Changing Your Running Form

“Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”
- The Eagles, “Take It Easy”

Historical running wisdom has been that you cannot change the way you run; the way you looked while running around the playground as a kid is basically the same way you look when running on streets or trails as a grownup today. The biomechanics you were born with either provide you a lifetime of injury-free running, or a plague of constant injuries.

However, in the last few years there has been a lot of scientific research indicating that you can change your running form – and doing so might actually be good for you. Whether you are a beginner or elite, making your running form more efficient can make you not only faster, but less likely to incur injuries.

This “unconventional wisdom” started a few years back with the barefoot and minimalist shoe boom. Running barefoot or with minimal shoes forces your foot strike - the way your foot hits the ground - to be on the midfoot or forefoot, with a much softer impact than traditional running shoes. Traditional running shoes have highly padded heels and more lift in the heel and promote a heel strike while running.

However, the question is still very contentious among medical professionals. Many still believe that runners with less-than-perfect biomechanics have no business trying to run barefoot, and should rely on structured shoes or even orthotics. However, most are beginning to accept that efficient running isn’t dependent nearly as much upon the shoe as it is upon the runner.

Whether you wear shoes or not, there are several things you can work on in order to reduce your chances of injury. Next time you are out for an easy run, listen to determine how your foot strikes the ground. Are you a “noise-maker” who lands on your heel and then slaps the ground with your forefoot, or do you run silently with a soft footstrike?

Practice running quietly. There are several ways to do this and all require repetition, concentration, and practice. Try to land more in the midfoot. Take shorter quicker strides. Don’t overstride. You might try leaning a bit more forward but when you do this don’t bend from the waist, but from the ankles.

Danny Dreyer wrote a popular book called “Chi Running,” in which he claims you can improve your running form by concentrating your energy on balance and flow. He identifies 10 components of good running technique and we’ve added some explanatory advice after each one: flexibility (stretch for a few minutes each day), posture (run upright, no slumping), good leg motion (don’t overstride), cadence (quick short steps), body sensing (sense tension and relax your muscles), mental focus (concentrate on making changes), upper/lower body coordination (both work together rather than in opposition), good breathing habits (deep belly breathing), bent knees and elbows (improves arm and leg swing), and staying relaxed (consciously relax your muscles and run comfortably fast).

More and more runners are now doing actual drills once or twice a week, usually before or after running, to improve their form and flexibility. You can have fun with skips, high knees, butt kicks, irish dance, striders, hurdle step-overs, quick feet, and many more. Just Google “running drills” and you’ll find lots of them.

Like anything worthwhile, changing your running form takes a bit of effort and some study, but there’s no question it can lead to a healthier and more enjoyable running life.

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