As a runner living along the Jersey Shore I commonly pass other runners by the beach or throughout local trails. Some are running slow, others running fast – one thing that I can’t help but notice is the many differences in each runner’s form. A runner’s form is the position of his or her spine, head, arms, legs and feet while running.
Form is an important component of running that I do not think receives enough attention. When first learning to run people often focus on the length of time they are able to complete a run or how far they went, meanwhile the movement of their body is often overlooked. As a new runner, I too never gave my form much thought. I did not see the significance. However, as time continued, and various pains increased, I quickly realized the importance of proper running form.
Form is important because the position of the body can greatly impact performance, instance of injury, as well as a runner’s level of enjoyment. The 10 most common running mistakes most runners will make, according, Iloverunningmagazine.com, include:
- Looking down
- Keeping the shoulders and body tense
- Clenching the fists
- Rotating the torso
- Placing the arms in the “chicken wing” position
- Leaning the torso too far forward
- Bending the knees
- Breathing shallow
Now that you are aware of these common mistakes, let’s take a look at how to fix them – and help you achieve peak running performance.
We will address the placement of your entire body, since running is a sport that includes the entire body, but first we will begin with the head.
Proper running form includes an upright head looking forward. When a runner is looking down, his or her neck and back muscles become strained trying to support a 7 to 10 pound head. Over time, the strain can turn into an injury, ultimately damaging muscles and causing unnecessary pain.
In an article published on WorldRunning.com, an international running site powered by the International Association of Athletics Federation, it was suggested that runners keep their head in a straight and neutral position, allowing the head to align with the shoulders and back.
Maintaining a straight and upright head will improve posture, performance and experience. It will also allow you to notice the beautiful scenery, other smiling runners – and prevent you from running into any poles or cars.
Runners tend to often arch their backs and raise their shoulders, as if they were typing at a computer. Running in proper form includes rolling the shoulders back and keeping them square with the chest. Another good tip to keep in mind is to allow the shoulders to remain loose and free from tension.
The spine can move in many different directions depending on the placement of the runner’s body. Runners can achieve optimal performance when running with a straight, upright spine. A common term used to explain optimal posture is to “run tall” or to run as if a string was pulling the head and body up straight.
ARMS AND HANDS
While running the arms are used to balance the body while the feet lift off the ground. Optimal balance and running performance is created when the arms move at the same pace as the feet; the arms are moving towards the shoulders and back down towards the hips; and the hands are loose. A few things to avoid include running with arms across the body, keeping the hands close to the shoulders, and clenching the fists. Running should be a smooth and relaxed, symmetrical movement throughout the entire body.
In an article published on WorldRunning.com, stated that optimal running performance is achieved when a runner’s strides are short and the knees have a slight bend and lift. Making shorter strides, no further than your knee, will cause your feet to land under the body, opposed to over-striding the leg away from the body.
In recent years, much debate has been expressed between the differences in landing on either the heel or the forefront of the foot. WorldRunning.com stated that landing on the forefoot area of the foot is “the most efficient way of running” to prevent injury and achieve peak performance. Due to the suggested benefits I decided to give it a try. What I found was that my knee pain disappeared, my form straightened and my performance greatly improved.
Physical therapist Jay Dicharry, from the University of Virginia’s Center for Endurance Sport, stated in a Runner’s World Magazine article that when the foot lands on the forefront, the ankle and foot will absorb the force of the landing and create a spring in each stride. When the heel lands, however, the landing is a “stiff system” which does not allow the ankle to “give,” Mr. Dicharry stated. Therefore, when the heel hits the ground the shock will be absorbed in shifted the knee.
This is not to say that the heel strike is wrong. Some runners prefer it and have not had any issues as a result of landing on their heels.
IMPROVED FORM BENEFITS
Each of these tips do not have to be incorporated all at once. If there is one that you prefer to the other, try that first and make changes gradually – as you see fit. Transforming the way you run can make lasting changes in your performance, posture, health as well as your love for the sport.
“Believe that you can run farther or faster. Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn-out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself,” running champion and author John Bigham once said.
This article was previously published in Night & Day Magazine.
Active Runner and Exercise Enthusiast
For more information on Angela, check out her website: Anglea Joy Nutrition