Running Form and Efficiency

Most of us have been running for quite some time and I think it is helpful to check in on running form and efficiency on a regular basis. The goal is to stay pain- and injury-free and enjoy our time on the road. Have you ever been sidelined with pain or an injury? I sure have and every time I could tie it back to something in my running form. My stress fracture most certainly was due to running with my toes turned in, which in turn made me land on the outside of my feet instead of mid-foot. My fibula was taking a pounding and before long I had to take a break while I healed. Another time, I had a strain in my piriformis. That happened from running on the left hand side of the road. That strain led to one hip being higher than the other. I had to work with a chiropractor and a muscle activation therapist to get things straightened out. By focusing on form, we work to eliminate the chance of injury. As we start to increase our weekly mileage, we need to be especially cognizant of this because when you are tired, your form can fall apart.

Cadence refers to the number of times your feet touch the ground in one minute. The aim is 180 beats per minute and you can use a clip on metronome or use an app on your phone until it becomes natural. Working to keep at 180 steps per minute will increase efficiency and decrease fatigue. Think about your tissues being like rubber bands. When stretched and released they snap back forcefully. With a longer stride and slower cadence, the elastic recoil is less forceful, which will make you work harder. Cadence at 180 leads to efficiency because there will be no pause at the completion of the leg follow through. By keeping the cadence up, your stride will be shorter, preventing braking and will also give you less contact time with the ground.

Relaxation is key to getting through a long run. Many of us hold tension in our bodies and specifically in muscles when we run. We need listen to our body to troubleshoot—looking for tension and fatigue in a method called Body Sensing. You do a scan from the top of your head all the way to your toes finding those areas that are tired and giving them a rest while recruiting other areas to do the work.

Running softly will reduce the impact on your bones and joints. When you are running, the impact when you touch the ground is equivalent to 3 times your body weight. With a hard landing, the impact will vibrate up through your legs. Listen to your feet when you are running….what do you hear? Your feet should hardly be making any noise--your steps are light and quick with no shuffling or dragging of the feet.

Mid-foot strike allows you to get your foot under the hip to propel your body forward. If your foot lands out in front of you, you will strike on the heel, working against gravity and causing a braking motion. Landing on the toes will cause your calves to get tired very quickly. When you have the foot land under the hip, your center of mass will continue to move forward--using momentum to move you rather than energy. Think of the push-off as a clawing motion, pulling the ground back as you launch forward.

What does good posture look like? Imagine a straight line drawn from your shoulders to hips to heels. When you run, all of these parts should be in a straight line. Here is more:

  • Spine is elongated, you are running tall and core is strong. Your energy should be coming from this place. Alignment off? Breathing will be harder as the shoulders slump forward.
  • The belly is pulled in and the pelvis is at neutral. Alignment off? Your butt will stick out in the back and you will bend at the waist. You might experience lower back soreness because the back muscles are strained. This can also lead to the hip muscles having to work harder.
  • Your neck is in line with the spine—which means that you aren’t bending the neck to look down at the ground. Your eyes do the looking. Chin is level. Alignment off? Your head weighs 15 pounds. When the head drops, the shoulders hunch over and you will have less lung capacity.
  • Shoulders are relaxed down away from the ears and there is no tension in them. Alignment off? You might get cramping in your neck and generally have tension throughout the body. Shoulders drawn too far back will make you lean back instead of leaning forward, which will slow you down.
  • Elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle and close in toward the side of the body. The elbows are pulling straight backwards, which helps the legs move forward. Alignment off? You will have too much rotation through the torso, wasting a bunch of energy. This can also cause your hips and legs to rotate instead of moving straight ahead.
  • Hands are relaxed with thumbs on top. Alignment off? Tension will go up the arms and if thumbs are pointing inward, there might be more rotation through the torso…which leads to wasted energy.
  • Straight line from the hip to the knee to the ankle to the toes and knees are soft. When running you are moving forward on a sagittal plane. Everything pointing forward means that the body moves forward. Alignment off? A variety of things can occur. You could have IT band tightness, soreness in the knees, stress fractures…the list goes on and on here.
  • Why fight against gravity? Lean forward at the ankles in order to use gravity to help you move forward. The ankle lean also keeps your body in the correct alignment (see posture above).

Finally, RunOn! offers a great class called Good Form Running. Many people say that it is the best $50 they have ever spent.