for those who love the outdoors

30 March, 2023


The Gracefull Running Technique Guide

Do you want to make the most of your running? Gracefull running have put together their expert technique guide to help you become a better runner.

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- Grow

The most common fault I see amongst fun/club (sometimes even elite!) runners is that they 'sit' when they run i.e. their hips are low, and posture somewhat collapsed. The upshot of this is that they

  • run heavy and flat-footed on their feet;
  • land with their foot in front of their centre of mass, exerting a breaking force on momentum;
  • don't activate their core which often results in trying to control the movement from tense shoulders, which in turn can restrict breathing.

The oft cited advice from 'expert' passers-by when out on a run of 'knees up, knees up' (usually followed shortly thereafter by 'run, Forest, run!'), could not be worse advice. Next time retort to them, you should be shouting 'hips up, hips up'. Even when doing a high knees drill it shouldn't be at the expense of high hips. In fact, once you get the position of your hips right it will actually feel more like your knees are down as your quad and hip flexors engage in a more extended position at the point of ground contact. (More on this later as it also relates to some of the other letters in our acronym...).

A key mistake I see as people try to implement this element of form is they grow very rigidly tall - almost military-esque. The aim should be more 'regal' and the feel should be that of running on your legs, rather than with them. I know that might sound strange, but have a play with it... This then prompts the core to fire and the shoulders to relax creating a wonderful sense of control yet openness.

- Rhythm

The optimal cadence for endurance running is 160-180 strides per minute and most people get nowhere near that. So why that rhythm? Because it matches up to the natural stretch-recoil speed of human muscle tendons and fibres (i.e. the ‘resonant frequency’). And so, if you can tap into that rhythm, you're effectively keying into free elastic energy! The main reasons that people don't already do this are:

  • lack of awareness
  • they sit when they run making them heavy on their feet
  • feet and calves are weak from wearing trainers

It's not something that will suddenly rectify itself as it often takes time to build the necessary strength to sustain the rhythm. But if you think 'light' 'alert' and 'engaged', it will hopefully help to get you there and prevent the usual sensation of sinking into the ground. Another nice feel to aim for is that of having 'buoyancy in your core' as you tick, tick, tick along the ground. And in combination with the 'G' for grow it will prompt you to land more with an optimal mid-to forefoot strike.

You can use mobile metronome apps to help train that rhythm into you, or else create a playlist of songs that are in that beat ball park (DJ apps can help with this).

- Alignment

Running is, in fact, controlled falling believe it or not! And by having a solid alignment it allows you to tap into another free source of energy: gravity. But as soon as you say 'falling', people have a tendency to bend forward at the waist. This 'kills' any gravitational momentum as it both decreases your horizontal force vector and makes you land in front of your centre of mass causing you to land heavy on your feet.

Whereas, if you can keep a sense of your body being a solid plank with ankles, knees, hips, shoulder and top of head in alignment, then you can tilt forward from the ankles (not the waist) and with each light (from 'G'rowing tall), fast (180 'R'hythmical steps/min) foot strike you 'catch' yourself... before allowing gravity to propel you to your next 'catch'. Simple! But not easy! Feeling for a ‘helping hand’ on your back, gently pushing you forward often helps too.

- Circle

Whereas the first three elements of the acronym are more about physically doing something with your body, this one is more about feel. Running should be smooth. Imagine your upper body is like a train carriage as your legs and feet generate a cyclical momentum underneath you. I often tell runners to 'feel for the wheel with your heel'. In this way, it's not a forced drawing of a circle with your feet, but innately you will be able to sense the path of least resistance with your heel – in fact it may not even feel like you’re drawing a wheel: it’s more a pinging up and down, but from the sideview your feet will be creating a circle. The extent of the ping-height required will alter as your speed increases. Higher speeds necessitate a bigger wheel.

A non-circular wheel will cause your centre of mass to oscillate, resulting in wasted energy from vertical displacement.

