What is proper running form? The answer to that question has been debated for a long time, and the answer seems to change every week. While we can all argue the finer points of what “proper” form should look, there are a few key points that make up the basis of having good mechanical efficiency.
Let’s start with the basics, body position. Here’s a pretty simple tip to remember: stand up! When we walk, we don’t typically slouch forward or lean way back, so why should running be any different? This allows, if nothing else, for your chest cavity to expand to its potential when you are breathing heavily. When you slouch forward, you are restricting your chest’s ability to expand. A good strategy for doing this is to look forward. As runners, especially when we’re tired, we have a tendency to look at the ground in front of us. Keeping your gaze forward will help keep your head and torso upright.
The second point I’d like to bring up is over striding. This is something that a lot of new runners tend to do. First of all, let’s define over striding as opposed to taking big steps (having a long gait). Over striding simply refers to reaching your leading leg way out in front of you and extending your knee in order to get a bigger step. Having a long running gate refers to the ability to cover larger amounts of distance with each step taken, which can be a result of over striding, but is usually a result of a stronger push off. Now, we will come back to the positives of having a long gait and how to do it achieve it naturally another time. For now, let’s look at what over striding does. First of all, it shifts your point of contact with the ground to a point significantly farther forward than your body’s center of gravity. This can do a few things, but there are two big issues that arise. First, it can cause your foot to act as a brake, sending the reaction forces from the ground backwards rather than straight up. This makes your body overcome a certain amount of added resistance to go forward, causing you to spend more energy to go the same speed. The other issue that can come up from over striding is that these extra forces are sent right through the joints in your legs. Rather than just having the force of your body coming in contact with the ground, your joints have to deal with the impact forces of gravity as well as the forces opposite to the forward motion since
Center of Gravity
The last tip I’ll leave you with today is keep your foot under your butt! This kind of goes along with the not over striding thing and can be seen as a strategy to avoid it. Running can be seen as organized falling. If you stand up on one leg with your knee bent like you’re running, lean forward just slightly and see what happens. Your foot that is off the ground is suddenly on the ground immediately under your center of gravity! Now if you look at where you are on the floor, you will notice you have moved slightly forward. Organized falling! Couple this with the push off the ground from the trailing foot and all of a sudden you find yourself running!
So let’s recap. There are a few things that can make up the basics of good running mechanics and help make the most of your running. Keep your body upright. This will keep your chest open and put your body in a strong, erect position. Don’t over stride. This can cause your foot to act as a brake and send more reaction forces through your legs than are really necessary. Keep your foot under your butt. This helps prevent over striding and allows your running to be more like organized falling than repetitive jumping!
Join me next time as we discuss some of the finer points of running mechanics including running gate, forefoot vs heel vs midfoot strike, and knee drives!