Running Form Analysis/Running Program
Our players with the highest work rate will run in excess of seven miles during one soccer game—so we must include a large amount of running during our training.
Physical fitness is broken down into the two main categories of sport or skill-related physical fitness and health-related physical fitness.
See the chart below for a better understanding of the components of each:
Sport-related physical fitness
Health-related physical fitness
Agility—Change directions quickly.
Muscular Strength— Move a large amount of weight a few times.
Balance—Stay upright and steady.
Muscular Endurance— Move a small amount of weight many times.
Coordination—Complex body activities working together effectively.
Aerobic and Anaerobic Cardiovascular Fitness—Healthy heart, lungs, veins, arteries. Ability to run for extended periods without stopping.
Power—Work accomplished per unit of time.
Reaction Time—Interval between stimulus and response.
Body Composition—The most ideal amount of body fat. Not too much and not too little.
Speed—Rate of motion.
We will directly and indirectly develop several of the above components of fitness during training sessions. Some sessions indirectly involve agility, balance, coordination, power, reaction time, speed, flexibility, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and cardiovascular fitness.
Running is the most basic movement for many sports. In terms of soccer, our daughters will benefit most from an increase in running speed and cardiovascular fitness, although perfect sprinting form is not always common to the highest level soccer players. However, even though each athlete has her own individual style of running that is most comfortable, it may not be most efficient. Furthermore, fine-tuning running form will improve speed and endurance while reducing the chances of experiencing running-related injuries and fatigue. We will implement the principles of biomechanics, kinesiology, stride mechanics, and physics to perform these analyses.
Looking at the chart above, you can see that speed falls under sport-related fitness where cardiovascular fitness falls under health-related fitness. Soccer players are at different times during a game, both endurance runners and sprinters. They must jog as an endurance runner would to recover and/or to gain a favorable field position even when not directly involved in a play. They must also sprint when receiving a pass, dribbling, and/or defending. Therefore, proper running form for sprinters and endurance runners both apply to our athletes. Examples of the differences between these two types of running form are related to cadence, knee, and arm action. Typically, most runners hold a cadence below 180 where sprinters often surpass 200 steps-per-minute. Also, sprinters must have high knee action to maximize speed whereas an endurance runner may have lower knee height than a sprinter in order to budget running economy and fitness. Arm swing is usually much different between sprinters and endurance runners as well. Additionally, perfect sprinting form may, at times, compromise agility which is an important component of fitness in terms of soccer performance. Furthermore, budgeting fitness is important to influence an active recovery phase during a game where the athlete drops effort below anaerobic threshold.
Here’s what I look for when evaluating a runner:
The head should be relatively steady while focusing on the horizon. The runner should not be looking down. Jaw and face muscles should be loose while allowing cheeks to bounce. Do not tightly clench jaw or tighten face muscles.
Make sure the runner isn’t hyper-extending the neck by forcing the head forward of the chest. By focusing on an upright position, the runner should keep the spine in alignment. In other words, don’t allow your chin to jut out or your head to fall too far forward.
Do not shrug shoulders by holding them up. Also, make sure not to drop or round-off shoulders. Think of good posture with relaxed shoulders and an opened chest. Additionally, make sure shoulders remain level without dipping from side-to-side with each stride. Concentrate on normal shoulder rotation. Some runners do not rotate shoulders enough around the torso while other runners over-rotate shoulders.
Make sure not to over-torque the trunk or rotate shoulders beyond a reasonably effective arc. Torso should be relatively upright so spine is in alignment without slouching or bending too far forward from the waist. Keep weight slightly forward of a center balanced line. If you begin to slouch, take a deep breath and feel your torso comfortably straighten and become “taller.”
Don’t tilt your hips too far forward or hold them back too far causing unnatural spinal angles. Also, the athlete should not allow hips to move around in unstable positions while running. The best way to correct improper hip tilt is to pretend your hips are filled with water. If you tilt too far in any direction, the water will spill. This visualization will help the runner maintain proper hip tilt.
Arm carry/arm motion/hand position
Arms should be near a 90 degree bend at most times during the running stroke. Hands should remain relatively loose without a clenched fist. Fingers should be loose and halfway extended to near or even beyond 90 degrees. Do not allow arms to cross midline of body by swinging them across chest. These crossings of midline steal forward momentum and in turn, speed. When recovery jogging, your hands should swing near the bottom of your rib cage during the lowest part of your arm swing. When sprinting, your hands should be as low as your hips as though you are pulling your hands from your pockets. Do not allow your hands to follow through too high either. I have seen runners lose efficiency by swinging hands too high above head height. Lips-to-hips is generally the accepted range of hand motion most experts agree upon. Some runners may spiral their hands and/or other parts of the body. I will not correct this type of arm swing/body motion since many world-record-holding runners are spiralers.
During a sprint, the femur/quadriceps/hamstrings of the lead leg should be near parallel to the ground. During the push-off phase, the upper leg is quickly thrust rearward. During a recovery jog, the lead leg does not need to be as parallel to the ground as when sprinting. The lead leg during a recovery jog may be much lower than during a sprint. The swing phase leg, or leg that is not weight-bearing during the power stroke phase, is where most of the momentum is generated while running by moving the center of gravity forward. Do not over-extend stride by having the foot contact the ground too far ahead of the hips. You should have a slight angle between upper and lower legs before the foot strike. This slight angle loads the major leg muscles for push-off. In other words, the knee should not be locked out at full stride but also should not have too much flexion.
The position of the lower may have a profound effect on the hamstrings especially if the runner is not properly following through at the end of the push-off phase. This flaw could in turn affect Q-angle (especially in female athletes) and eventually cause a variety of injuries including, but not limited to, knee concerns. It is important for our athletes to make sure the ankle, knee, and hip stay in relative alignment during the entire running stroke including the "catch" phase. Many sprinters hold the misconception that a push-off follow-through of the lower leg wastes time during the running stroke and that the sooner the foot contacts the ground, the faster run times will be. This is not true! The push-off phase of the lower leg and foot is one of the most crucial elements of good running form acting as a lever that generates rearward thrust. Furthermore, the runner must make sure that the lower leg is not propelled out too far ahead of the body (over striding) and that the foot contacts the ground directly under the body/hips, or slightly ahead during a sprint. I have also witnessed several of our player's feet crossing the midline almost as if they are running on the wrong side of an imaginary line below the body.
Feet should not make a loud sound or hit the ground violently. Allow your foot to contact without intentionally manipulating how it does so. I have found that very few people have unnatural foot strikes. I look for over pronation (walking on medial arch) and/or supination (outside of foot) and correct as needed. Foot should be in relative alignment with ankle. Concentrate on the push-off phase. Aim for a mid-foot strike which promotes a balanced running position and minimizes braking. The runner must make sure not to heel-strike too intensely and aim for a landing point between the heel (calcaneus), and mid-foot. Again, be sure not to allow feet to cross midline when footstriking.
Cadence/ Turnover Rate/Foot strikes (count per foot)
Foot strikes per minute may range from below 180 during a recovery jog to over 200 during all-out sprint efforts.
Most of the time during games, runners should breathe easily in through nose and out through mouth. Constant mouth-only breathing is not optimal since it could cause sympathetic nervous system responses like hyperventilation. When sprinting, mouth breathing is optimal and allows a greater exchange of O2/CO2.