How to Run Slowly with Good Technique (for MAF or recovery)

The Olympics are right around the corner, and pretty soon we’re going to be looking at what helps people run fast. So let’s take a moment now to prepare by looking at the flip side of the coin: how to run slowly without hurting yourself or feeling miserable.

You may be thinking it’s the struggle to run fast that causes injury and suffering. That certainly can happen. However if you’re beginning MAF training or other structured training that requires you to keep your heart rate low—or even just trying to learn how to do a proper recovery run—you may find yourself struggling to run slowly enough.

There are three really common pitfalls people encounter when trying to run slowly:

1. Slowing down your stride rate till you feel heavy and sluggish.

Slower running is best thought of as “trotting” rather than “jogging.” Think of a dog or horse trotting, brisk and light but not fast. That’s you too — run slowly by taking smaller, less forceful steps. Though your stride rate will be lower than when you run fast–stride rate is actually speed-dependent–you don’t want to adopt a lumbering gait. So keep it light and let your stride rate settle into a groove that helps you maintain that feeling.

2. Disconnecting your head from the movement.

Faster running keeps you organized to move your head forward in concert with your body by leaning forward. But when you run really slowly your lean is almost imperceptible and you don’t have to work very hard to keep your head moving forward. Consequently it may droop, hang downwards, tip sideways, and otherwise be unconnected to how you’re moving.

This builds very bad habits for later, so keep your head up and stay aware that you’re pushing your head forward with your feet. Try orienting or changing your focus. And most importantly, feel what you’re doing with your upper back and neck, and see if you can keep a flow of energy through your spine to your head, without any breaks.

3. Overusing your calves.

Lots of very small steps can result in running that doesn’t really use the thigh muscles because the range of motion just doesn’t call on them. Instead you depend primarily on your calves to power you, with a result that they get very fatigued and tight.

Instead, move your core. Slow running — a very mellow trot, let’s call it — is a great opportunity to hone your core action and weight shift. When your pelvis is moving well you run on flatter feet (neither heel striking nor forefoot striking in a pronounced way). Thus you don’t overuse your calves. If you’re running really slowly, meaning maybe even 15 minute miles or slower, you will feel you hardly use your legs at all.

This is my best lesson for learning how to run slowly. It’ll help you better feel how to put it all together, including your upper body:

In this picture, the girl in the peach t-shirt on the right has great slow-running form.

Mother and Daughters running slowly

When you find the movement sweet spot for slow running, you can feel how it strengthens the elastic connection from feet to head and will translate to good running form at faster paces. So even though slow running may feel like technique-free running, the opposite is actually true. It’s a fantastic investment, not only in your fitness, but also in your form.

10 thoughts on “How to Run Slowly with Good Technique (for MAF or recovery)”

  1. There’s only one thing I don’t agree with. You NOT supposed to trot. Your strides are supposed to be long and not little trots. That’s how every runner gets injured. You can still go slow with a long stride.

    • Thanks for your comment, Gio. But you’ve really got it backwards. A very long, slow stride can be quite damaging, as you can’t use your body elastically. Stride length is speed dependent: the faster you run, the longer your stride.

  2. Thank you so much for this post I found it very helpful for me .

    I’ve been trying to run slow as I’m wanting to train by my Maf heart rate which is 130 and have been run walk for the last four months, I have been finding it hard to stop my heart rate from shooting up too high!.

    So thinking if I take small steps and try running very slowly this will control my heart rate better even though it will be a lot slower pace .

    • Decreasing the stride rate helps me most to keep my heart rate in the appropriate range, especially uphill. The problem I face sometimes is that my breathing is (not on purpose) coupled to my steps and I need to uncouple them.
      Happy running 🙂

      • Alex, it’s normal to couple breathing with your strides–basically all runners do it. But obviously for slow running you don’t want the ratio to be 1:1!

  3. Hi Jae,
    I will definitely try the slow running, I’ve tried before with not much success as I find it quite tiring, but it makes good sense if you can’t run correctly slowly you’ll never do it correctly at pace. Your videos are great and make very good sense.


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