A Primer on Running Form

Posted by A.J. Nygren on 23rd Apr 2018

A Primer on Running Form

Running is a seemingly simple process of putting one foot in front of the other but in truth running with proper technique takes patience, focus, and practice. In today’s world it is all too easy to forget your posture and end up hunched over gazing at your smartphone, tablet, or computer screen. It is all too common as well to be that way for extended periods of time and then jump right in to a run with no warmup and that same slouch. Subjecting one’s body to such vigorous kinetic forces without proper posture and technique is a quick route to discomfort and very likely injury.

Weren’t we all told to stand up straight as kids? Why don’t we take their advice and apply it to our running form? Has anyone said to you, “Chin up!” when you’re feeling down? We’ll take that as well and add it to our form. When you are sitting or standing straight your body is much happier. If you slouch, the spine is not the only place that is affected. A misalignment there will cause problems over time in your hips, shoulders, neck, knees, feet, and ankles if it is not addressed. The reason for this comes down to how your bodyweight is distributed down your “kinetic chain.” This “kinetic chain” is your musculoskeletal system from the balls of your feet all the way to your neck. If you aren’t aligned correctly, certain muscle groups will not be used properly and will become very weak while other muscle groups have to grow faster in order to compensate for weakness and lack of development in another place. The hip flexors (front of the hips) and gluteus (butt) muscles are particularly affected by sitting too long, the hip flexors are constantly flexed and become shortened and tight while the gluteus muscles are not used at all and become very weak. This is a common cause of chronic pain.

Posture is not the only piece that people are missing from their form, however. Cadence, or the number of steps taken per minute, is another key to running efficiency. Oftentimes, runners will have a cadence of 150-160 steps per minute. This feels normal to some but subjects the body to too much force on landing which can result in injuries over time. By increasing one’s cadence to 170-180 steps per minute the impact is half of what it is at a cadence of 125! Another problem that is remedied by upping cadence is that of overstriding. When a runner overstrides, the foot contacts the ground in front of the body and oftentimes the runner’s knee is nearly locked upon footfall. This causes tremendous strain up the kinetic chain and can cause runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, or any number of muscle problems that can entail months of recovery if not addressed. When the runner addresses cadence and maintains a slight forward lean at the ankles, the foot will contact the ground under the hips with a bent knee. This helps mediate force up the kinetic chain.

One of the most hotly debated topics in modern running is the foot strike. The foot strike is where on your foot makes initial ground contact during your stride. If running with improper cadence and posture, you will most likely run with a somewhat hard heel strike. Most of the time after correcting posture and cadence, people will transition to a foot strike that more closely resembles a mid-foot strike but there are others that will continue to heel strike. That is okay! What matters is that the foot makes ground contact close to under the hips because it is landing with a bent knee that mediates impact. Try applying these techniques to your next run but like anything, start slow. Don’t make adjustments to your form and then do your weekly long run! Your body will need time to adapt to the differences in biomechanical forces. Give your body time to adapt and you may find running becomes more efficient and more enjoyable.