Running is a great way to work our energy systems. Short runs, long runs, race runs, they all provide benefits to our cardiovascular system and muscular endurance. However, without the right education we can develop incorrect motor movements while running that can increase our risk for injury and negatively effect our speed. So here are 4 common running mistakes and how to correct them. But let’s cover some basics first:
What is GOOD running form?
Good running form is proper and efficient biomechanics throughout the entire gait cycle. It is important because it helps improve speed and minimize your risk of injury. Some key components of good running form include: Posture, Body Alignment, Pelvic Stability, and Hip Strength. All of these components are interrelated with one another and can effect each other. If you have bad posture, your body alignment will be off, decreasing pelvic stability, etc.
When I talk about slow stride frequency, it’s how fast your strides are. How fast your feet are hitting the ground. This can vary naturally depending on how long your legs are. If you have longer legs, naturally your stride frequency will be slower, and if you have shorter legs it will be faster. BUT everyone has the ability to increase their stride frequency. Check out this equation:
Running Speed= Stride Frequency + Stride Length
So it would seem obvious that in order to improve our running speed, we need to increase out stride frequency and stride length. BINGO! But you always want to focus on increasing stride frequency FIRST, because if you do the reverse, it will have negative effects.
Take Action: Run naturally for 15 seconds. Count how many steps you take then times by 4 to calculate your steps per minute. From there, your goal is to increase you steps per minute by 15-20 steps. This may seem trivial, but you will have to focus consciously at first to increase your step turnover. So when your running, really focus on taking faster strides. It will eventually become automatic, just like when you were a toddler and you were first learning how to walk. Now walking is an unconscious automatic effort for us. Another way to help speed up your strides is to include downhill sloped running. In addition, running with the wind pushing you from behind will help as well. This naturally makes you take faster strides.
Heel striking is when your front foot lands heel first in front of your hips, as seen with the girl in the above picture on the left. Heel striking often goes hand in hand with having slow stride frequency ( like we talked about in number 1). When running, you should be able to draw a straight line through the middle of the body with the hip and front foot lining up ( like the girl on the right). If the front striking foot is in front of that line, you are heel striking ( like the girl on the left). Not only does heel striking make it hard for you to push off your foot for speed, it causes unbalanced force absorption in your muscles, bones, and joints that can lead to common overuse injuries.
Take Action: Since Heel striking usually goes along with slow stride frequency, we are going to use my recommended action steps above. Calculate your steps per minute, and work on increasing your strides by 15-20 steps per minute by incorporating downhill slopes in your runs. ALSO- have someone video your running form to actually SEE if you are heel striking. I use a free phone app called Coach’s Eye that allows you to playback your videos in slow motion. Also- the minimalist running shoe trend evolved because of heel striking. If you wear a minimalist running shoe and try to land heel first, it will be painful, and your body will correct that to land with a mid-foot strike to avoid the pain.
Mobility is the ability of your joints to move freely and easily. We have many joints in our body: shoulder, hips, knee, ankles, elbows, etc. When I talk about LACK of mobility, I use ROM ( Range of Motion) to determine how mobile you are in a given joint. Performing a large complete arm circle would be an example of good mobility in the shoulder with complete range of motion. Sometimes we can have partial range of motion movements in our joints for different reasons: sedentary lifestyle, previous injury, tight muscles, etc.
When we lack mobility and full range of motion in our lower body joints (hips, knees, ankles), we perform repetitive partial movements. These repetitive partial movements (also called a compensation) can cause tears to the connective tissues surrounding these body parts which = injury.
Take Action: Incorporate different stretching techniques to lengthen the muscles and improve range of motion. For runners, I suggest Dynamic Stretches and AIS ( Active Isolated Stretching). Dynamic stretches are rhythmic in nature, where your constantly moving. Arm circles are an example of a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretches are best used as part of a warm up. Active Isolated Stretching involves using the assistance of a band, rope, or your hand to pull your muscle into a deeper stretch for only 2-3 seconds, and then repeating 10-15 times.
If you watch world class sprinters and runners run in slow motion, you will observe the following: Their face and jaw are relaxed, shoulders are away from their ears, fists aren’t clenched, elbows are bent at a comfortable 90 degrees.
They relax their upper body because any excess tension and muscle contraction can waste away precious needed energy when running. The goal is to let the lower body do the work, while minimizing excess movement and tension in the upper body to preserve energy.
•Keep the angle of your elbows at a comfortable 90 degrees, and be sure not to release that angle in the back swing, to avoid wasting precious energy.
•At a specific distance interval ( every 1/2 mile or mile), practice this: Raise your shoulders to your ears and really squeeze them tight as your running for 10-15 seconds. Then drop them back down into their ideal, relaxed position. This might seem counter productive, but it is a method used to relax that specific muscle by contracting it really hard. Therapists actually use this method to help decrease tension and anxiety.
•Perform the “Hands on the Head” drill. Start by interlocking your hands on top of your head. Focus on keeping your core solid and straight while keeping the hips and shoulders level and relaxed. Start jogging. This drill will help you eliminate any left to right movement of the hips, and eliminate crisscrossing in the arm swing that can waste energy. Use this drill as part of your warm up.
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