A number of people believe that running form is individual to each person, that shouldn’t be interfered with. But, the research turns to differ. For the vast majority of people, a standard running form, characterized by a forefoot landing under your body mass, will result in a safer, longer, faster running career. The reality is that running is a skill to be mastered. In this article, we will discover how to master it.
Here are the top 13 things that will allow you to perfect your technique:
Land on Your Forefoot
In nature, you would never land on your heels – that would be a prescription for injury. A heel strike sends a ripple of shock, of up to 5 times your body weight up the leg and is a recipe for disaster. Instead, in or out of shoes, always land on the forefoot, aiming for the ball of the foot. It’s a soft landing with low impact.
Follow a 1-2-3 Landing
Land gently in this split second succession . . . ball of the foot . . . toes . . . heel.
Some people may bring toes down after the ball, others the heel. Ultimately, although all three do not land together, they are down together at one moment just before lift-off. Do not ever keep the heel up in the air, which stresses the calves and Achilles tendon and wrecks the stretch-reflex mechanism that gives them spring-like power.
Use short strides that land upon your body, not ahead of it. Long strides stress your connective tissue and make a heel strike inevitable. Short strides that land under your body mass baby your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. So fight the urge to push or swing your leg far forward of your body.
Increase Your Cadence
A cadence of at least 180 steps per minute minimizes contact with the ground. The hardest part of soft running for some is attaining a fast stride rate, but once you do, it pays off. Studies have shown that it takes less effort to take many short strides than fewer big strides and that more time on the ground equates to more deceleration, which means you run slower, so use the method described here and you’ll be a great runner.
Pick You Feet Up Fast
To increase your cadence, focus on a lift-off instead of a push-off. After the ball of your foot touches down and you roll back to your heel, instantly pull your foot off the ground with your hamstring, as if there was a bungee cord connected from your heel to your butt. Do not try to get it high off the ground – there’s no need to expend the extra effort.
Land With Soft Knees
Heel strikers often land with a straight leg, out in front of them, but forefoot landers naturally land with their foot under their body mass with some bend to the knee. The latter sets up the 1-2-3 ball-toe-heel touchdown and loads the muscles for the elastic stretch-reflex mechanism that helps spring you forward. The result is two-fold: assisted forward propulsion and a gentler, less-jarring landing that’s easier on your joints.
Many people think that the key to running barefoot is to land softly and absorb the shock. That’s just partially correct. Since landing on your forefoot automatically minimizes any shock, the key for the rest of your body is NOT to absorb shock but to stay relatively stiff. When you land, you should feel like you are springing off of a pogo stick. A stiff body makes use of the free energy it’s got stored in elasticity.
Keep Head, Neck, Face and Torso Upright
With torso erect and face looking forward, just as it is while standing, your body should feel perfectly and effortlessly balanced vertically atop your hips as you run. This requires no muscular effort to maintain and allows for unfettered lung expansion. You should feel like you’re gliding across the ground, not thunking or pounding from step to step. Don’t look down.
Slightly Lean Forward From the Ankles
A slight lean at the ankles provide forward momentum. Increase the lean-to accelerate, straightening up as you get up to speed. Your hips stay slightly ahead of your feet; you will definitely be leaning forward. The important thing is that you don’t bend from your waist up.
Run in Flat Shoes with Minimum Padding
Get rid of shoes with a big heel cushion, which encourages a heel strike and tips you forward in an imbalanced position. Use flat-soled minimalist shoes, which keep you more balanced and less likely to heel strike.
Do Barefoot Warmups
To know what barefoot style, forefoot landing running should feel like when you are in shoes, take them off. Even the most minimalist of running shoes block feedback from the ground and can mask poor form, even heel striking. So, you should do a 5-minute barefoot warm up before you begin your run.
Swing Arms from Your Elbows Alongside Your Ribcage, Not Across Your Chest
Swinging from your elbows helps to keep your shoulders down and relaxed. It also prevents your elbows from swinging your arms laterally across your chest. Cross-chest swings put sideways torque on your torso, adding strain to hips and knees, and causing you to run in a slightly crooked line. To check if your arms are swinging on a vertical plane, glance at your hands as you run; if you can see your palm, not the back of your hand, you are more likely to have a vertical swing.
Performance wise there is a stronger contralateral link between arms and legs; the faster the right arm swings, the faster the left leg moves. Keep elbows low, bent at 90 degrees and swinging fast and smooth, like a pendulum.
Common Running Mistakes
Overstriding or Landing on the Heel
The heel strike is insidious. It causes a braking effect and a breaking effect. Self-monitor; you may not even realize you’ve slipped back into heel striking.
Keeping the Heel Off the Ground
The prohibition on heel strike does not mean that your heel should not touch the ground; it should touch, but only after the forefoot/ball of the foot landing. Keeping it off the ground and running on your toes will put too much strain on the calves and Achilles tendon.
Running With a Slow, Sub-180 Cadence
It doesn’t matter how tall you are or how long your legs are. The best runners in the world, from long distance to sprinters, all run at a cadence over 180. Count your steps in 10 seconds. If it’s less than 30, then it’s less than 180 steps in one minute.
Trying to Absorb Too Much Shock
If you’re landing on the balls of your feet and using your feet the way they were designed, you don’t need to soften the rest of your body to absorb impact. You actually want the elasticity to help you move forward, and you only get this by keeping your body tight, knees soft and hips extended.
Bending at the Waist
Many people think they are leaning forward from the ankles, when actually they are just bent at the waist so their body is in the shape of a K. Don’t less this be you. Think of being pulled forward from your hips; this will ensure your hips stay open and you’re leaning from your ankles.
Developing an awareness of your body will allow you to monitor how it is reacting to your running. This will then allow you to make the necessary adjustments needed to prevent injury and overtraining. In this chapter, we consider some key areas in developing good body sense.
You feet do an awful lot of work for you every day. As a runner, you’ll be demanding even more from them. Being aware of the injuries that commonly occur and how to treat them will allow you to keep giving them the respect they deserve.
Blisters – friction causes the layers of skin to rip apart and fill with liquid. To lessen the chances of blisters, moisturize your feet before running to reduce friction. If you notice a developing blister, apply petroleum-based jelly to the area. You may also use special running socks that are made of nylon rather than cotton to reduce friction. It is important, also, to have correctly fitting shoes. Make sure to allow for the natural foot swelling that occurs when running.
Do not break a blister. Cover it with a cushioned gel blister adhesive bandage for protection and comfort.
Black Toenail – The blackening of the toenail is caused by bleeding under the nail. This often results from compression against the nail bed resulting from ill-fitting shoes. To avoid it, keep your toenails trimmed, and make sure that you compensate for foot swelling when selecting your running shoe.
Athlete’s Foot – This is a fungal infection that leads to scaling, flaking and itching of the skin. It thrives in moist, warm conditions and is aggravated by tightly fitting running shoes. Among runners, it is commonly seen in the form of a red rash between the toes.
Be sure to thoroughly wash and dry your feet, paying particular attention to the area between the toes. And don’t wear dirty socks. You can treat Athlete’s Foot with creams and powders from your local pharmacy.
Plantar Fasciitis – this condition shows itself in the form of pain in the underside of the heel. The pain is usually most extreme early in the morning or after long periods of inactivity. It may even go away when running but will soon return during periods of inactivity.
To treat plantar fasciitis, you need to stop running and rest until the pain subsides. Apply the RICE treatment (see box at end of the chapter) followed by heat. If the pain persists see your doctor.