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This simple cue can help runners reduce impact, new study says

Researchers found that using self-cues like "land softly" can help runners avoid injury

treadmill runner

Using external cues can be an effective way to help runners soften landings and reduce impact during training, a new study published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation says. Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin discovered that external cues like “land more softly with each footfall,” focusing on the end result of an athlete’s movements, are more useful for runners than cues that focus on internal body mechanics and require athletes to reorganize their body’s movement, like “bend your knees more as you land.”

“I think that it’s important for physical therapists, coaches and trainers to realize the cues they are giving when training runners matter, because some are more effective than others,” Kelsey Redman, one of the study’s authors, told UW Currents. “It is a really simple and easy cue to use in the prevention of running-related injuries or overuse issues.”

male runner

The study

The purpose of the study was to determine how different types of instructions can alter running mechanics that are associated with injury risk. While previous studies have shown that external cues are effective for changing movement patterns in activities like jumping off a box, this is the first study to measure the benefits of this kind specifically on runners.

black couple jogging


Twenty female recreational runners ran at their own pace, using their typical pattern of running without instruction. Participants ran on an instrumented treadmill equipped with plates to measure impact forces and cameras with 3D motion capture.

Participants were then given two sets of instructions intended to alter their running pattern. One set of instructions encouraged an internal focus, with the other promoting an external one. Researchers repeat-analyzed impact peaks and loading rates across the conditions.

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe. woman fitness sunri

The takeaway

Researchers determined that impact peaks were lowered when runners used external cues, but there was no difference between the impact peaks when using internal cues and the no instructions conditions.

Practising using cues like “land softly” as you run can be an excellent way to reduce your ground impact. Greater impact forces lead to more overuse injuries like shin splints, knee pain and stress fractures, and a simple repeated reminder to yourself that focuses on the outward effect of your movement as you run can help you tweak your form. It may be helpful for sports medicine specialists and coaches to remember this when helping runners adjust their technique for better running performance.

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