If you’ve been lacing up your sneakers and hitting the road for a run without much thought, you may want to think again. Focus on running with good form to keep you injury free and unleash your full running potential by making you a more efficient runner. You'll use less energy and the right muscle groups during your run.
Tall and Relaxed
Your spine should be straight with a slight forward lean, and your muscles should be relaxed. This includes your facial muscles and your neck. Keep your shoulders rolled back and your hands loose, not clenched. If your shoulders creep up toward your ears, it means you’re tense. During the warm-up portion of your run, drop your arms and shake your shoulders out to help you relax. Your head should be aligned with your spine, and your eyes should be focused forward, not up or down. Maintaining good posture while running can prevent back pain, which is an indicator or poor form. To maintain proper form throughout your run you'll likely need to make adjustments every few minutes, as it's easy to revert to bad habits.
Although your legs bear most of the work, your arms play an important role in your run form, driving you forward at the rate of your stride. Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle and your arms should swing forward and backward, not across your body. Sprinters should swing their arms higher, about chin height, as opposed to distance runners, who will swing their arms to their chest. Sprinters require a longer arm swing because the motion of their arms affect stride length and frequency, which determines speed. A shorter arm swing limits your range of motion, thus limiting your potential speed. When you're adjusting your posture during your run, take a few seconds to focus on your arm swing as well.
Running gait, or the way your foot strikes the ground, determines how much power you get from each stride. Sprinters get the best speed and power when they land on the balls of their feet, but for distance runners -- optimal foot strike varies. Although landing on the mid-foot is often recommended, it's not right for all distance runners. A great majority -- 94 percent, including most of the front-of-the-pack runners -- at the 2011 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon struck the pavement with their heels first, found a study published in the "International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance" in 2013. Common wisdom says that if you strike with your heel first, your knees and heels absorb more shock, which can cause pain and stress injuries in these areas. However, heel strikers asked to change their stride to mid- or forefoot running reported discomfort and greater back pain as a result, determined a 2013 study published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise." The implication is that no foot strike is optimal for all distance runners. If you are a heel striker and have pain in your joints, you may consider trying to change your foot strike to mid-foot by running up hills, which forces you to push off on the balls of your feet. But, if you're a heel striker and suffer no pain -- changing your form isn't required for you to be a successful runner.
Shorten Your Stride
Distance runners should focus on short, quick strides, while sprinters will want longer, more powerful strides. Running up hills or stairs will improve a distance runner’s stride by building muscle strength. Sprinters can practice speed work to become faster. Human Kinetics recommends running 10, 10- to 50-yard sprints with 10- to 30-second rests between sets. Focus on getting your knees high with long strides. Over time your strides will become more powerful, which will be helpful over all distances.
- New York Road Runners: Form 101: Running Posture
- Human Kinetics: The Proper Technique for Running Long Distances
- Human Kinetics: Ten Tips to Help Improve Your Speed
- New York Road Runners: Form 101: Arm Movements
- The New York Times: Is There an Ideal Running Form
- International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance: Foot-Strike Pattern and Performance in a Marathon
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Effects of Foot Strike on Low Back Posture, Shock Attenuation, and Comfort in Running
- Photo Credit Dirima/iStock/Getty Images
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