Who would have thought that something as simple as running could have a “proper form.” I mean, we have been running all of our lives (pretty much since we could balance on two legs) – and everything worked out pretty well then, why focus on form now?
As we get older, and for a variety of reasons, there are many people who fall into a running form that they are used to and not necessarily a running form that will help them reduce injuries and increase performance.
For some of you, increasing performance is not the goal, and that is okay! However reducing the amount of injuries caused by running is something that everyone should be concerned with. Proper running form and mechanics are very important for someone who is looking to start running.
So what is “proper running form”? Let’s start with the top of your body and work our way down and figure out how to run:
Who would have thought that what you are doing with your head actually affects a movement that is primarily based on your lower body?
We will state the obvious here, but looking in any direction other than in front of your for an extended period of time is going to cause bad running form and possible injury. Keep your eyes/head forward as much as possible, as your body tends to follow where your face is pointing.
While looking forward, it is best to keep your head parallel to the ground with your eyes searching for the horizon or slightly lower. You do not want to look at your feet or up towards the sky as this will cause your body to lean too far forward or backward throwing off your natural balance.
Natural balance = reduced chance of tripping/falling and less stress for your muscles trying to keep you straight!
For your shoulders, it is less about positioning and more about tension. It is natural for a body to become “tight” when doing a strenuous activity such as running, but it is important to relax your muscles as much as possible. This will improve you posture while running overall and again will focus your body on running and not tightening up muscles in your shoulders.
When you release this tension (either by shaking out your arms or mentally relaxing your muscles through focus) your shoulders will fall to a more natural position (down and away from your ears).
While running your arms are used to help balance and propel the body forward. This is useful for both long distance runners such as individuals running a marathon, as well as sprinters.
The basic rules for your arms while running are as follows:
- Arms should be bent to about a 90 degree angle (key word: about)
- Arms should swing forward and backward, not across your body/chest
- Muscles and hand should be relaxed (not clenched)
That is about it!
For runners of any distance but especially long distance, one of the most important parts of your body is your hips. This where the magic happens for a majority of movements your body makes, but especially for running, walking, skipping, jumping, etc.
There are a lot of recommendations on how you should use your hips while running, but a majority of sources agree that strengthening your hips in general can help reduce injury and improve running form and mechanics.
“The results indicate that the strengthening intervention was successful in reducing pain, which corresponded to improved mechanics,” said Dierks, associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The leg was going through more motion, suggesting that the (pain) guarding mechanism was reduced, and coordination or control of many of these peak or maximum angles in the leg were improved in that they were getting closer to occurring at the same time.”
Finally…Your Legs and Feet
When watching runners, the first thing any one will notice is the stride of the runner. You may see a sprinter running with a huge stride and a marathoner running with a shorter, less exaggerate stride.
Many of you reading this article are more than likely interested in running longer distances, so we will focus on the form in this area of running.
When you are looking to start running longer distances, you need to keep an eye on your stride length. The proper running form uses a stride where the foot lands underneath the body, as opposed to way out in front of it. This over extension can cause injury over the long run and causes your legs to be less efficient with your body’s energy. When landing, your knee should be slightly bent s you can help absorb the impact of hitting the ground.
Finally, moving to your feet! One of the common problems with runners today is that they over stride and strike the ground while running with their heels first (heel strike). This can cause injury to your knee, shins and hips because of the forceful impact.
Think of your body as a pogo stick and not wooden stilts. When striking the ground, your body should give a little to help with the impact and then rebound back up, not stop immediately and cause your bones and joints to collide together like a traffic accident.