Good Form Running

Monday night, my friend Steph and I headed to PR Fitness in downtown Ann Arbor for a Good Form running clinic. Because we are losers and didn’t think about the fact that we might actually be running, I wore jeans and she wore her work clothes.

Fail

Mike, who manages Elite Feet in Brighton (about 30 minutes north) ran the clinic. As their website describes,

In this class, we will teach you the four simple but highly effective points that will help you transform into a more efficient, healthy runner. By mastering these points, you will be able to run faster, easier, and most importantly injury free. You will have the opportunity to have your gait analyzed on camera and have the chance to practice the Good Form technique which will dramatically effect your running form.

Pretty much on board with all of that.

The class focused on the four main elements of Good Form Running:

1. Posture

Cell evolution fn

This is pretty simple–you want to be tall and straight when you run so you’ll be more efficient and have an easier run. Most of us stand with a hip cocked out to the side, arms folded, etc. when we’re just standing around. It might not seem like this would affect us when we’re running, but it throws off your balance and actually affects your stride.

Mike walked us through getting our posture right, starting with your feet. You want them about shoulder width apart, pointed forward (duh), with your weight in the middle of your foot. Then, travel up to the knees and make sure they’re soft and not locked. Moving up to your hips, make sure they’re level and even. Then, reach straight up to the sky like you’re trying to touch something just out of reach. This brings everything into alignment. Mike suggested just doing this step in the middle of a long run to adjust your posture. Easy!

Drop your arms to your sides and keep them loose and relaxed, somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees. Your head should stay level with your eyes looking out about 10 feet in front of you.

2. Mid-foot

Landing midfoot

There’s a lot out there about mid-foot running and why it’s better for you than heel striking (heel strikers, unite!). Essentially, hitting the middle of your foot when you hit the ground keeps you more stable. The idea is that your mid-foot hits first, keeping you from extending your leg out in front of you. That way, your knees can stay soft and never lock, and your foot will land softly under your hips. Basically, you’re trying to minimize the force you’re putting on the rest of your body by landing on the mid-foot.

3. Cadence

I’ve heard about cadence with Chi-running before. This has to do with the number of steps you take per minute. By increasing your cadence, you’re shortening your stride and allowing yourself to become more efficient and hit that mid-foot strike when you run. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. When we start to get tired, our stride tends to slow down and you get that “all over the place” feeling. By keeping your cadence consistent (they recommend 180 beats per minute), you keep your stride short and efficient. Even though this feels really odd to try–your steps feel super short!–I can see where this would help maintain your form. The video above shows that you can really maintain that 180 cadence at any pace. They recommend a metronome, but I’m fairly certain that would drive me insane to hear it ticking away for my entire run. Instead, you can download an mp3 on the Good Form Running site that’s only a couple minutes long. If you put it on your running playlist to show up every mile or so, it can help keep you in check until you get used to that cadence. Alternately, you can google lists of 180 cadence songs, but I would imagine it’s pretty hard to find enough music at that cadence that I’d actually like!

4. Lean

Falling down stairs

I find this so weird, but what you’re trying to do is lean forward from your ankles. This is like a trust fall, but you have to trust yourself and also not face plant. Challenging–especially for someone like me who has a hard time not falling on my face anyway.

To do it, you keep your weight slightly forward and flex at the ankles–but not too much, or you’ll heel strike. Obviously, I think this is the hardest step in Good Form Running. If you don’t believe me, try it. It feels really weird. It makes sense, though, because you’re using gravity to propel yourself forward. Typically, when you get tired on a run, you tend to sit back in your stride (raises hand), which makes your entire body have to work harder to move forward. Shifting your weight into a lean makes you fall naturally, i.e., move forward, which creates momentum.

They suggest trying leaning forward and back while you’re running to feel the difference. It’s easy to see why leaning helps, and I would imagine that practice makes perfect!

