How to Run
At school or when you were growing up, you were probably taught how to swim and this is because if you can’t swim then the chances are you will probably drown when you jump into the pool. However the majority of people, have never been taught how to run. So there is no surprise why there is such a high rate of injuries due to running (1). The force created each time the foot comes into contact with the floor can be over ten times your body weight (2). So looking at running mechanics should be the first thing to consider before starting to run, just like with swimming. Our bodies are designed to move in a certain way but the way we move can be affected by a number of different environmental factors (2,3). Running should be taught just like any other skill.
When learning a skill the brain creates a motor pattern, which is essentially the brain activating muscles in a certain way or sequence (2,3). Motor patterns are enforced every time they are recruited. So if you are running with bad mechanics you will be reinforcing bad motor patterns and potentially increasing the risk of getting injured (2,3,4,6). This is why it is very important to start thinking a bit more about running correctly and creating good running motor patterns. There are a number of different things that can affect your running mechanics.
Mobility – Although the range of movement during running is limited especially with long, slow runs, poor mobility can have a dramatic effect on running mechanics and injury rates. Good mobility of hips and ankles are especially important with running (1,4,6).
Fatigue – When fatiguing, movement can become laboured, which can lead to bad running mechanics. This is why it is important for us to be activity conscious about maintaining good running mechanics when starting to fatigue (4,6).
Injury – Running with an injury can affect running mechanics. Pain may force a change in running mechanics in order to make the movement less painful. This is why it is important to listen to your body and stop if you are feeling any pain (1,4,6).
Running shoes – A lot of modern running shoes tend to have a lot of arch and heel support. This reduces the need to condition your feet to running, a bit like constantly wearing a brace and not letting your body adapt to the environment. A high heel support allows you to run with a heel strike however this is not how we are designed to run (4,6).
What is correct running form?
When running correctly it is important to use gravity as much as possible and to consider the motion of the foot before and after it comes into contact with the ground. Running is transferring weight from one foot to the other while using gravity in a forwards motion. When running the body must become unbalanced in a forward motion in order to use gravity. There are certain things to do or to think about to try and achieve this.
Body position – the body must be straight and upright, maintaining midline stability with the legs rotating round the hips. A common issue with runners is being broken at the hips or midline (unable to maintain stability). If the body becomes broken then the use of gravity will be reduced in a forward direction. Strength and conditioning will help to develop good core stability to maintain the correct body position when running (4,6).
Foot strike – the best place for the foot to strike the ground is at the forefoot. This is not on the toes but the paddy bit of the foot in between the toes and the foot’s arches. If you look at the dynamics of the foot it is easy to see that the front of the foot acts like a spring absorbing a lot of the impact at contact. The heel however will act less like a spring and more like a break transferring the impact of contact up through the body and potentially increase the risk of getting injured. So it would make sense to land at the front of the foot instead of the heel (5,6).
Foot landing position – the ideal position for the foot to land is underneath the hips. The further the foot lands out in front of the hips the more they will act like a break and reduce the effect of gravity. If the foot lands underneath the hips it is also more likely to strike the ground at the area of the forefoot (5,6).
Pulling the foot – when the foot comes in contact with the ground it needs to be pulled upwards towards the glutes using the hamstrings. A common issue with runners is to use the hip flexors to pull the foot. The hip flexors are more likely to fatigue sooner than the hamstrings thereby potentially increasing the risk of injury. Think more about pulling your foot as opposed to making contact with the opposite foot (6).
Light footed – the less time the foot is in contact with the floor the better. Think about being like a ninja or on hot coals, as soon as the foot hits the ground pull it up as soon as possible. The longer the foot is in contact with the ground the more likely it is to trail behind. This will force you to start using your hip flexors more as opposed to your stronger hamstrings. Aim for a cadence of at least 90 strikes per minute for each leg (5,6).
So the next time you go out for a run start to think a bit more about your running mechanics. Essentially you want to imagine the top part of your body as a falling stick, in that is straight and upright, with your feet rotating and quickly reacting to the ground underneath. Just like any training, changes need to be made progressively in order for the body to adapt. Improving your running mechanics will help decrease injuries, improve efficiently, improve performance and most importantly make running a bit more enjoyable.
(1) Impact and overuse injuries in runners
A Hreljac - Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2004 - researchgate.net
(2) Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement: AND Motion Analysis Software
By Joseph Hamill (Author), Kathleen M. Knutzen
(3) Biomechanics and Motor Control of Human Movement
By David A. Winter
(4) Ready to Run
By Kelly Starret
(5) Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners
DE Lieberman, M Venkadesan, WA Werbel, AI Daoud… - Nature, 2010 - nature.com
(6) Power Speed ENDURANCE: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training
By Brian MacKenzi