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Avoid the seven deadly sins of running technique

Running expert explains how to stay injury free

Dedicated runners have come to expect running-related injuries. In any given year, up to 70 percent of runners sustain an injury serious enough to stop them from running. According to running expert Sam Murphy, those problems are often caused by errors in training and technique and can be avoided. Simple mistakes, including wearing the wrong shoes, increasing mileage too quickly, or not varying sessions enough, are responsible for 60 percent of running injuries.

"By learning the difference between training and straining and honing your technique, you can minimize the risk of injury and the training setbacks it inevitably brings," Murphy says.

In Running Well, Murphy teams up with physiotherapist Sarah Connors to explain what she calls the seven deadly sins of running technique. To prevent injury, Murphy says runners should avoid these practices:

  • Overstriding. Trying to make a stride too big puts the muscles in an inefficient lengthened position, causing the foot to land in front of the knee and creating a braking effect. "Overstriding usually happens when you are trying too hard to run faster," Murphy explains.
  • Wasteful movement. Runners waste energy by incorporating too much up-and-down movement instead of focusing on forward motion. "A common cause of a bobbing action is lifting the knees too high up in front and pushing off the toes," Murphy says. A very short stride can also be to blame.
  • Overpronation. Overpronation results from pushing off on a foot with a collapsed arch. This foot position puts extra stress on the muscles supporting the arch, which in turn pull on their attachments to the inside of the shin bone.
  • Sitting in the bucket. Also referred to as sitting on the hips, this happens when the pelvis tilts forward and the hips push back. "This posture reduces the power of the hip extensors, stresses the lower back, and shortens your stride," Murphy says. "This posture is responsible for a lot of runners’ back and hip problems."
  • Excessive supination. Oversupination occurs when the foot doesn’t roll in enough and remains on the outside edge. This action reduces the foot’s ability to absorb the shock of impact and increases the risk of stress fractures, especially along the outside edge of the foot and shin. 
  • Poor hip drive. Relying too much on the quads and hip flexors rather than using the hamstrings and gluteals to extend the hips reduces the power and length of the stride. Strengthening glutes and hamstrings can improve running technique. 
  • Hip drop (Trendelenburg gait). A Trendelenburg gait occurs when the pelvis shifts too far from side to side. "As a result of weak adductors and abductors, the hip of the swing leg drops and the hip of the stance leg pops out to the side because the muscles aren’t able to hold the pelvis level," Murphy explains.

The color-illustrated Running Well offers a comprehensive plan for maximizing training without injury and includes a guide to more than 30 specific running injuries.  For more information, see Running Well.