I recently realized that I’ve never really talked about running form here on my blog. What? Talk about missed opportunities while skipping the basics!
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fit It
When working with a new runner, I casually check out their form while they’re running, but without making it obvious. It’s amazing how self-conscious people can get and totally change their stride if they think they’re being critiqued.
Unless there’s something glaringly wrong, or the person keeps getting a repeat injury, I usually don’t recommend making major changes. Using the adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” I mostly only make minor tweaks. Old habits die hard, and trying to make major changes to a seasoned runner’s form can result in an entirely new set of injuries.
When working with younger runners, especially those new to running, I’m more willing to work on their form and make significant changes. These new runners haven’t had a chance to form habits, either good or bad, and corrections to their running form can be changed with relative ease.
Four Components of Running Form
Running form can be broken down into four basic components:
- Stride Length
- Arm Position and Swing
- Foot Strike
Posture – Runners should stand tall with their core engaged, keeping their back straight (not rounded) while pivoting forward slightly from the hips to utilized gravity’s pull. Runners should breath comfortably while looking ahead about a car length.
Stride Length – Most average sized runners can expect to have 160 to 180 steps per minute. Over-striding causes the body to stay airborne longer resulting in a harder landing, while under-striding results in a shuffle. Since both over and under-striding result in inefficient running, these runners can correct their stride simply by changing up their cadence to the recommended 160 to 180 steps per minute.
Arm Position and Swing – The upper body should be relaxed with the shoulders down, the arms bent to 90° at the elbows, and the hands loosely cupped as if holding a fragile item. Arm swing should be front-to-back, not side-to-side.
Foot Strike – The desired foot strike for a runner is that of an active foot where the heel and mid-foot hit the ground first before rolling forward to push off from the toe. For best form and optimal efficiency, the foot should land closer to the body, as opposed to reaching farther away leading to exaggerated heel striking.
Running Up Hills
When running up hills, your running form will need to be adjusted. You’ll want to shorten your stride slightly and engage your core even more. Keep your head neutral and gaze ahead, not at your feet.
Keep in mind that it’s super easy to revert back to poor running form as you get tired. I used to totally let my core relax, and slump forward during the later miles of my longer training runs. As soon as I did that, everything else started falling apart, and I had to consciously focus on keeping that tired/lazy form at bay.
Running Down Hills
Just like with running up hills, when running down hill you’ll need to adjust your form from that of running on a flat surface. Again, you’ll want to engage your core and shorten your stride slightly allowing for a faster turnover. Pivot forward at your ankles and hips to allow your body to be perpendicular to the ground while using your arms to keep your balance (they shouldn’t be pumping forward and back, but out and ready to make adjustments as your body moves). Land on your mid-foot and parallel to the ground as opposed to heel striking (over striding). Gaze about 10 – 15 yards in front of you so you can see where you’re headed.
Let gravity do its thing and pull you down the hill. When the urge to brake happens, relax your running muscles, and as long as you feel you have control of your body, allow your pace to speed up. This is a great opportunity to overtake your opponents who aren’t savvy to taking advantage of the perks of down hill running!
Next time you’re out on the trail, watch for these interesting types of runners:
- Toe runners
- Heel strikers
- Side-to-side arm swingers
- Hunch backs
- Shuffle runners
Now that you’re aware of what makes up good running form, these types of runners will be much more noticeable. Just remember, the running community is all about supporting one another, so don’t point your finger and laugh, especially if it’s me!
- Have you had your running form assessed?
- Do you have any running form quirks?
- What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen in another runner’s form or stride?