Contrary to popular belief, running should not hurt your body. It is the way you run that is doing the damage and causing pain. Sadly, for many runners, injury becomes a regular inconvenience and a way of life, something that just has to be dealt with and endured. Running is a sport that has a competitive aspect to it. When competition comes before knowledge, the goal changes from minimizing stress to the body to minimize running time. This is when injuries begin to surface. However, with a little practice on technique, injuries are reduced drastically, stress to the body diminishes, and personal running times can be greatly improved. Remember, speed comes after form.
Poor running form leads to injury, wears the joints down at an accelerated rate, and puts high levels of stress on the body. Unfortunately, much of what the vast majority of runners believe they know about running technique is wrong. So what is good form and bad form? Bad form can consist of any or all of the following incorrect techniques, which will lead to pain and injury over time.
Over striding- This consists of when the legs move to far forward in front of the body, putting heavy stress on the knee joints.
Poor foot position- When the feet deviate from a straight line, the joints have to twist with each step. As they move forward while twisting, unnecessary wear occurs.
Poor arm movement patterns- Moving arms across the entire front of the body not only is a waste of energy, but unnaturally twists the hips and torso with each stride. It is an extraordinarily inefficient running style.
Clinched fists or tense face- When you clench your fists and tighten your face, you create tension through the upper body. This causes arm movements and torso position to change, leads to neck and upper back pain and will wear out the runner much faster.
Torso bent to far forward or backward- When bent to far forward, the air is constricted to the lungs and the impact the body receives from being out of alignment increases. When bent to far back, pressure increases on the lower back and over striding usually occurs, stressing the knees.
Landing on the heel of the foot- Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running should be springy and quiet. Landing on the heel of the foot leads to more stress than any other running problem. It delivers an immediate shock to the lower back and can lead to chronic pain and even stress fractures.
Improving your running form can help you run quicker, more efficiently, and with less stress on your body. It helps to reduce the changes of injuries, and allows for a more pleasant run. Making these small adjustments to your form can literally mean the difference between an enjoyable complete run and a DNF (Did Not Finish)
Land on mid-foot- Although heel striking is very common for recreational runners, it is not the preferable way to run. Constantly landing on the heels wastes energy and jars the body. It can lead to significant stress injuries throughout the lower extremities, and even chronic pain throughout the entire back. It should be noted that most running shoes are designed for the runner who lands on their heel. Inevitably these shoes allow a runner with poor form to slide by and develop bad habits. Be wary of expensive running shoes unless you take the time to learn how to run!
Use gravity to pull you forward- Using your legs to push yourself forward will rob you of energy faster than anything. Try to relax, bend your knees, and lean forward at the ankles, rather than the waist. As you lean, gravity pulls you forward. Your feet will begin to come down underneath you, rather than in front of you. Your foot should never hit the ground in front of your body, as this puts maximum strain on your knees. Essentially, the runner’s center of gravity should be directly over the foot.
Posture- Focus on maintaining good posture. Keep your hips, shoulders, and ankles in a straight line. Good posture builds strong core muscles and allows the body to move more efficiently, using less energy overall.
Relax your body- Relaxing your leg muscles, in particular, lessens their resistance to forward momentum as you run.
Breathe- Inefficient breathing forces the body to work harder to meet its oxygen requirements. Breathe naturally and fully from your diaphragm, instead of shallow chest breaths.
Forward movement- Forward movement should not be muscular. It should happen by itself, because of gravity. When you have the proper form, gravity will carry you forward, allowing for an enormous reduction in energy output.
Running can be a sport that is done up until your final days if practiced correctly. Taking the time to learn about running is no different than learning golf, football, or any other sport. If you put in the time to learn, your runs will be fruitful, enjoyable, and your endurance and stamina will increase over time.