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Run Right

by Cara Regas

When it comes to distance running, we all know how to run, right? Well, not necessarily. We run, but we may dismiss learning proper form because we were either never taught, or we just think that running form only matters in elite runners.  It is important for everyone to learn proper running form in order to improve performance and avoid injury.  Every person’s form is a little different. Even among elite athletes there are many different running styles. Despite the variety, there are elements that are common to successful distance running styles. Good running form is not an innate skill, it is continually learned. Learning proper form can make a major difference in the way you feel and the efficiency of your run. Here are a few tips to consider when evaluating your own running form.

Let your eyes be your guide. Look ahead naturally about 10-20 feet ahead of you and concentrate on running in a straight line. Relax your neck and jaw. Feel free to enjoy the scenery, but remember to come back to focus your form in order to maintain control and proper posture for the rest of your body.

Your shoulders should be low (not close to your ears) and loose. If you feel them tightening and creeping up towards your ears as you run, shake them out to release that tension!  Keep them square to your body and upright thus preventing a hunched over posture and excessive tightness in your upper body.

Your arms provide balance and coordination with your legs. Keep your arms loose and close to your body. Your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees, swinging in rhythm with your legs. Swing your arms from chest to waist with your elbows driving back behind your body. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, imagining you’re holding a potato chip in each hand (don’t crush it!). If you clench your fists it can cause tightness in your arms which may travel into your shoulders, neck, and lower back. Avoid driving your hands across your body, to minimize the rotation of your torso, and focus on driving your elbows back, rather than forward. Driving back will propel your body forward. Remember, fast arms equal fast feet.
Torso / Posture:
By running with your eyes gazing ahead and your shoulders low and loose, your torso and back naturally straighten allowing you to run in an upright position. This upright and relaxed running position with a slight forward lean is most efficient. Keep your chest out and your shoulders back, hips pressed forward and butt tucked in. This posture keeps your upper body in balance above your hips.

Your hips are your center of gravity, so they merge the upper body and lower body into good posture. Hips should be in line with your head and shoulders. If your torso and back are upright, your hips will naturally fall into alignment, pointing your body straight ahead. If you begin to hunch over, your pelvis will tilt forward placing pressure on your low back and causing your lower body out of alignment.

Legs / Stride:
Your feet should strike directly under your hips.  As your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can bend naturally on impact.  Your steps should be light and quiet.  If they are heavy and loud, you are either running too far forward or with too much up and down motion.  If your lower leg extends in front of your body, your stride is too long. Overstriding results in landing heavily on your heel, placing excessive stress on your knees, hips, and low back, and will also slow you down.  All of your running effort should be directed forward.  If you bounce up and down too much, you waste a lot of energy and place a lot more pressure on the joints of your lower body.  Remember that your legs drive your body forward.  Think of your legs moving in a continuous circular motion (similar to that of a bicycle), soft foot strike under your hips and quickly lift your foot off the ground.  

Ankles / Feet:
One of the most important phases of running technique is the position of your foot when it comes in contact with the ground.  The most efficient foot strike for distance running is landing on the ball of your foot then the heel contacting the ground a fraction of a second later. The toes should push off a fraction of a second after that.  Your foot should hit the ground lightly and quickly roll forward.  Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to created a greater push-off force.  Your calf muscles should propel you forward with each step. While sprinting, the most efficient foot strike is landing on the balls of the feet without the heels touching the ground.  The quicker your turnover of your foot strike is, the quicker and more efficient your running becomes.  

By maintaining this “check-list” of running mechanics, you will be on your way to more efficient running performance and less risk of injury.  It will take a while for your body to adapt to the new running alignment, so be patient!  Your time will come and you will reap the benefits of healthy running style.  Good luck and enjoy!

Cara Regas (MA, ATC, ACE-certified) is a personal trainer at Fitness Quest 10. She teaches Cardio Class along with a number of other classes and can be reached via the contact form below [easy-contact]

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