Running can give you amazing feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it’s also one of the most taxing activities on your body. The continuous motion pounds on our joints and if we’re not careful, we can be forced to take extended breaks due to injury. A recent article from Runner’s World said that studies reveal that as many as 79% of runners have to take these breaks each year. But, why exactly are these injuries occurring?
The truth is, there is no one root cause of an injury. In running’s case, injuries and joint pain can result from improper running shoes, inadequate strength training, inflexibility, over-training, anatomical issues, not enough cross-training, and doing too much too fast. Also, a major issue involved with running injuries is running with improper form. With proper form, you can improve your running endurance, speed, and efficiency, as well as put significantly less stress on your body.
Several technical aspects are involved with running form, and it’s important to know what they are in order to improve them.
With your posture…
look straight ahead with your eyes on the horizon, keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, and stand tall with your spine elongated. Moving down your body, it’s important to also relax your arms and hands, have your arms at your sides bent at about 90 degrees, and swing arms naturally front to back, rather than cross over the middle of your body.
Posture is key to running form because the worse your posture is, the more your other muscles have to work which can easily cause injuries in your hips and knees.
Position your foot-strike
The next aspect to pay attention to is the positioning of your foot-strike. Research states that you should aim to strike mid-foot, which means not directly on your toes and not heel first. If you primarily land on your toes, fatigue will hit you faster and your chances for injury in your calves and shins increase. If you strike with your heel first, you’re over-striding and therefore, unbalanced from your center of gravity. Heel-striking causes more shock to your joints and muscles, which also leads to more injuries. Landing mid-foot allows you to remain balanced because it happens naturally under your hips. Therefore, mid-foot striking allows you to run with less stress, and it makes your running more efficient because it gives you the desired cadence, which is another key aspect to technique.
What about your cadence?
Cadence is the rate at which your feet strike the ground, and the desired cadence to ensure strong form is around 180 steps per minute. The overall goal is to reach that cadence no matter what speed you’re going. That way, you don’t reach fatigue as quickly and you strongly avoid heel striking because with the shorter strides, it’s easier for your feet to land comfortably beneath you. A good and simple way to test your cadence is to jog for 1 minute counting how many times your right foot hits the ground. If it’s significantly less than 90, you should shorten your stride and be particularly mindful of your form.
Watch that lean
The next aspect of form to pay attention to is how you’re LEANING while you run. Are you slouched over at times, bending primarily from your waist? If so, then you need to reevaluate your form so you’re leaning more from your ankles leaving your waist and hips strong and centered. Bending over at your waist actually increases your effort level causing fatigue to settle quicker. Having your weight forward slightly stemming from your ankles, however, allows you to run more efficiently and lets you run from your core and lead with your knees, rather than your feet.
When you run, every part of your body is connected.
If your head, neck, and shoulders are tense, it’ll affect your posture, which will cause your legs to overwork resulting in poor foot-striking, which will negatively affect your cadence. Also, with poor posture you’re unable to lean from your ankles and work from your hips and core, which further disrupts the way your foot lands. It’s easy to imagine, then, how one slightly off positioning of the body can perpetuate further problems, which greatly leads to various injuries.
Strong technique with anything you do takes practice, but that hard work and attention to detail will be beneficial in the long run. With good form, you’ll be able to be a faster, more efficient runner, while working positively to prevent injuries, letting you enjoy the sport a lot longer than you would otherwise.