This article is a continuation from Part 1 of Improving running form.
Components of correct running form
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Flexibility: You need to have it, not only in your muscles, but in your tendons, ligaments, and joints. They all work better when they move with flexibility and any restrictions in your muscles, ligaments, or tendons will limit your range of motion, period. As we get older we tend to become less active.
A good axiom that best describes this is: “Use it or lose it.” If you don’t use your muscles and joints they will begin to stiffen and then, if you still don’t do anything, atrophy. Flexibility doesn’t just happen, you have to work at it. Even stretching a few minutes a day is enough for most people to maintain a good range of motion and decrease their chances of injury due to muscle pulls.
Good posture: Your running technique is totally dependent on your posture. The efficiency of your running technique is directly proportional to the quality of your posture. What is good posture?
According to Yoga teachers, along with many other mainstream body movement disciplines, good posture involves having a reasonably straight spine with not too much straightness and not too much bend. The more you slump, the more your body’s muscles need to work to hold you upright. Poor posture not only restricts the circulation of blood to your muscles and organs but also inhibits the oxygen supply to your brain.
To learn more about how yoga and running compliment one another read here.
Good leg motion: Over-striding is a major cause of both hamstring and knee injuries. This is when you land with your feet in front of you instead of under you. Not bending your knees when you run creates stiffness and poor circulation in your legs. Your knees should be bent at a 90º angle when you are warmed up and running at a good, medium pace.
Cadence: Most people have a low cadence ( the number of strides you take per minute). When you run, you want to spend the least amount of time on your legs as possible. The longer you take with each stride, the more time your foot spends on the ground, and the more energy your legs have to expend to support your body weight.
Even if it’s a split second during each stride, it adds up quickly when you’re talking about 1200 steps per mile. Strive to maintain a cadence of 85-90 strides per minute with each leg. Using a metronome is a great way to regulate your cadence – try it and you’ll be amazed. It can truly transform your running.
Body Sensing: Listening to your body is key to preventing injuries. Running helps you understand why you’re feeling sore, tight, or in pain and teaches you how to solve the problem.
Good mental focus: Making changes takes mental focus. If you want to run faster, farther, and injury-free, you’ll need to use your brain to re-educate your body. Create a training plan that allows you to make adjustments as you improve your form.
When you determine the right adjustments to make to your running form, your mind can tell your body what to do until it becomes part of your muscle memory. Not only can this save you some pain (and a few trips to the physical therapist), it can also be meditative to become deeply attuned to your body’s sensations.
Good upper body/lower body coordination: The general rule is that your upper body and lower body should be doing equal amounts of work. For most runners, this 50/50 ratio is tilted one way or the other.
When your upper body and lower body are working in unison rather than against each other, it spreads the work of running over the whole body and takes the load off of any single muscle group. It’s similar to the principle that work is best done if the responsibility is spread out over many workers.
Good breathing habits: Watch a baby breathing sometime. You won’t see his chest rise and fall with each breath. You’ll see his abdominal area expand and contract like someone breathing in and out of a balloon. It’s called “belly breathing”, and it’s how we should breathe all the time.
When your breath is shallow, you only use the very upper part of your lungs and don’t take advantage of your total lung capacity. Oxygen is what your muscles use to convert stored fuels into usable energy, and any reduction in your oxygen uptake will effect your ability to burn glycogen.
Proper bend in your knees and elbows: The less you bend your arms and legs, the more work your muscles have to do when you’re running. An arm or leg that is bent at the knee or elbow will swing much easier than one that is straight. As you approach your “cruising” speed, your forearms and shins should both be parallel to the ground in mid-swing.
Staying relaxed: This includes having a good sense of humor, observing what’s going on within you and around you, and responding wisely to those observations. When I’m relaxed I reduce my chances of straining a tight muscle.
Tense muscles restrict the range of motion in my arms and legs, making it hard to run faster. A relaxed runner will spend less time recovering from a race than an inefficient runner who is burning more fuel for the same amount of distance.
Correcting such imbalances will give you a better foundation to run with better technique. You can correct imbalances through regularly performing well-selected functional strengthening exercises and joint mobility exercises.