Do Beginner Runners Need to Consider Technique?

There are a number of questions I’m often asked regarding running form. Sometimes these come direct from athletes, sometimes from fellow coaches.

I was reminded of one such question recently:

Do beginner runners need to work on technique, or should gradually increasing volume of running naturally allow a new runner to develop their own style?

Here are my thoughts

As with most things in the health and fitness industry, the polarised answer at either extreme is invariably the wrong answer!

Running Builds Runners

I’m not going to sit here and argue that new runners should be solely focused on achieving their own optimal form, before looking to progress the distance, pace etc… I’d rather see technique development at a process which evolves with the runner constantly.

As any seasoned cyclist turning to triathlon will probably attest to: regardless of how fit you are for cycling (for example), there is a certain resilience, strength and tolerance to the demands running that only running itself can develop!

However, to say that running is all about ‘getting the miles in’ is a somewhat flawed concept.

Look at the available injury rate data amongst runners, many of us get injured to one degree or another every year – usually presenting as one of a number of common overuse injuries.

Running is hard on the body. There’s no getting away from that!

As an example of how a technique awareness can help: we know that the knee is an area that often gets injured in runners. Of course there are many different knee pathologies and potential causes. However, just to make the point, we know that there is good research out there showing that if we gradually increase cadence for a given pace, stress on the knee joint reduces.

The Skill of Running

As I said in a previous article, I sometimes refer to a the highly skilled runner, a concept I use to describe an athlete who has the capacity to keep control of technique almost subconsciously at any given pace, incline, decline, surface etc… But when we start out, most of us are far from skilful in our running. Some may have an inherent untapped running ability, but even so, the vast majority of new runners are fundamentally unskilled, and run with no concept of how well or otherwise key areas of their body are moving, and the loading we subject ourselves to.

Efficiency vs Injury Prevention

I’m less concerned with efficiency, as these new runners are already on an upwards curve in terms of becoming more efficient as runners with their fitness (in general terms) improving. For me the big consideration and goal is injury prevention.

The reason why so many inspired new runners fall out of love with our sport is probably (at least in part) the pain and frustration caused by injury. Those unfortunately injured may well learn to associate running with pain and discomfort.

Anything we can do to help a new runner learn to run in a fashion less attritional to their knees, back, shins, the list goes on… the better.

Something to Consider

If you’re a coach, would you take a new swimmer and gradually increase training volume regardless of a clear technique flaw which compromises the shoulder joint, rotator cuff muscles, or another area? I hope not. I’d hope that you give the swimmer some technical pointers, drills and cues to consider as they perform your sessions, to help ensure that the shoulder isn’t overloaded as training load increases.

The same can be said for tennis. Take a serve for example – technique is so important in the avoidance of injury over time.

Why do I choose these two sports in particular as examples?

Much like runners; swimmers and tennis players perform the same repetitive movement patterns again, again, and again.

If any of these movement patterns are habitually flawed, creating excessive stress or strain on certain tissue or joint, injury usually ensues after a certain training load is reached.

So What Advice for Beginner Runners?

We’re all different. My general advice to any new runner is to start gently in terms of intensity, run frequently to build consistency without overloading the system with too much volume, too soon. While I’m not sure advocate running every day for new runners as per Jack Daniels, I do agree that consistency of training is vital.

It’s this consistency that helps to build the running specific resilience and strength we all need, which should in my opinion by supplemented with regular cross-training in terms of general strengthening, stability work and mobility where specifically needed.

Our free 30 Day Challenge is a good taster for my running specific cross-training philosophy in action.

On top of this, an improved awareness of technique basics such as posture, cadence and upper body carriage can go a long way to helping a beginner runner achieve success.

Image via Anthony Mayfield

Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.

1 Comment

  1. Hi James,

    Should there be much movement in your upper body when you run? Sprinters move their heads in line with the leg which is striking, but when you’re a long distance runner, should you keep this still to conserve energy? I’ve been told that I’m too rigid and that I don’t engage through my core or use my arms that much but I’m usually running half marathons.

    I think the reason I am tight through my body is perhaps because I have tight hip flexors, hamstrings and lower back? I also feel like there is a weight pressing down between my rib cage which can make it difficult to get good consistant breathing and I tend to shallow breathe as a result.

    Many thanks,