With all of the recent talk about proper running form, it can be difficult to wade through the gimmicks and find sound advice. The good news is there are plenty of great resources and research being done to help runners understand proper running form. And yes, there is such a thing as proper running form. Just like there is a proper bike fit or efficient swim mechanics. Running has been held to a separate standard for many years and has led to many injuries. It is such a simple movement yet your biomechanics will play a significant role in the outcome of your running life.
So what is proper running form? How can you run pain free and not worry about getting injured? What is the most efficient form? All great questions. The goal is like any other sport-specific movement- perform it injury-free and with high performance. The following key components will help answer these questions and jump-start your new and improved running form.
If you look at most shoe companies now, they are moving more towards a flat shoe and away from heel support. Remember the Nike Shox? These are like wearing a high heel shoe. They place your ankle joint in slightly plantar flexed position, which causes the lower leg muscles to become overactive. Not to mention that these types of shoes provide too much cushion or stability. Your foot is extremely dynamic, and you want it to be able to move freely and naturally. Can you image wearing mittens all day? Limiting most functional hand movements. This is essentially what most running shoes do.
When deciding which running shoe to purchase, pick a shoe which is designed for mid-foot running. If you walk into a running shoe store and they try to sell you a mittens for your feet, get out and try again. A quality running retail store will understand what mid-foot running is and direct you to the appropriate shoe. No mittens!
Running form comes down to heel strike vs. mid-foot strike. Most runners, novice or advanced, who have not analyzed their running biomechanics, heel strike. Or, their form has naturally moved to a heel strike based on years of practicing this method and knowing no different. Research is finally being done on running biomechanics, and is showing that a heel strike causes much more force on the joints than a more natural mid-foot strike. It’s pretty simple to determine which strike is more efficient. Stand up and extend one leg and slam your heel onto the ground. Now, do the same only with a slightly bent knee and strike at the mid-foot (the last lace on your shoe). Which one were you able to generate more force? You probably had to hold back with the heel strike otherwise you might damage your knee joint. Now picture yourself running three, five, ten or twenty miles heel striking. This should give you a better understand of why so many runners develop overuse or acute injuries. Injuries at the lower leg, knee or hip.
Of course we know runners must perform a regular flexibility and strength training program to stay healthy, however just by changing a small aspect of your running form could prevent a potential injury.
Another mistake runners develop is rounded shoulders or a slouch, as opposed to staying nice and tall with a slight forward lean. Most running form has a direct correlation to an individual’s posture. If you stand and walk with protracted or slouched shoulders, then chances are you will run with this same postural deviation. This improper-form can lead to a lower back, hip and/or knee injury.
A couple of things need to be done. Number one- focus on better posture. Be aware of how you are standing, sitting, walking and running. Just by being more aware you can improve your biomechanics. Number two- strength train and stretch. If you are a ‘sloucher,’ you have a muscular imbalance. Therefore, you must strengthen and lengthen specific muscle groups. In this case, you must stretch the overactive chest and front shoulder area and strengthen the weak back and core musculature.
Recognizing that running is a complex activity is key to becoming efficient. This means being in-tune with your body. So, next time you go out for a run don’t pop in your iPod. Take note and be mindful of these three key components. If you can focus on these- you will become a better performing runner with less chance for injury. Enjoy the road, treadmill or trails!