“Perfect” Running Form?

Many people nowadays are adamant about changing their running form in hopes of becoming faster and eliminating injuries. Although these are great reasons to desire a change, making abrupt changes to your form may actually cause injury. How do you decide if your running form needs a tune up?

Are you injured?

Are you experiencing pain with each step you run?

Do you have prolonged knee and/or hip pain after a run?

If none of these apply to you and you are running comfortably and injury-free, there really isn’t a need to force change . However, if you answered yes to any of the questions, you may want to consider making a change.(Pain may not be being caused by your foot strike; other factors may be present such as muscle imbalances)

Let’s look at the difference between 3 foot landings:

  1. Heel Strike: The outside corner of the heel makes initial contact with the ground. Then the foot rolls through to the mid and forefoot before toeing off. This strike pattern mimics that of walking
  2. Midfoot Strike: The area just behind the ball of the foot touches the ground first. After this initial contact, the heel will often touch the ground briefly before the gait cycle progresses to supination, and finally, toe off
  3. Forefoot Strike: Also known as “toe running.”  The first area of impact will be on or slightly in front of the ball of the foot. Rarely does the heel touch the ground with this type of running foot strike. While this strike pattern is more commonly found among sprinters, there are long distance runners who present this pattern as well.
  4. > Your anatomy, in part, determines how you run. Other factors include your flexibility and strength. Below, I have outlined a few tips on maintaining good running form whether you are a heel, midfoot, or forefoot striker. <

    • Maintain short, quick strides – Over reaching sets you up for injury in most cases because impact occurs while the knee is over extended.
    • Keep those knees in line – Focus on planting your foot directly below your knee rather than in front of your knee.
    • Focus on the push – Push up and off the ground behind you to launch you forward.
    • Maintain 90-degree bend at the elbow – For highest energy conservation, keep elbows bent at 90 degrees or less and tucked close to your body.
    • Relax your hands – Keep your hands loose and swing below your chest. Do not let them cross your mid line, as this will disrupt your gait.
    • Drive from your hips – Keep your body upright, don’t topple forward. This helps to keep your body in good alignment through each step. When you lose your posture, you lose your ability to activate your hips, which can lead to injury. (Try keeping your tummy really tight. That way you have less of a risk of falling forward with fatigue).
    • Participate in full-body strength training – You probably hear time and time again: work your core! Although very important to help keep you upright and your hips from twisting, full body training has many benefits such as fixing muscle imbalances! Visit this link to find beginner, intermediate, and advanced strength plans to complement your running schedule.

    No one running mechanism will make you faster or prevent you from ever becoming injured if the right training methods are not in place. To decrease your risk of injury, follow these simple rules:

    • Build your mileage slowly – Never increase distance by more than 10% of the week previous
    • Properly recover – You need rest to let your muscles heal and rebuild. Rest is especially important between speed workouts where you are taking a bigger impact by tearing down your muscles.
    • Wear proper footwear – I recommend going to a store which analyzes gait to get you in the perfect shoe for your running form. Here in MN, there is River Valley Running and TC Running. They ALWAYS find a great shoe for me!
    • Change Gradually – If you decide to make any changes to your form, cut back on running distance and time spent working out. This gives your body time to adjust to the changes.

    In all reality, there is no “perfect” running form.” Everyone’s body is different and usually your natural stride is the best. Forcing yourself to run a certain way after years of running with your natural stride may not be the best option, as it can cause more harm than good. It isn’t “natural” for your body to cause other muscles to compensate for unnatural movements. The only time I ever recommend working on a forefoot strike (which is said to be superior) is if your current stride is causing you pain or injury.

    If you do feel compelled to change your running stride it will take a lot of work. You must have patience. You have probably spent years in your current running gait and it is impossible to change that overnight. Ideally, take 3-4 months to make this gait change; it is a transition period. Your muscles are going to change in length and not taking proper time to set into these changes will surely cause injury. Adapt slowly to your new running technique. It will be a mental challenge; you have to be consciously aware of each and every step you take, concentrating on your landing. Every couple weeks, have a friend record you running and play it back in slow motion. This way, you can see if you are making progress. It will take many weeks before this new running form becomes an unconscious movement. For the first few weeks, only spend periods of 2-4 minutes during your run focusing on technique.

    ****If you are looking to change your running gait, there are drills that you can implement into your training to make this transition smoother. Contact me at pacerightcoaching@gmail.com for information!
    If you are injured, see a sports-medicine doctor who can determine what the problem is and prescribe some physical therapy. If the problem is linked to your running form, you might consider seeing a running clinic with a biomechanist, where someone can evaluate your running gait, strength, and flexibility. He or she can suggest footwear that offers the support you need, plus exercises to help offset any muscle imbalances.