I just ran 5 miles!! I know that to anybody who considers themselves a runner, that’s no big deal, but if you’ll remember from my recent post Me vs. Running, I am not one of those people. This was quite an accomplishment for me, and I’m happy to report that while it still felt hard, I didn’t 100% hate it this time. Better yet, I made it to the end with no pain whatsoever!
As promised, I’m going to be sharing some of the things I’m implementing myself to make running more enjoyable and better for my body, and hopefully you can apply some of those things too, no matter where you are in your running journey.
Today, let’s talk about running form. Running is a complex movement, and breaking down all of the biomechanics of it is waaay beyond the scope of what I have time to write about today. Plus, it turns out that knowing how each muscle and joint should work from your head down to your big toe isn’t super helpful when you hit the pavement or trails for your own jog. It is simply too much to think about in real time when all of the pieces are moving together at once.
Fortunately, there are a few bigger picture things to think about that can effectively improve a lot of common problems. Here are my top 3:
- Keep your feet underneath you. I like thinking about Fred Flintstone as he starts to drive. Obviously, your feet do actually have to go forward for you to move forward, but instead of taking long strides, keep your step length a bit shorter and your cadence (steps per minute) a bit quicker. This DOES NOT mean you need to increase your overall speed, just the rate of your steps. What this essentially does is change how you land on your foot and in turn the impact through your body. If you are really reaching forward with your leg, chances are you will land on your heel with your knee locked out straight. This sends a huge amount of force up through your joints and puts you at a higher risk of many injuries including but not limited to shin splints, hamstring injuries, knee problems, or Achilles issues. When you think of keeping your feet more contained underneath your body and increase the turnover of your feet instead, you will change where your foot first contacts the ground and minimize the forces up the chain into your foot, leg, knee, hip, and so forth.
- Keep your knees out. A very common pattern that could lead to problems down the road is letting the knees drop towards each other as you run. The fancy term for this is called dynamic valgus and it encompasses a spiral of events throughout your leg. The basics include that your hip joint adducts (drops toward midline) and internally rotates, your knee drops inward creating more stress on the medial or inside part of your knee, and your foot excessively pronates (collapses toward your arch). This can be the result of weak hip musculature, weak foot muscles, poor control, poor habits, or a combination of several factors. Of course, it can be helpful to work on those individual aspects, but again it is nearly impossible to perfect those little components while you are actually running. Instead, just thinking about keeping your knees out as you run as if they were staying out to touch a mini wall right at the side of your legs can help correct the pattern. This will help you stay moving in more of a sagittal (front to back) plane that is required with running, and keep you out of the rotations and sideways movements that can lead to pain or injury.
- Stay low. I like to imagine I am running under an imaginary ceiling and simply gliding along. This does a few things. First, you will become more efficient in your running because instead of wasting energy to get yourself lofted up off the ground, you can use it to move forward. Second, what comes up must come down. If you are getting higher up off the ground, that typically leads to increased force on the way down which will in turn get taken up by the muscles and joints in your leg, putting you at risk for injury.
Basically, I think of myself as a super cool Fred Flintstone running in a low cave and keeping my knees out towards the walls. A more thorough running analysis can help distinguish any side to side differences or unique areas of weakness or poor motor control, but honestly it is amazing what just a few easy visuals can do to correct some major things.
Yabba Dabba Doo!!!!