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Your Running Form–Helping or Hurting?

July 6, 2010 4 comments

Disclaimer: The information presented on this site is based upon my opinions and experiences and should not be used as medical, personal, training, or professional advice or recommendations.

I’ve been running for many years, 34 to be exact, and competing for 30 years.  Over that time I have seen many many people with off the wall running form.  I’m not sure how they developed it, or if they are even aware that they are not running with a form that is at all similar to most others.  I want to help these people, but how do you approach someone with that?  “Hey!  Dude, what are you doing with your arms?  Trying to fly?”  I don’t think so.  I’m sure most people would welcome the advice, but who knows.  I wanted to put this post up to help those who seek it, and maybe those who don’t.

When I think of perfect form, or the perfect stride I think of the elite athletes, specifically the Kenyan distance runners who have dominated for so many years.  Very few people ever achieve that level of fitness and efficiency, but if you use that as the goal, it gives us something to strive towards.

ARMS

One of the most common yet easy fixes is how people carry their arms.  Your arms should be bent at a 90 degree angle.  Not 180 and not 45.  I see people that have their arms so bent and held so close to their chest they look like they are giving themselves uppercuts to the jaw.  Then I see others running almost straight-armed.

Here is the ideal.  Arms bent at the elbow with a 90 degree angle (like the letter “L”), swing the arms from the shoulder, the elbow shouldn’t bend much.  The hands should be positioned to just graze the hip bones.  The swing of the arms should come across the body slightly but never cross the imaginary centerline of you belly button.

Note: (If you are sprinting to the finish or racing a 400 meter or below your arms will swing more front to back, with no crossing in front of the body)

HANDS

Imagine you are holding an egg in each hand, if you squeeze too hard, it will break.  If you open your hands it will break.  Keep the egg safe and you will stay relaxed.  If you run with clenched fists, that tightness will go to your arms, shoulders and neck and mess your form up.

EYES

Eyes? Yes eyes.  Where you look is important because your body follows your eyes.   Look ahead at the road or trail in front of you, about 10-20 feet ahead.  Don’t look at your feet, this will cause you to hunch over and put more stress on your quads than is necessary.  Don’t look all around, left and right, this will pull your shoulders out of proper positioning.  This doesn’t mean you can’t EVER look around, but for the most part, if you need to look move your eyes, not your head.

FEET

How you land and push off is very important.  This is the main reason overuse injuries occur, improper form.  First let me tell you what you DONT want.  You don’t want to land on your heel and run heel-toe.  This is a sign of over-striding.  You also don’t want to run all the way on your toes.  This will tire you calves and probably give you shin splits over time.  The ideal is just forward from flat footed.  Landing on the balls of your feet but not on your toes.  Try to land on the mid-foot then roll through to the toes.

OTHER TIPS

Your posture is important, especially when you are tired late in a run or race.  Many runners, as they tire, start to bring their arms up to their chest, their shoulder slump, and the bend over at the waist.  This will make you tense and more tired.  At every mile mark or every ten minutes in training give yourself a “posture check”…

-back straight

-shoulders back, chest out

-arms relaxed, 90 degrees

-hands holding an egg

-mid foot landing

If you can maintain good form, I promise you, you will be passing runners who are in better shape with poor form.

Your cadence is also important.  Cadence is how many times your feet strike the ground per minute.  Elite runners have a cadence of 180, no matter their stride length or speed.  Check your cadence the next time you go out for a jog.  Count how many times your feet hit the ground in a minute.  If your cadence is low, try shortening your stride a bit.

DON’T BOUNCE, try to keep your head level.  If you are 5’9″ imagine you are running in a tunnel with a roof that is exactly 5’9” high, if you run with bounce you will hit your head.  Bouncing is wasted energy, you want to move forward, not up and down.  To focus on less bouncing run lightly, focus on quicker turnover, let your feet spend less time on the ground.  More bouncing means more impact and that can lead to shin splints and stress fractures.

To obtain the “perfect” stride and form takes practice.  You can easily correct many flaws just by focusing on them while you run, but to really master the stride and form takes practice and drills.  It has to be committed to muscle memory or it won’t happen on race day.  Some form flaws are due to muscle imbalance or weakness, so the form correction may require some strength training and/or flexibility work.  Add a comment or email me if you have a specific question about your form.

For a great chapter on running form and stride check out Matt Fitzgerald’s book Brain Training for Runners

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