NEWS | June 3, 2014

Running form - Who taught you how to run?

By Capt. Josh Wyngaarden

Have you ever thought about who actually taught you how to run? For some of you - much to your parents' dismay - you may have actually started to run before you even learned how to walk. For most of us, we learned to run long before we actually were able to develop long-lasting memories from our childhood. Unless you ran in high school or college or worked with a running coach, you may have never given your running form a second thought. However, poor running form can decrease your speed and performance, limit your endurance and increase your risk for injury.

To help put this in perspective, think about the fact that you take classes before learning how to drive a new type of vehicle. Tires are routinely rotated to ensure even wear. Anti-virus software performs routine checks on your computer to ensure your computer is running efficiently and free of viruses. And while deployed, you routinely perform maintenance of your weapon and other combat equipment to ensure it is at optimal performance. But, how often do you do a system's check on your running form to ensure you are optimizing your performance while minimizing your risk for an injury?

Here are simple tips to help assess your running form.

For most runners, you will want to keep your center of gravity over your base of support (your feet). You should run tall with shoulder relaxed, looking straight ahead, without leaning forward and lifting your legs just high enough to clear the ground.

Chi-Running and Pose Running Method advocate running with your center of gravity in front of your base of support. This style of running allows gravity to help propel you and can be thought of a constant, controlled fall forward. Although this running style has been found to be helpful for some, research is still pending to determine if it is more effective than the traditional running form. It is crucial that if you run with this form that your entire body is leaning slightly forward. Many individuals will only lean forward at their hips creating a hinge in their lower back. This will increase your risk for back pain because the lower back muscles end up taking most of the impact throughout the run.

The final running method places your center of gravity behind your base of support. This is like running with your parking brake left on -- never recommended. With each step, you essentially have to "put on the brakes" as you eccentrically load the muscles of the legs. This running form typically leads to shin splints and other running injuries all while slowing you down.

Head: Look straight ahead, not down at your feet. Hold your head naturally level. This will help maintain your neck and back in proper alignment.

Shoulder: Keep shoulders low, relaxed, and level. They should not dip from side to side with each step. As you get tired, make sure they don't hike up towards your ears. If you feel your upper body tightening during a run, drop your arms to your sides and shake them out to help relax.

Torso: Keep your torso perpendicular to the ground, not allowing too much forward or backwards bending. This will help optimize lung volume and stride length. Remind yourself to "run tall." If you struggle with this aspect of running, you probably need to strengthen your core.

Arms: Bend your elbows to about 90 degrees so that your hands go by your hips at pocket level as you swing your arms. Swing your arms naturally in a front to back motion ensuring they do not cross your body, as this causes energy to be wasted in side-to-side motion.

Hands: Hold your hands loosely with fingers curled and thumb lightly touching the pointer finger. It should look like a loose fist. Imagine holding a potato chip in each hand without crushing it. Do not clench fists!

Legs: A common mistake is bending the knees too far and lifting feet too high. Distance running requires very little clearance of the feet off the ground. Another common mistake is taking strides that are too long. Rather, focus on a quicker turnover and a shorter stride. The result should be a smooth relaxed gait. It may be helpful to imagine your legs as a bicycle wheel.

How Does Your Foot Hit The Ground?

Most runners will land with most of their weight on the outer heel or midfoot and then roll forward to spring off your toes quickly. This allows for your foot to absorb some of the impact forces associated with running, while minimizing the amount of time your foot is in contact with the ground. This will help increase the efficiency of your running style and help keep your stride length optimal. However, some runners, especially sprinters, land on the front of the foot and their rear foot never touches the ground. This may be fine for sprinting short distance - but is not ideal for long distance running.

When your feet hit the ground - how loud are they? A common mistake is landing too hard on the feet. Try to keep your landings as quiet as possible, this has been shown to decrease the number of stress fractures and other running related injuries suffered by runners.

What type of arch do you have? Runners with high-arched feet perform better wearing a cushioning running shoe and running on softer surfaces. On the contrary, those with low arched feet typically perform better wearing a motion control running shoe and running on harder surfaces. This is not a hard-fast rule, but it is most often the case. Our Health and Wellness Center (HAWC) here at Charleston AFB completes gait analyses on our Airmen.

Running drills are an easy way to improve your running form, increase your efficiency while running, and warm up prior to a running workout. The following 5 drills should be incorporated into your workout routine 1-2 days per week to help improve your running form. Each one should be performed 2-3 times over a distance of about 30 yards, except the strides which are performed over a distance of 100 yards. It should only take 10-15 minutes to perform all of these drills.

High Knees
This drill involves taking short steps and picking your knees up as high as you can while keeping the opposite foot on the ground. This should be performed as quickly as you can without sacrificing form. Ensure you stand up tall, keep your back straight, and pump your arms.

Butt Kicks
This drill involves trying to kick your butt with each step. Take short steps and kick your heel back and up as high as you can. Again, this drill should be performed as quickly as possible without sacrificing form. Be sure to pump your arms at the same cadence as your steps and as always, keep your back straight and tall.

High Skips
This drill involves skipping as high as you can with each step. Be sure to swing your arms strongly and land on the same foot you use to jump off. The opposite leg should be raised so that your thigh is parallel to the ground at the highest point of the skip. The goal with this drill is height, not speed.

Bounding
This drill involves taking extremely long strides. It is similar to the High Skips, except you land on the opposite foot from the one you use to jump and the goal is distance instead of height. As with all of these drills, the most important factor is good form. Do not sacrifice a straight and tall posture to gain distance.

Strides
This drill simulates sprinting, but the focus is on form instead of speed. Strides should be performed for about 100 yards or the length of one football field. Start at a comfortable running speed and gradually accelerate until you are near a full sprint in the last few yards. Again, focus on standing tall and remaining relaxed with a quick turn-over of your legs. This drill is frequently incorporated into a pre-race warm-up routine.

Changing your running form should help improve your speed, endurance, and performance while minimizing your risk for injury! If this article has peaked your interest and you would like more information on running optimization, please visit the Health and Wellness Center (HAWC) here at Charleston Air Force Base. Our HAWC has a great running enhancement program that will help you learn many other form drills, core exercise, agility work, and running workouts that will help you become the best runner possible.