In my post on areas to work on during the winter, I mentioned that running form would be a good thing to work on. In fact, if you’ve struggled with injury and/or decreasing performance, it’s well worth your time to further investigate your form.
Why Should You Care About Running Form?
I’ll start by saying that there is definitely some individuality to form. Although there are key components to running form that are important, there is no one-size-fits-all for running form. And if someone tells you that you need to look exactly like elite runners when you run, you should probably head in the other direction.
Stride length for one runner may not work for another. The same goes for other areas like cadence, arm swing, etc. Although most elite runners look very graceful and seem to run effortlessly, you’ll also find some variability in that population. In fact, you may notice there are some pretty good runners out there with horrendous form.
Does that mean form doesn’t really matter? Nope. You’ll find that most of the good runners have excellent form. And there’s a reason why. Good running form not only helps with performance, but also helps with injury prevention. This is especially true as you get older.
Stride length is what it sounds like. The distance between each leg with each stride. It changes according to your speed and adjusts to what is most economical for your body. Being tall doesn’t mean that you have a really long stride. I see plenty of tall runners with a short stride and plenty of short runners with long strides.
When working on stride length and trying to increase it, it’s important to not over-stride. Over-striding refers to the foot landing too far in front of the body. This can sometimes be hard to observe. However, it can be quite obvious to someone standing close by. Therefore, you may need to recruit a friend or video record yourself running.
Keep in mind that as your stride lengthens, you should still try to land under your hips. For many, this means working on hip mobility. Since you have to limit lengthening your stride too far in the front (avoid over-striding), you need to be able to extend the hip farther back to achieve the longer stride.
Foot strike refers to where and how your foot strikes the ground upon initial contact. Strike patterns include landing at the front, middle or back of the foot. Next time you go to a race as a spectator take notice of how people are landing. You’ll find that most are heel strikers.
There’s a lot of talk about the evils of heel striking and the necessity for landing no the forefoot. Foot strike is important, but maybe not for the reason you think it is. It’s not about how your foot lands, but where it lands that is important. Striking too far forward results in increased stress on the joints. Striking not far enough results in an inefficient stride. Contrary to popular belief, you can land under the hips as a heel striker and you can over-stride as a forefoot striker.
If you want some more detail about changing your foot strike, I go into more depth in my post on landing on the forefoot.
This is also known as your stride rate or how frequently your feet hit the ground. Cadence also changes according to your pace. However, it doesn’t change as much stride length.
Similar to stride length, cadence is an individual component of form. One cadence may work for one person, but not work for another. If it’s not efficient for you then you may need to change. However, there is a minimum level of cadence that you should be aware of. If your cadence is below 160 or even in the low 160s, you should probably try to increase it. Increasing cadence is good because it can help you focus on getting your foot closer to your center of mass (under the hips). Those with a cadence below 160 tend to overstride or land too far away from their center of mass. This causes excessive stress on the bones and soft tissue and can lead to injury.
You’re probably wondering if there’s a max level that you should be aware of. Not really. You’ll find some elite runners with cadence in the 220-230 range, which works for them. And with a cadence that fast, there is no concern for over-striding and causing excessive stress on the body.
Trunk and Arm Movements
Both the trunk and arms should move with the legs. The twisting of the trunk and movement of the arms help counterbalance the legs. You certainly want good movement in the trunk and the arms to offer this counterbalance. Otherwise, you put excessive stress on the legs, particularly the hips.
Although the arms are moving with the legs, they don’t contribute to propulsion. So it’s okay if they cross the midline a little. In fact, that’s better than keeping the arms inline with the legs. They should follow more closely with the trunk movement.
Posture is essential for proper movement of the joints and activation of the muscles. This is particularly true for the core and hip muscles. It will also affect where your foot strikes the ground. Posture is the center of it all and needs to be corrected if there’s an issue.
Work on finding your neutral spine position and then work on keeping it there. This can require some strengthening to the core area, but it may also require someone watching and giving you verbal cues. What feels normal to you may not be normal. If you’ve had bad posture for years, it’s likely that your posture feels okay because your body thinks it’s normal. You need to re-educate the brain on what proper posture feels like.
If any of the above areas of your form are lacking, it’s well worth your time to work on those areas. Poor movement patterns and posture will lead you to injury. And no one enjoys dealing with an injury.
If you’ve never had a gait analysis done, I highly recommend it. And if you’ve had a prior injury, I highly recommend that you have a physical therapist do the analysis. It’s likely that the past injury is causing the problems with your form. A physical therapist will be able to better address this as well as treat it.
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