2508 thumb

{Look familiar, Paula???}

At the end of the class, we all ran on the treadmill while Mike filmed us. I had never been filmed running before, so I was interested to see what my stride looks like. Much to Mike’s chagrin, I am a serious heel striker. I almost felt like he looked down on me for it! But whatevs. I’m sure he wasn’t always Mr. Perfect Running Man, either.

Anyway, my next question was, “Now what???” Obviously, you can’t change your whole running form overnight, and I would imagine it’ll feel pretty awkward for a while, but I want to at least try to prevent injuries and make myself more efficient. So, I’ll practice.

Starting out by focusing on posture and cadence can help to set the foundation for Good Form running. They set up your ability to lean and put your foot down properly, so they seem like a good place to start. I think the hardest part is going to be keeping my pace while trying the whole cadence thing. I can see myself trying to go faster, but that’s not the goal–shorter strides is.

What they recommend is to set your watch to go off every 5 minutes during your run so you can reset your posture (basically just reach up to the ceiling), and check your cadence by listening to the mp3 for a minute or two. I haven’t checked my cadence yet, but if it’s only around 150 or 160, I’ll try to go up more gradually rather than switching to 180 right away.

Oh, and I’m not doing this on every run. I figure I’ll give it some attention during my easy runs during the week, just to see how it goes. I tried it a little on this morning’s tempo run, and it was way too much to think about. So easy runs will be my practice time!

Has anyone out there tried Good Form Running?

If not, will you try any of these tips?

I’d love to hear what you all think!

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8 thoughts on “Good Form Running

    • Yeah, I guess you’d have to weigh the cost/benefit. I think it’s more about injury prevention in the long term. I can definitely see how changing my form would result in less stress on my body.

  1. Hey, how’d you get a picture of my legs on there?
    I’ve tried running with better form, and while all of the tips sound really good, it is super hard to change your habits. You really have to work at it. I would notice I’d stop thinking about it and I’d go right back to what I was doing. So it takes a lot of concentration until it becomes innate. The leaning thing was especially weird for me!

  2. Interesting post!
    I too was a serious heel stricker. But at the age of 33 (after 14 marathons), I had no choice but totally modify my running technique in order to save my right knee and keep running.
    I used the Pose method of running. Believe me, it was not easy for a guy like me with no sense of moderation (as shown by my injury CV) but it was worth the game.
    I wish I had learned sooner to run well instead of focusing on speed or distance. But late is better than never, right? 😉

  3. My local running store (Gazelle Sports – AWESOME store!) offers free Good Form Running clinics and I have yet to go. I know right?! It is on the agenda (right after try an ice bath!). My Run Camp preaches about the benefits of it every week. What I do think is awesome is that you showed up in jeans not thinking that you would actually run. You are such a dork my friend! AND THAT IS WHY I HEART YOU:-)

  4. I have read that in very small ways the shoes can help correct your form – but if you switch to more minimal shoes (or shoes with a smaller heel-to-toe drop) you should do it slowly. The Saucony Guides I just bought are supposed to help me with my heel striking (they have an 8mm heel-to-toe dropped, most shoes have a 10-12mm drop). We’ll see.

    So far I DO feel faster in them – but that might just be because I feel more confident that I’m not going to break my ankle!

  5. Hi! I practice Good Form Running! It was pretty tough to get down the cadence, at first like you said. I felt like I was tiptoing while I ran to get the 180 beats. I agree with Paula, habits are hard to change.
    SO – Every mile or so I will count my steps for 10 seconds, trying to get as close to 30 steps as I can. Based on the result, I know how I am doing with my form, cadence, gait, etc. By checking in on a regular basis, it’s now become second nature.
    I did a VERY similar post (great minds think alike!) a few weeks back and talk about everything you did, plus the importance of supportive shoes. Take a peek, if you’d like!
    http://www.fiterature.com/2011/12/19/hey-baby-nice-gait/

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