I love to analyse my race photos because they reveal a lot about where we need to make improvements in our form, particularly when race photographers capture us in a fatigued state, usually at the end of a race or at the top of a hill.

I was looking at some photos of me at the end of a 5k race this week that I thought I’d talk you through, to see what we can learn about running form and what we can improve on.

First of all, the good.

You can see that my posture is straight, with my head up, and my core is engaged as I’m not sagging at the waist. Engaging core muscles is vital to good posture for running as it will keep you nice and straight, to enable you to run more efficiently. You can also see that I’m leaning forward slightly from the ankles, particularly in the middle and right photos, meaning I’ve got some forward momentum going. My heel is clearly up in the left photo, indicating a strong drive of my leg to propel me forward, although this could be better. I’ve also clearly got some arm movement going on, with relaxed hands, but we’ll talk about that in a moment. Oh and I’m smiling!

So what can I improve on?

The most obvious things I can tell from these photos is that I need to work on lifting my knees higher to propel me forward more. This is really obvious from the middle photo. My stride length looks quite short as a result (although bear in mind I was running up hill, where it naturally shortens). I’ll be working some drills into my training to see if I can improve on this knee drive.

Secondly, can you see how my arms swing across my body? It’s really important to use arms efficiently while running, especially uphill, but my swing could be much straighter. I’m probably losing forward momentum by allowing my arms to swing across my body, so this is something I’ll be working on.

Lastly, you can see that I am quite pronouncedly landing on my heel in the left photo. This happens when I’m tired, and it’s really hard to correct. Heel striking gets a bad press; it’s not necessarily bad to heel strike, but what happens when we land on our heels is that, if we are overstriding, and our knees aren’t directly underneath our centre of gravity when we land, it can put undue pressure on our knees. I’m taking short strides in this photo as I’m running uphill, but I should be on my toes to help me up the hill. Every time I land on my heel, I’m effectively braking (see right hand photo) as I lose energy through the ground the longer my foot is there.

So there you go. Lots for me to improve on. What are your bad form habits that you’d like to improve on?

4 thoughts on “What can we learn from a race photo about our running form?

  1. Great post. Never thought about using race photos before. I’m not sure that you are landing on your heel. We were looking at some video footage of our feet and our foot position was the same but when it hit the ground it was mid foot. The best bit of advice I have been given which really gets your knees up is to focus on stamping your foot down as you run. Xx

  2. 1) you don’t actively engage your trunk muscles when you run. If you did you’d not be able to move. You’re a skilled runner so stand tall.
    2) Photos 1,2&3 show you clearly land on your heel, but shot 3 suggests it’s under you, and shot 2 shows you toe off nicely. Your ankles go from dorsi to plantar flexion, if they didn’t you’d be in all kinds of trouble.
    3) your arms swing across you as you’re counter rotating upper body and lower body. This is particularly common in women due to pelvis width and the accompanying internal rotation of the femurs. This also often has a lower knee lift, although less heavy landing can be protective if you’re distance running.
    If you really want increased knee lift try a lot of knee boxing, and get a core momentum trainer to improve trunk strength for the rotation.
    4) the longer your foot is on the floor the more strength you can push off with. Unless you’re trying to use the stretch shortening cycle, but you may need more mid/fore foot strike for that and a quicker contact time.

  3. Great post, I’m a Running Technique Specialist and often find myself looking at runners photos (although video is obviously best). You’re right about your arm drive, try to think along the lines of taking something from your pocket and up straight to chin level. Personally I wouldn’t focus on your knee drive as you’ll end up overusing your anterior muscles to get there, instead focus on cycling legs up from behind. Hope this helps

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