There is a lot of buzz out there about “proper running form.” There are articles and studies from “experts” that seem to be completely contradictory.
It causes runners to question if they are doing it right. Should I change my form? Am I supposed to land on my forefoot or midfoot? What is a chubby runner to do? Let me help ease the pain.
There isn’t just one perfect running form.
Just because there is not one perfect running form does not mean that you should neglect working on yours. It is important. Improving your efficiency and running mechanics has been shown to help reduce injuries and improve speed.
“So, if there’s not a perfect running form how do I improve my running form?” is the question you are probably asking.
The problem in changing your running form is that there is no absolute “perfect” running style you can use as a guide.
There are some basics of good running form, but how it is practiced is different to each runner. Improving your running form is less about copying another runner’s form and more about finding the“perfect” form that allows you to continue to train for marathons injury-free over the long term.
Running is something that comes naturally to most people. No one really teaches you how to run, you just get up one day do it. Because it is something so natural, so instinctive, it becomes a very difficult proposition to change it. The most complicated part is that when you run it is a full body exercise where each motion and movement affects another. No aspect of your individual running form occurs in isolation. When you change the position of your footstrike, it impacts your cadence, hip extension, stride length and almost every other motion on a mechanical level.
Here’s an example from my own marathon training. I have a friend who loves data. Maybe you know the type. He totally geeks out on all the data that he could get from his GPS running watch. He would put that information into excel spreadsheets and analyze his progress, his running efficiency and improvements in his overall fitness level. Part of his data collection and analysis included reading blogs and books about running. At the time, barefoot running was all the rage. He was convinced that the forefoot striking was the pinnacle of runningness, the best thing since sliced bread, and heel strikers were terrible human beings that hated children and puppies. So, I thought I’d give it a try and change my gait by consciously trying to land on my forefoot. If you’ve ever tried to change something that you’ve done for years, let me tell you, it’s not easy. I had to hyperfocus on my foot strike which caused me to neglect modifying my posture and hip extension. Bottom line, I got a stress fracture in my foot. Apparently, I was over striding. All the impact was just transferred from my heel to forefoot causing stress, and minor injury, in my foot.
Changing your running form affects the whole body. It is a running ecosystem. To really make a change, you need a step-by-step plan that addresses how to improve form for your individual body and style.
The following tips will help you avoid the most common mistakes:
Start with a personal inventory. You need to identify the specific flaws in your personal running form. It sounds crazy but the best way to do this is to take a video of yourself running. I went to a local running shop that did this before they’d let you try on shoes. You hop on the treadmill and run while they took a video recording of my feet. They were then able to show my running form and give shoe recommendations that best fit my form. Pretty cool idea.
To start, set up a camera to the side of yourself while on a treadmill, and then run at an easy pace. Then set up another camera to record you from behind. You only have to have about 30 seconds of total footage to get a good analysis.
Once you’ve got some good footage you can analyze your form using this video as a guide:
This will help you to identify any areas that need improvement. Next, you need to learn a little about basic running biomechanics. Check out this great article on active.com as an introduction to running biomechanics for beginners.
Strength and Flexibility
With your personal analysis completed you can now start to improve your running efficiency and lay the ground work to improve your form through strength and flexibility.
Improving you overall strength and flexibility is the first step to improving your running form. One of the biggest mistakes I made was watching videos to see what “good form” looks like and then taking that new found knowledge to the road. Didn’t work. Like I said earlier, for me, it just lead to injury because I hadn’t prepared my body for this new and improved running style.
So, don’t make the same mistakes I made. Before you can make revolutionary changes in your running form you need to get stronger and more flexible. For strength work, try these 13 Essential Core Exercises for Runners. Or follow the following video:
For flexibility, you’ll want to do some active isolated stretching. Active stretching is when you hold a stretch for only a second or two, then relax the muscle and repeat 10 times for each body part. This technique helps the muscles exhibit a greater range of motion.
Here are some basic stretches to get you started. Click here.
Implement the Changes
Now that you know what you need to do, do it. Execute the plan and implement the changes, slowly. If you try to do it all at once you risk injury. Start slowly by using running drills to actively improve your running form. Drills are a great way to develop more efficient body movements. They also help connect what your is going on in your mind with your body. In a sense, running drills sync your mind and body.
Your goal through the mental and physical drills is to pinpoint any potential issues you may still have, correcting them, and then continue to implement the drills, exercises and routines. Over time, usually 2-3 weeks, these changes will become permanent.
This process helps to ensure you improve your personal running form in a way that is specific to your body’s needs. It will assist in overcoming common mistakes of form improvement and help you stay healthy, injury-free and run, better.
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