Sunday, February 26, 2012

Running Form: It's all behind you...

I get asked a number of times a week about running form.  Ever since the "barefoot revolution" runners have been looking twice (or three or four times) at how they're running and whether it's correct.  Incidentally, a new research article comes out next week in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise that provides some key insight into whether barefoot-style running is more metabolically efficient -- the results are surprising, but I'll get into that next article)

There are a number of programs out there, some free, some quite expensive that help runners improve their form based on the ideology that the program espouses.  POSE Method.  Chi running.

I've been a long-time supporter of running with minimal or "zero drop" shoes, but I think there's a lot of overly complicated instruction out there.  So how to do it right?  Well, Walter George's instruction is a decent place to start.  It's called the "100 Up" -- you can see an appropriately dorky Christopher McDougall instruct a bunch of people from The New York Times, how to do it here.

I don't like one thing about the 100 Up though -- it mildly reinforces hip flexion (lifting your knees high) rather than knee flexion (bending the knee - heel toward your butt).

So here are my two simple instructions.  They're not fool proof, but if you think about them as you run you'll have periods of lightness on your feet that will leave you craving more.  The more you practice, the more often you'll slip into this efficient gait.  BUT, don't force it.  Don't try to think about it constantly because our bodies can only process so much at once.  Work on it for roughly 5 minutes at a go, then forget about it and just continue on your run.  Then perhaps 10 minutes later work on it some more.

  1. Focus on pushing your elbows behind you as you swing your arms:  The motion of the right elbow moving backwards is what helps drive the left hip forward and vice versa.  Repetitively this is what causes the gentle coiling and uncoiling of the spine.
  2. Focus on lifting your heels towards your butt:  As you lift one leg to swing it forward, if you bend that knee, lifting your heel towards your butt, by the time you hinge the hip forward and unbend the knee so that foot can touch the ground again it will be nearly impossible to  land on your heel.  This motion alone almost completely solves the "where on my foot should I land?" and "how do I midfoot strike?" questions.
It helps to have a thinner soled shoe on  -- heavily cushioned shoe make it all but impossible to land on anything but you heel -- but you can practice this over short distances on the grass.

So that's it.  Super simple.  I like instructions that give people only one or two things to think about.  Any more and the "Rules" just get in the way.  So get out there.  Have fun, and run lighter!

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