A more circular action, in combination with the aforementioned keeping-of-the-knees down and the ‘controlled falling’ achieved through good alignment, should help to create a sensation of the wheel operating down and behind you such that all momentum is forward. Low hips, slow cadence and either a too upright posture or one that isn't aligned, all exert a breaking force on the wheel.

If you can manage to click into this smooth sensation, then you will feel as if you'll (almost!) never get tired... and it makes running so much more fun! And on that note…

- Enjoyment

I'm often asked what sport or exercise is best to help you lose weight and my answer is always the same: one that you enjoy. That way you're more likely to not only do it but also to develop a good relationship with being active - and in turn with yourself.

How often do you see people grimacing as they are pounding their legs along the pavements? It's almost like penance for their sins! And how often do these people have awful techniques? Like you can change your technique, you can also change your mindset.

I don't subscribe to 'no pain, no gain' anymore. It only brought me fleeting happiness on the odd occasion I won a race, but many more a down moment as I nursed my latest injury from over-doing it.

Now, I fall far more in favour of 'letting the effort come to me' mindset (then it's like you don't even have to try! 😉).

Now I nurture a feeling of gratitude for having the ability to push myself, rather than fear or fight the discomfort that inevitably comes along for the ride.

Now I enjoy running for running, not just winning as was the case previously. Not that I ever win these days!

And the great thing about it is that this resulting enjoyment leads to better technique thanks to greater relaxation and a light heart, which in turn leads to greater enjoyment...and it all spirals hopelessly out of control! Before you know it, you're a running addict high on stress-and-anxiety-killing serotonin, anandamide and kynurenine aminotransferase 😉.

- Full

There’s quite a lot to take in there. But if you can't remember what each letter stands for, fear not. If all else fails, my key piece of advice is literally just to tell yourself
to run with GRACE! For me that means feeling for the full movement, recognising that we, as humans, are designed to run. By playing around with our posture, cadence and sense of falling, then being mindful of what combination feels easiest (and nicest!), you can’t go far wrong.

As with all things in life, once you ‘get’ it, you’re not guaranteed to keep it – it takes, practise and drilling. But it gets easier. And, of course, that’s not to say you’ll be exempt from experiencing the multitude of benefits that moving our bodies brings as you explore the optimal way of doing it.

And on that philosophical note, here’s something for you to mull over on your next long run (once you’re bored of playing around with technique!): how our crafty acronym can provide a blueprint for life.

Bonus (unsolicited) life advice!

  • GROW - as a person by committing to a continual learning whilst keeping an open min
  • RHYTHM - feel for what is right along your path and keep going! Don't give up
  • ALIGNMENT - live in a sync with your values. Integrity is everything
  • CIRCLE - what goes around, comes back around. Karma
  • ENJOY - does what it says on the tin. Remember not to take life - and yourself - too seriously.
  • FULL - fill your life as such (making it full of relaxation at times too!).

Interested to learn how you measure up against our GRACEfull metrics?

For technique analyses, physio screens and our ‘Gracefull Girls’ programme for aspiring young athletes, visit our website:

Gracefull Running

Becky has always been someone to try and get to the root of the problem. Her international athletics career granted her the access to some of the country’s leading physios, biomechanists and doctors. Despite this, she spent the majority of her career side-lined by injury. Frustrated she would ask herself, “If humans are designed to run, why am I still getting injured?”. There had to be something fundamentally wrong.

What followed was years of reading, studying and experimenting to try and find the formula that would get her back running consistently. It was only after retiring from athletics and allowing herself the freedom to start dancing (such reckless abandon would not have been permitted as a serious athlete!) that all the pieces of the jigsaw started to fit together. She realised that the postural requirements of dancing applied just as effectively to running. An epiphany whilst stretching in front of the fire conveniently packaged the 5 pieces of advice she would regularly give out to athletes she coached into the Grace-full acronym.

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