Five Tips to Improve Your Running

running tips: stone figures in running poses
I run regularly

Not that far (5 – 10 km)

Not that fast (about 10k/h)

Not that often (about twice per week)

and I’m not an expert………..however, I have noticed that my running is really improved since I have paid attention to a few aspects of my technique.    They don’t cost any money, or even time, because it’s something you do as you run.  Mostly it needs awareness and mind/body connection

So I thought it might be nice to share the running tips that have really helped me.


Unless you’re sprinting then you need to use steady, primary, diaphragmatic breathing.

As you are running along, first of all be aware of your breathing.   Ask yourself: ” how am I breathing?”

Imagine that you’re breathing downwards  into your pelvis.  Alternatively, imagine that inside your ribcage is a balloon inflating as you breathe in.

See my earlier blog post about breathing if you want more detail on this

Be aware that you’re not gripping through the abs – that will have a negative effect on the breathing.  In fact, as a general rule, don’t grip anything!!

Avoid breathing into the upper chest, shoulders and neck.  if you’re working really hard, maybe doing a bit of a sprint or going up a steep hill, then the breathing accessory muscles will assist : Sternocleidomastoid, upper Traps, Pectorals, but they should always be your secondary breathing muscles, there to assist the main ones: the diaphragm and  intercostal muscles

Posture / Body Position

As you run there should be a natural rotation of the ribcage and arms.  The ribs will rotate in the opposite direction to the back leg.   It’s not a big move but make sure it’s there.    Don’t fix the ribcage and be aware of relaxing in the neck and shoulders.

Wear your shoulder blades like a cloak, falling away from your neck

The arms are naturally involved with running – kept at a roughly ninety degree angle at the elbow with the emphasis on a push backwards in the arm.  Even though the rib cage is rotating, the arms are going backwards to naturally come forwards again.  Always keep the hands relaxed.  It will help to keep the rest of the upper body relaxed.

Avoid carrying anything when you run  – it will reduce the rotation.  Get a bum bag and if you really need to carry water with you, buy one of those bags which sit on the waist and are designed to contain a bottle.  There’s a good example here.

Don’t forget your head position!  This is pertinent to running but also to day to day posture awareness!  Ask yourself: “Exactly where is my head right now!?”

Ensure that the head is back when you run.  By that I mean, sitting on top of your neck and spine.  Most of us have a tendency to jut the head forwards and this can even encourage a tendency to run “from” the head.   We mustn’t!  Instead: run from the feet, with the head back, jaw relaxed, neck lengthened, chin very slightly nodded towards the chest and the tongue in the roof of your mouth.

With that last point –  the tongue position, I’m currently experimenting with this and so can’t give you any feedback on the effects apart from that it is very difficult to sustain.  The moment I stop focusing upon my tongue, it flops back down to the base of my mouth and lolls about there.

Why does it matter? Because the position of the tongue will affect posture and breathing!  It will help to keep length in the throat, keep the jaw relaxed and helps maintain correct head and neck alignment. It also helps support the nasal bones, making it easier to breathe through the nose.  (As an aside it also  helps to keep the correct alignment and orientation of the mouth parts and teeth and poor tongue alignment is implicated, along with other things like our modern diets , in issues around misaligned teeth and the need for extractions/corrective work.)

Ensure the main muscles of running are the Hip Extensors (gluteals and hamstrings)

This is a difficult concept to convey written down but you have to really understand and be aware  with your own body that running (stair climbing, walking and other gym based CV stuff like Rowing, and Cross Trainers) should happen from and with the back of the body, specifically from the back of the legs and the buttocks.

This is absolutely crucial for good running. It is as if you are been pushed forwards from behind.  Connected to this is what the feet do, where they go and where they land.  The hip extensors are activated by the correct sequencing of the foot movements:   It is a subtle thing, but ideally you land with the heel , roll through the foot and push off with the balls of the feet.

