Running Form. How Important Is It?

I am on the Active.com email list and when I saw the subject line, “The Marathon Secret”, I knew I had to click. The secret they were talking about?  Good running form.

“Running is one thing, but to do it well is something else and to sustain it for 26.2 miles is another story altogether. Poor running form can lead to injury, additional stress on your body, and reduce your ability to use your fitness over time. You must develop–and maintain–good running form if you are going to realize your long-distance running potential.”

I have never really considered my running form to be good – I just try to keep my body moving. Lately I have been trying to focus on both my form and my breathing. When I run I often zone out, making my pace slow. When I really focus on my stride, my pace immediately quickens. And when my pace quickens and my breath shortens, I try to use my yoga breathing to calm my heart rate.

I know that everyone has an individual running form and some of the world’s best runners have really odd looking form. Anyone remember Constantina Tomescu’s weird arm swing during the Beijing Olympics?  Worked for her!

Or Paula Radcliffe whose own husband describes her running for as looking like a demented chicken?

But I want to start figuring out how to run most efficiently for me. I once took a Chi Running course which was really interesting, but confusing at the same time. I think concentrating too much on form can be just as detrimental as not focusing on it enough.

Some tips on running form:

Head Tilt Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, and scan the horizon. This will straighten your neck and back, and bring them into alignment. Don’t allow your chin to jut out.

Shoulders For optimum performance, your shoulders should be low and loose, not high and tight. As you tire on a run, don’t let them creep up toward your ears. If they do, shake them out to release the tension.

Arms Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with your fingers lightly touching your palms. Imagine yourself trying to carry a potato chip in each hand without crushing it. Your arms should swing mostly forward and back, not across your body. Your elbows should be bent at about a 90-degree angle.

Torso The position of your torso while running is affected by the position of your head and shoulders. With your head up and looking ahead and your shoulders low and loose, your torso and back naturally straighten to allow you to run in an efficient, upright position that promotes optimal lung capacity and stride length.

Hips Your hips are your center of gravity, so they’re key to good running posture. The proper position of your torso while running helps to ensure your hips will also be in the ideal position. With your torso and back comfortably upright and straight, your hips naturally fall into proper alignment–pointing you straight ahead. If you allow your torso to hunch over or lean too far forward during a run, your pelvis will tilt forward as well, which can put pressure on your lower back and throw the rest of your lower body out of alignment.

Legs/Stride While sprinters need to lift their knees high to achieve maximum leg power, distance runners don’t need such an exaggerated knee lift. Efficient endurance running requires just a slight knee lift, a quick leg turnover, and a short stride. Together, these will facilitate fluid forward movement instead of diverting (and wasting) energy. When running with the proper stride length, your feet should land directly underneath your body. As your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can bend naturally on impact. If your lower leg (below the knee) extends out in front of your body, your stride is too long.

Ankles/Feet To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly–landing between your heel and midfoot–then quickly roll forward. Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground. You should feel your calf muscles propelling you forward on each step. Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running is springy and quiet.

Sounds complicated! How important do you think running for is?

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