By Danny Abshire, co-founder, Newton Running
When most people take up running for general fitness or to train for a marathon, they don’t think twice about how to do it. They buy a pair of running shoes, lace ‘em up and start running.
While that simplicity is one of the things that makes running so desirable, if you start running without learning proper form, you could wind up being woefully inefficient, and, worse yet, set yourself up for a variety of debilitating injuries.
What is Good Form?
To run efficiently, you have to understand your body and how it naturally moves across a surface with as little muscular force as possible. Along those lines, the tenants of good running form include running with short strides and a quick cadence, landing lightly on the midfoot/forefoot area (the ball of the foot, but not the toes), and quickly lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing off with excessive muscle force.
A slight forward lean and a relaxed arm swing are also key components. To view an example of good running form in action click on the “Run Right” video here.
To illustrate what Newton Running calls the “Land-Lever-Lift” technique, take the simple test of running barefoot across a smooth floor. More than likely, you’re naturally going to land lightly at your midfoot/forefoot and quickly pick up your foot to start a new stride. Your body doesn’t allow you to land on your heels because it isn’t engineered to accommodate the blunt force trauma of repeated heel striking.
Two of the biggest mistakes distance runners can fall prey to are:
1) Excessive heel striking that causes abrupt braking of forward momentum, and then pushing off too hard with the toes to start the forward motion again; or
2) Using only propulsive muscles,(the calf group, hamstrings and Achilles tendon) by running too far up on their toes like a sprinter and not using the body’s natural cushioning system.
Each of those form flaws puts too much vertical movement into every stride, and that leads to inefficiency and considerably more impact, muscle and tendon stress on the body.
If you’re landing hard on your heels and excessively braking and then pushing off, you’re going to strain the muscles used for braking (especially the quadriceps group and the anterior tibialis along the front of your lower leg) and propulsion (calf and hamstring muscles), as well as the connective tissue in the lower leg, ankle and foot (plantar fascia and Achilles tendon), and that can lead to a variety of injuries.
And if you’re too far forward in a sprint position, you’re overusing your calf and hamstring muscles and putting a lot of strain on your Achilles tendon.
Good Form Matters
You wouldn’t enter into any other sport without learning proper form, so why do it in running? For example, if you bought a brand new pair of golf clubs and went out and hit 100 balls at the driving range without any instruction or idea about proper swing technique, you’d probably have inconsistent form and very mixed results, plus you’d wind up tired and very sore the next day.
Good form because it leads to efficiency, which equals less impact and that equals injury prevention. The key is running relaxed and having the awareness to just touch the ground and lift quickly on every stride.
Danny Abshire is the co-founder of Newton Running, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that makes shoes that promote an efficient midfoot running gait. He has been making advanced footwear solutions for runners and triathletes for more than 20 years.