Today I'm getting away from the "shoe talk" for a moment to discuss a few key principles of good running form. With research you may find there exists a few consistent tips on how to run better, things like stand tall, keep your knees soft, and don't over-stride. I need to add this caveat, you shouldn't believe everything you hear out there. Why? Because even some residency-trained orthopedic radiologists still believe that running will ruin your knees despite very high-quality evidence to the contrary. The lack of truth in modern medicine is probably more than most people realize or would feel comfortable knowing about. As soon as we uncovered the human genome we realized that gene expression (epigenetics) was going to muddle the whole idea that you can predict someone's future health based on their genes. There are very few cases of disease processes so predictable.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I want you to feel a little warm and fuzzy about this post because there's actually good evidence behind it. Keep in mind this isn't about perfection but instead about motor learning. How we accomplish the same task may change over time for a variety of reasons but understanding what constitutes "good fundamentals" gives you a place to start and a way to go about experimenting.
So here goes the story of basic running.
#1 - Get your posture right.
|This is an example of slouched posture. Neight is loading my back and I'm collapsing under his force. Mama always told you to sit up straight, she was right of course. Live your life in good posture and bring it to your workouts as well.|
|When Neight loads my spine I have no issues holding good posture. My vertebra are stacked like legos and it takes minimal effort to remain upright.|
#2 - Know Thy Spring
Before I get too specific regarding the other components of your running form, I'd like a say a few words about "spring" and note some key differences between walking and running. Speed of movement is not the only way in which they differ. In walking, you have at least one foot in contact with the ground at all times while in running you have no more than one foot in contact with the ground at any given time. The implications of this mean that walking and running are very different gaits.
Walking requires active muscle contracts to produce all of the energy needed to move forward while running allows you to load (or store) energy in your muscles and tendons that can be used for the next step (your legs act a little like a pogo stick). While not all of the energy to move forward is "free" in running, the spring provides a very important and significant contribution. This is very different than the stiff-knee, heel-to-toe gait we see in walking. When we walk our leg acts more like an inverted pendulum than a spring. This is fine mind you; it's great for walking. With running this gait is inefficient at best and injury-provoking in nature. It's called "jogging."
|This frame is close to the point at which I've made initial contact with the ground. Let's employ the KISS principle and just say, "keep the knees soft" and "land quiet like a ninja." I am in the process of loading my spring in this photo.|
#3 - You need excellent single leg stability.
|An example of hip drop. Your trunk will compensate by leaning the opposite direction just so you can maintain balance.|
#4 - Learn to minimize "bounce"
We've talked about "spring" this whole time and now I'm asking you to minimize your bouncing. A quick lesson in trajectories will clear up any confusion I've created here. Just imagine that you want to throw a ball as far as possible. To do this you wouldn't want to throw the ball directly over your head. The other extreme would be to attempt to throw it perfectly horizontal, like a torpedo; it would fall to the ground in no time. We all employ roughly the same technique of throwing as far as possible, we estimate a trajectory and try to let go of the ball at just the right time so that we are throwing only as vertical as we need to in order to hit our target. Now imagine your center of gravity or your body's center of mass as the ball. Excess bounce means wasted energy but we know that some vertical lift must occur for us to move forward.
|How much bounce is too much? Try to keep your running smooth and allow your springy legs to "spin" under your body. The more excess motion through your trunk the more energy is diverted away from your forward movement.|
#5 - Downhill running usually requires a faster stepping cadence and a deeper knee bend
#6 - Running uphill is kinda like running downhill
|A great example of a "soft knee" landing.|
While I have made massive improvements to my own running form I will tell you that it is not a "steady-state" affair. Hold fast to the principles but allow your body to experiment with the small details. You will feel different from day to day, season to season, and your mindset, fitness level, energy, and stress level, etc will all play a role in your technique and form. Listening to your body is the best way to go.
Until next time...