I remember when I was in 7th or 8th grade, I was running on the track and the track coach said, “look at Rachel! She’s got great form!” That statement has stuck with me ever since. It’s one I almost always go back to every time I’m out on a run. I’ve always prided myself on having amazing running form. And while the details of the event have become blurry, I remember the euphoric feeling of being praised in front of many of my peers.
The story could end there and all would be well and good. Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there and it’s gone a bit awry. For the last year I’ve been plagued by injury. I haven’t changed anything about my running except for an increase in mileage. But I haven’t gone from say, 10 miles per week to 60 miles per week. It’s been an increase of maybe 5 or 10 miles max. Over the course of a year. So nothing earth-shattering or life-changing there. I haven’t drastically altered my footwear. I haven’t changed terrain. But the injuries keep cropping up.
The first time I was injured I attributed it to marathon training (okay yes, that counts as significant mileage increase for a non-marathoner, which I was at the time). The second time, I attributed it to a simple overuse injury. This third time, however, has given myself, my doctor, and my coach pause. Now it’s time to look at biomechanics.
Remember how I said the details of the praise in middle school track were blurry? Well, the details are kinda, sorta important. Because on the one hand, I was slow as molasses. I was always dead last. It was so embarrassing. I really don’t think the track coach would be praising someone so slow the way she did. But on the other hand, maybe she was praising me during a sprint? This is the part I can’t remember. And it matters. And here’s why:
My stride — along with many other people’s — changes when I move from a slow jog to an outright sprint. My legs and arms become more efficient. I rotate less. I land in a better position on my feet. I spring forward faster. It’s amazing the differences that occur.
I also change my stride significantly when I run with the stroller. I actually haven’t run with my daughter in about a year but I noticed the changes right away. When I run with the stroller, my gait mimics that of my sprint. I have a shorter stride, my arms move more efficiently (when I’m not pushing with both hands, of course), and I land mid-foot instead of my heel.
Why is all of this important? It’s important because when you’re running, swinging your arms wildly (even if you don’t think you are), and landing on your heel instead of mid or forefoot, your body moves inefficiently. Moving inefficiently can inhibit you from reaching your full potential but more importantly can also lead to injury. Which is where I’m at right now…
So what’s the “right” way to run? Well, there’s no one “right” way because everybody’s body is different, but there are several universal guidelines to follow.
- Your torso should be straight with a slight forward lean. Your arms should be bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Create an imaginary line down the center of your body and do not let your arms cross over that line while running. The ideal arm position is at a 90-degree angle, elbows not passing your waist while they swing, and keep them next to you and not in front of you. You can mimic this concept by pretending you’re holding two walking sticks or ski poles. You wouldn’t traverse a mountain with a stick waving across your torso, would you?
- Your landing foot should make contact with the ground just beneath your center of gravity. When you overreach your center of gravity you’re over striding. You can avoid over striding by focusing a lot on your arms. If your arms are making the right movements in the right position, it will be hard to over stride with your legs.
- Higher cadence will help correct incorrect foot strike. If you’re a heel striker, you’re likely overstriding as well. If you take more quick, light steps as opposed to less, longer “reaching” steps, you’ll be able to improve strike and stride.
Here’s a great infographic illustrating common vs good running form. Take a look:
I’m looking forward to my gait analysis next week. I’m guessing the PT will tell me a lot of the same things I already know but hopefully he’ll be able to give me some tips on how to improve my running form. I’m also working closely with my coach and another friend to help me incorporate some additional drills into my routine. It’s easy to coach someone else into good form but when it’s you that needs to be worked on, it’s an entirely different ballgame! I’m grateful I have some of the best professionals giving me advice and coaching me.
Let’s think about your running form. Is it good? Is it bad? Could it be improved upon? Or are you already a running rockstar? I’m giving you some homework to do. Grab your phone or camera, set it to video. Prop it up on a mailbox, a tripod, or give it to your spouse or partner, and video yourself running. If you can, slow motion is the best. Watch yourself run and take note of where your knees are, where your foot first strikes the ground, and your arm position. Report back to me below and we’ll go from there. In fact, let’s make this an ongoing conversation. I declare the month of February as “Form February.” We’ll discuss your form and mine, and how we can both improve.
TALK TO ME!
What’s one thing you want to improve with your form?
Have you ever been told you’re great at something only to realize you’ve got a lot of improving to do?
Most importantly, did you do your homework? Talk to me about your home analysis. I want details!