These days, there’s a lot of discussion and investigation surrounding proper running form, and more people than ever are trying to fix their form in the hopes of preventing injuries and increasing time and distance. There are a number of schools of thought, such as Minimalism and Chi Running, each of which has its converts. BUT… how do you know if your form needs fixing?
In most cases, if you are running comfortably, at the pace and distance you desire, and remain injury free, there may be no reason to fix what is not broken. There are several world-class runners that display what some would consider as improper form, however, go the time and distance without consequence. Despite all this chatter, one thing remains… there has not been any definitive answer, nor one size fits all style to running form that proves 100% across the board. Despite, analytics abound, and several experts have identified mistakes in running form and how to address the flaws.
The following tips should help to prevent injury and keep you in stride. But... a word to the wise… Making a radical change to your form without giving your body a chance to just will render are you injured and off the pavement.
Insight: Most coaches and experts would agree, there are 4 key components to running: Posture, Alignment, Core/Pelvic Stability, Flexibility, and it is generally a deviation in one of these areas that could lead to mechanical issues and injury. Consider these components and how they relate to the following running techniques.
CADENCE: Most people, unless you're Carl Lewis, have a low cadence. Speed is a result of stride length multiplied by frequency. Most runners will attempt to increase their stride length which reduces frequency, and more time on foot per stride. Optimal stride frequency is around 180 strikes/min. so if you increase stride length, you spend more time on your foot per strike, requires more propulsion, and is less efficient. So, you want to spend the least amount of time on your legs. The less time the foot is on the ground the less you will decelerate or "hit the brakes" when your foot lands. Less = more in this case. Tip: Maintain a short quick stride.
PROPER LEG / HIP MOTION: Push up and off the ground behind you. Over-striding is a major cause of both hamstrings and lower leg injuries because you land with your feet in front of you instead of under you. There is a lot of controversy out there with respect to heel strike versus fore-foot contact. Minimalist runners engage contact on the front of the foot versus heel, simply because if you were barefooted it would certainly hurt! Tip: bend your knees at a 90° angle when you're warmed up and running at a good, medium grade pace to facilitate forward motion and contact.
POSTURE: Running technique and efficiency is dependent on the quality of your posture. Good posture means having a slight "S" curve from the side view, but not too much bend or straightness. The more you lean forward or slump, the more work needed to hold you upright, and puts your trunk ahead of your legs. In addition, maintain good alignment with your knee over your foot, rather than striking the foot too far forward. Work to keep your head up right and avoid bouncing.
FLEXIBILITY / MOBILITY: Maintaining good flexibility and balance around your joints trumps everything else when it comes to running and injury prevention. If you lack mobility anywhere in your lower body you are susceptible to injury. There's probably not any joint that doesn't benefit from some flexibility training in runners. As we age, flexibility decreases, so do your best to maintain and improve to facilitate better movement and prevent compensation and injury.
Chillax: Do you feel uptight or tense while running? If so, INHALE and breathe… Tension=wasted energy. Keeping your elbows at 90 degrees, by your side, with your hands relaxed, slightly below your chest is more efficient. Pumping your biceps, crossing midline and clenching fists expends, plus may throw off your gait. One activity that I utilize with runners to ensure efficiency and good alignment is the "hands on head" drill. While interlocking your hands on your head, focus on stabilizing and maintaining your core tight and straight while keeping the hips and shoulders level. This will help to minimize any excessive deviation in movement through the hips and avoid crossing midline with the arms.
CORE WORK: Your core is the engine that drives you. Like a foundation of a house, if it's unstable or wobbly the remaining structures will have difficulty performing their function. Engaging in a good stabilization program of the trunk and pelvis promotes better posture, functional efficiency, and decreases the compression on your lower extremities.
Basic Tips to change your style: *Gradual change: introduce change over time, and initially cut back time and distance to allow your system to adjust and ramp up mileage slowly. *Adequate Recovery: Self-explanatory, but avid runners struggle with this! Alternate days with some other form of exercise, cross train, yoga, bike, etc. *Shoe wear: proper support, adequate toe box and heel counter are staples. Remember to change out your shoes regularly. Visit a specialty store to assess your shoes and needs.
In the end: No single running "school" or method of thought will completely render you exempt from injury. Creating a good balance across the board will ensure enjoyment and injury prevention. For a Biomechanical or Running Analysis, visit one of our clinics at REVOLUTION REHABILITATION to keep you in stride!