of speed, with relaxed shoulders where the arms swing naturally forward in the direction of speed. 
  • By running more, technique and running economy are gradually developed by strengthening the muscles. If you also include strength training for the stomach, hips, calves and legs, the technique will improve even faster.
  • Good endurance requires high oxygen uptake. Surveys show that max 02 is at its highest in the late 20 years of age. When many develop into better runners for many years after max 02 is at its peak, it is due to better-running economy and improvement of strength and technique.

Four main areas to develop good technique;

  • Relaxation in the shoulders with the correct pendulum and angle in the arms. Arm swing in the direction of travel.
  • Bring the hip up and forward to be able to place the foot directly under the body's centre of gravity. This avoids noise and slows down speed.
  • Depending on distance and strength, land on the middle/forefoot to harness the energy created when tendons and muscles are stretched.
  • Frequency and step length.

Studies show that the stretching movement in the foot can add 35% more energy by landing on the forefoot compared to landing on the heel. Studies also show a reduction in injuries to the knees, hips and back by landing on the middle/forefoot. But at the same time, other investigations show more injuries in the calf, Achilles and the foot itself. Either way, hip placement is more important than whether you're running on your forefoot. If you run with a "crack" in your hip, you will land with a bump, regardless of whether you land on your forefoot or heel. It is the position of the hip and the position of the foot under the centre of gravity that are most important for an effective step. Many runners should also test out shorter steps with a faster frequency. The power used in each step is reduced and more of the energy can be used for increased speed. It has a better effect, especially on long runs.

Changing technique requires concentration and it is wise to think about one task at a time. Think technique on parts of runs and imagine a perfect step. If you spend time visualizing the technique, it gradually improves and you reach your goal faster and reduce the risk of injury.