Recently, I have had many questions about the best form for running. This has been a long term question for many runners and a hot topic over the years with recreational and elite runners. An article in the New York Times (August, 2012) brought up a study where non-runners, who went through a running training program naturally increased their efficiency and improved their form and running pace. The other side of this is that changing a runner’s form can help prevent injury and improve speed. As we find new runners inspired by the Missoula Marathon and other local running events, I thought I could give some insight from a Physical Therapist’s perspective on finding a running form that may help with injury prevention.
If you currently don’t have any injuries, and are beginning to run or train for a specific event, here are some ideas to help you find your form.
To find your ideal pace to maintain for longer distances, you will need to vary your pace during some of your runs. For example: after you warm up try running at a significantly faster pace for a shorter distance to the point it feels difficult, then slow back down to a comfortable pace. Your body will begin to find that “natural pace” it can maintain for longer periods of time. On your longer runs purposely make yourself slow down slightly, adding a few of these “pick-ups”. You will find that as your body gets used to running, your overall pace will naturally increase, but it is still a good idea to vary your pace with different runs to decrease the repetitive stresses which can occur.
Upper body posture should be overall relaxed. Keep your head up and gaze straight ahead to see what is coming up. Keep your shoulders relaxed, arms swinging in forward/back ward motion minimizing across body motion, and keep your hands relaxed. As people first start running, they often notice that their necks and upper back feel tight and tired. Making these slight adjustments can help. Periodically during your runs, shake your arms out down at your side, and check in to make sure you aren’t gripping your hands into tight fists.
Lower body movement is where there is more controversy on what to do. Let your knee have a natural swing. This will create a natural stride. It is not beneficial to try to overstride for longer distances as this will decrease your efficiency and increases impactive forces. The foot plant has the most discussion in the literature. I would recommend first determining if you are a heel striker, mid foot striker, or the rare instance where someone is a forefoot striker. There are pros and cons to all three types of striking. The only one I work to change with people are the heel strikers, especially if they are having pain in their feet, knees, hips, or back. To hit on your heel with the forces involved in running can create stress up the lower extremity chain and into the lower back.
The most important factor in form is to listen to your body. Running can and should be a natural activity for individuals. If you are having pain during your runs or afterward, you can try to make some of the adjustments mentioned above. However, if you still cannot find a comfortable form with running that does not create pain, you may benefit from a Runner’s Clinic or formal physical therapy to address your specific issues. These services are both offered at Alpine Physical Therapy, as are free consults for Run Wild Missoula members if you aren’t sure what would help in finding your running form.