If you google ‘running form’ you’ll find all kinds of different theories and vocabularies. Sorting through the pages upon pages of information isn’t all that much fun so I’ve gone ahead and summarized the main three popularized running forms below. I’ve experimented with these forms and ideas about running, reviewed them with a few people in the know, and written down the good stuff that you really need out of all of it.
Barefoot running: This is the notion that more shoe is a bad thing, that our bodies are made for running. Running shoes pretty much get in the way and cause us to land heel first and hurt ourselves as well as correcting for weaknesses in the muscles in our feet and in our motor control. It is suggested that this ultimately leads to more injury and that we need to build distance slowly and strengthen our feet.
Pose running: This is a technique advocating short stride length and a mid-foot strike. The body should angle or lean forward slightly. The heels never really touch the ground and the feet never get in front of the hips. This is not the same as running on your toes. You’re meant to use hamstrings and hip flexors as well as your ‘core’ muscles, to keep your body moving, as well as your overall forward lean. Do not bend from the waist but at the hip joints so that you do not hunch over. Run with your upper body relaxed.
Chi running: The focus here is on efficiency and relaxation. Forward lean of the whole body and mid-foot strike are emphasized as well as not letting the arms cross the midline of the body. And the whole body is meant to be kept in line as with Pose running. The focus in Chi running is more on imagery and energy than on mechanics.
What it pretty much boils down to;
Longer stride=injury Your feet need to stay under you while you run, your hips and butt too. Don’t reach out in front of you with your feet and slam your heel into the ground. If your foot lands in front of you then you’re putting on the brakes and sending a shock wave right up your body. Longer strides are only for powerful sprinters when they are sprinting. The very best distance runners in the world have short strides and take lots of them. Why? A short stride is like lifting a light weight. You can do it lots of times. You’re a distance runner, you have to lift your weight a really lot of times. Also, do you really think you should stretch your muscles out as much as you can and then bang on one end of them? Yup, that’s what a long stride length does.
For the rest of it, tilt your whole body, hips and all, forward a little, run happy and pay attention. Tilt forward does not mean arch your back. Your spine should be in the same position it is in when you are in a neutral standing position. Why run happy? Because misery just makes you tense and tension is a huge waste of energy and not really very much fun. Do you know why drunk drivers wreck and don’t get hurt? It’s because their bodies are so relaxed. Running isn’t the same as slamming into a phone pole and probably shouldn’t be done immediately after downing a bottle of wine, but it should be done relaxed. The cumulative impact of a week of running might add up to driving into a phone pole. I’m not going to do the math here but surely you get where I’m going. Whatever you need to get right in your head to help your body relax, whatever you need to picture or think about, find that. Get loose, check in with yourself during your workouts.
If you’re not sure about ‘vertical alignment’ or ‘whole body forward tilt’, try this; picture a string coming out the top of your head, pulling all of you up toward the sky. Maybe it’s pulling you forward slightly but it still pulls mainly up. You can’t bend at the waist because you’d have to pull down against the string to do it. The string stretches your spine out. Your legs can stay bent as they kick back behind you, propelling forward like the motor on a boat but the rest of you can float along above. I say float because even when your legs are tired and heavy it’s important to try to find a way to stay relaxed. Most of us run tenser when we’re tired, resulting in even more tiredness.
Pay attention to what? Pay attention to how your body feels. Do you know whether your toes point in, out or forward? There’s a certain amount variation because our bodies are all different so this isn’t about figuring out whether you run just the same as somebody who’s a little faster than you. This is about you learning your own body. If you don’t take the time to feel how far behind you each leg gets at the end of a stride or how much rotation your hips have or which part of your foot you land on then how will you ever change if you need to? Try altering the curve in your back one way or another to see how it feels. Try changing the position of your shoulders or even shrugging them up and down just to get a feel for where and how they move. Most of us have a distorted perception of our own form and need to play around with it to get more aware. If, for example, I were to try to shrug my shoulders up and find that they didn’t go far that might mean I was already running with them shrugged up a bit.
Once you can feel the way your body moves, then you can play with it, you can change things up and see how it feels. There is no special scan or test or piece of equipment that can get inside your body, there’s just you. You’ve got to remember that you are inside your own body, and your brain and your body aren’t really separate things. It sounds a little silly and new age but there it is. And really, feeling a little silly while you run might just do your form good.