Running is one of the most powerful actions to treat the stresses of everyday life, increase your overall physical and mental well-being, improve your sleep quality, and, most importantly, realize your abilities and discover more about yourself. Improvements in your running form will aid in achieving your performance goals and reduce your chances of injury.
Once you get the running bug, you want to learn how to improve your time and distance. Runners all aim for a faster pace, a farther distance, and the ability to do well in the next race. Too often, runners push themselves and fall victim to injury because they ignore their body’s signals of overuse.
You’d be surprised how much the way you run affects whether or not you’ll end up with an injury. Making minor corrections can have a significant impact on preventing possible injuries in the future.
Running Injuries & Poor Running Mechanics
Running injuries are usually the result of overtraining and inadequate rest, followed by poor running mechanics. Running forms vary from person to person. Variability is normal and healthy as the body adapts to underlying imperfections to aid in return to homeostasis. There are Olympic qualifiers with poor running forms, but if it works for them and they are injury-free, changing may only lead to more bad than good reactions.
If you are putting in mileage and able to increase your intensity free of injury, then there is no need to change or alter something that is working. But if you’re having pain or run at a high level, your mechanics should be assessed as minor tweaks in your form can make dramatic improvements. There is no perfect running form, but there are ways to optimize performance and prevent injury with good posture and proper stride.
To Improve Your Running Form – Start with Your Posture
Americans spend too much time slouched over smart devices, leading to postural changes affecting our daily activities, including running. We have all seen runners whose heads are extremely forward and shoulders rounded, knees drop inward, have excessive pronation, or trunks that sway from side to side – these are not the best way to propel energy forward, and instead, the unnecessary movements over time lead to joint and muscle damage.
Running causes a reactional force every time your foot meets the ground. Depending on mechanics and performance, that force can look different from person to person. When your foot hits the ground, the body absorbs energy from that contact force. With proper loading and alignment, your body can release energy to maximize power and propulsion and minimize stress on your joints and ligaments.
Improve Your Running Form
Outlined below are seven areas to improve your running form.
1. Good posture:
Good posture or column building – Your back and head should be straight and facing forward with your ears over your shoulders, and your hips, knees, and ankles should be in the same plane.
Why? Poor posture puts extra stress on the neck, shoulders, back, and even your knees and ankles. When your head is forward, you are out of alignment, and running will cause a jarring and often pain in your neck and upper trap regions. When your back is rounded (like you are still in slouched sitting), this causes your center of gravity to be too far forward. If your back goes the opposite way and arches inward too much, your body weight tends to shift back, making you more prone to overstriding. Knees that are tilted inward (valgus or knocked kneed) cause stress on the ligaments and increase pronation at the foot, leading to poor running form and increased risk of injury.
Treatment: Practice good posture during the day, and it will carry over into your run. It is vital to strengthen your abdominals and posterior musculature to enhance further erect columns from which to propel forward.
2. Arms should hang loosely at your sides.
Your arms should hang comfortably and move forward and back in tandem with your stride.
Why? Your arm swing helps give you power and assists in stabilizing as the opposite arm and leg move forward. If your arm swing is too excessive, it can cause a waste of energy and even affect your trunk stability. Not enough swing of the arm can reduce your stride and speed. If your arm swings across your body, your shoulders will rotate, and your trunk will sway, causing an inefficient pattern.
Treatment: Bend your elbows about 90 degrees and let your arms swing relaxed. Keep your elbows close to your body with your hands loose, which helps the entire body relax.
3. Land lightly on the outside of your foot with your ankle bone high
Land on the outside of your foot and maintain the arch in your ankle – your leg forms a bow shape as it gets ready to transfer the energy or propel your forward.
Why? Loads are as high as 2.5 times your body weight. You want to ensure you have the best mechanics to absorb that energy and propel it forward. You should land lightly on your lateral heel, roll forward with most of the weight going through your 3rd, 4th and 4th metatarsals, and then push off at your toes. This keeps your ankle bone high and prevents ankle pronation and the knee from falling inward (valgus stress). Landing on the lateral part of your foot causes your knee to stay lateral, placing your leg in a bow shape. Similar to a bow and arrow, the bowing of your leg allows you to take the energy and propel it forward.
Treatment: Practice walking with ankle bones high, leaning more on the outside of your feet.
Knee valgus is linked to ACL tears. Foot pronation (ankle bone low) is linked to Achilles tendonitis, Heel Pain/Plantar Fasciitis, and ITB Syndrome.
Knee valgus and pronation are the two most significant contributors to injury. Your inside ankle bone must stay high – this is one of the most critical factors to movement as it secures the ankle joint and prevents your knee from dropping inward.
4. Swing leg – Lift off with your heel out
When your foot comes off the ground and during swing, your heel should be pointed outward and not inward.
Why? The opposite leg initiates lift-off and energy transfer by cornering or internally rotating the hip, causing the heel to go out. It is a constant back-and-forth rotary movement between the two legs. After impact, the energy is propelled forward by the bow position of the leg, followed by slight hip internal rotation and the heel outward. If your heel is inward during push-off, you lose the proper release of energy.
- Take a video of yourself running from behind to ensure your ankle bone is outward during the swing phase.
- Practice in slow motion.
- Sit back on your heels and allow them to fall outward.
5. Run with rotation
Humans do not run in a linear movement; our innate movement pattern is rotary.
Why? We have ball and socket joints in our shoulders and hips. These joints are designed for rotation. Reciprocal rotary movements are the best way to transfer energy and propel forward. Often we are taught to perform straight movements such as squatting and lunging when in actuality, these movements should also be performed with rotation.
Treatment: Practice moving side to side, internally rotating each hip, and swinging the heel outward.
6. Lead with your hips
The motion of running should be initiated at the hips or center of your body.
Why? When we run from our feet, we can tend to overstride. Running from your hips and driving forward with your knees rather than your feet helps you maintain a tall posture and avoid overstriding.
Treatment: Engage your abdominal and core muscles and practice running, and lifting your knees.
7. Avoid overstriding
Overstriding occurs when the foot lands well ahead of the knee.
Why? Over-stride causes increased stress on your heel and other joints.
Treatment: Focus on running with the hip. Watch where your foot is landing in relation to your body and drive with the knee rather than reaching with the foot. Your shin should be vertical when your foot first contacts the ground. Practice running with high knee lifts.
GOATA is a slow-motion movement assessment that identifies movement flaws and teaches individuals of all fitness levels to learn to move like the Greatest of All Time Athletes. Schedule with one of our specialized clinicians to have a GOATA assessment and recode.