We don’t get told any of this stuff when we’re growing up, or when we’re adults for that matter. Movement is learned, like language, from family, peers, wider society and other cultural reference points.  Like language, movement can be good, bad and indifferent.  It can also be modified, and improved! Start with actually thinking about how you run, bearing in mind that it should be from the back of the body. Overall the body should be tall, open and facing forwards not in any way hunched or curled forwards.

Light touch

I’ve really nailed the hamstring activation so these days I try to focus on having a really light touch when I run.  I try and land as if it is effortless and soft.  That way I’m not jarring the joints when I land and the weight and force distribution is as uniform as possible through my body.   The last thing we want is any jarring of the joints.   As yourself “Am I running lightly?  Could I make this feel any easier?”

We feel the difference between running on grass or sand, as opposed to tarmac, and to an extent being aware of how you land can have the same effect, albeit not so strongly.   It is easy to spot when a car is being driven badly – screeching start, over-revving the engine, slamming on the breaks, swerving.  It is the same with our body – go gently, treat it with respect, take things steady in order to get the most out of it.

Lightness is important in another way: it reinforces the idea of minimising the work in the body so as to increase endurance capacity.  This is after all what runners seek: greater endurance to enable greater speed, greater distance or a longer time.   So, no “efforting” and no gripping!!

When you’re running  use your mind /body connection.  I don’t mean this in a new-age-y way, I simply mean:  notice how you’re running.  The aim: sending your body forwards from the back. Standing tall with your spine lengthened and relaxed. The sole of the foot is pressing away into the ground as you are propelled forwards.  Along with this length and openness, keep the breast bone forwards  and the collar bones  wide, thus aiding the breathing and the drive through the arms

running tips: picture of women's running shoes

Other stuff

The one running tip that I cannot give is in relation to footwear.  For sure, I wear trainers, but I don’t go for particularly expensive ones any more.   I try to really work on my technique and just have an ordinary pair of trainers, around the £50 mark and I simply replace them when they look all shabby and horrid!!

I have experimented with barefoot shoes and I do have a lot of time for the barefoot philosophy which in essence is saying: minimise the footwear in order to maximise the mobility of the foot. I simply prefer the cushioning of a more traditional shoe, particularly when running on tarmac.  I use grass if I can but this winter has been so wet that I’ve avoided grass even when it’s right in front of me, eschewing it in favour of nice dry tarmac.

If you have concerns about your running, or if you now you are an over-pronator,  see a gait specialist.  It might save time and money in the long run and definitely give you some pointers, tips and advice.

Any tightness in the front of the hips,  buttocks, hamstring, calves?

Well, tightness in any muscle might affect running, but tightness in these ones will be distinctly unhelpful!

What to do?   Ensure the light touch.  No gripping, no excess tension.  Tightness at the front of the hips – the quads can really cause problems and even inhibit the hamstring activity so it may be well worth having a gentle hip stretch before running.

Save any long stretches for the end of your run though.

(Do check out  the Pilates Leeds Youtube channel over the next few weeks to see clips on how to stretch all of these muscles.)

And do plenty of squatting.  For health related exercise, body weight will suffice.  No need to deadlift etc because the purpose is to maintain flexibility and joint mobility, rather muscle building.

This is a really great resource for similar tips:

running tips: The first ever Women's Marathon in Afghanistan

Running tips: The first ever marathon even in Afghanistan, 2015

These pictures are of a  very special running event.  The first ever Marathon in Afghanistan which took place in October 2015  where Zainab became the first ever Afghan woman to complete the event in her own country. For more information see click here.  You can always start training for the 2016 event!

I have gone for a different personal challenge – to run a mile in 6 minutes.  I have definitely bitten off far more than I can currently chew.   A six minute mile has be to be run at 16km/hour.  The fastest I can currently do is 15.3km/h (and boy does that 0.3 matter…) and for only 2.5 minutes. I’m fairly confident I’ll manage…..only on a treadmill though.

If any of you guys have some other tips please share them!!! I’m always on the look out for new ways to move or improve my speed and stamina and I’m sure others are too.

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