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If Running is Supposed to be So Natural, Why is My Form So Lousy and What Can I Do About It?

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I began my running career when I was 12 years old, so I basically grew into the habit. As such, I never really gave too much thought to my running form. I figured if I looked horrible while out running, someone would say something. I made it through four years of track in high school and excelled through collegiate athletics, and never heard a peep from anyone, so I assume I look okay while out on the running trails.

A few years ago, after completing a race, I actually received a compliment from a fellow participant who crossed the finish line just moments after I did, and he told me, “You did great. You have great form. You look like a true runner.” No one had ever said anything like that to me before. Now when I am out running, in the back of my mind I sometimes remind myself to make sure I employ proper form when pounding the pavement. I actually think about it a lot more ever since I received that compliment. I also find myself observing the running form of others on occasion. Here are a few types of runners who have passed by my house in recent months:

1) The “I started this exercise regimen when I was 65, so please give me a break” runner. This is the fellow who, bless his heart, is out there every day, shuffling along, getting that heart rate up. His feet barely lift off the ground and his arms are held at a stiff 90 degree angle to his body. He looks uncomfortable, but dedicated.
2) The “I’m barely into my teens and am a lanky and awkward runner.” This type has his arms flapping all over the place. He usually has his head down, staring at the pavement, occasionally looking up but giving the appearance that he feels he will lose his balance if he keeps his head up for too long. He looks uncontrolled and sloppy, but at least he is out there getting in shape.
3) The “I like to run with my dog” runner. This is the guy who takes his dog along for his daily run, but the dog seems to be more in control of the situation than its master. Therefore, the runner is leaning forward and is moving ahead, feet hitting the pavement square on instead of it the forefront of the foot. He is stomping more than running, and it doesn’t look like fun. The arm holding the leash is doing nothing for his form or for his balance, and it appears the dog is going to win.
4) The “sticks his chest out when he runs” runner. I saw this form in one of my boys when he was younger. It was as if he felt that by puffing his chest out he would propel himself forward. His core was far from effectively engaged, and his arms looked wildly out of control in the process.

In reality, most runners have some form flaws. Some are just more obvious than others. The newly-released “Natural Running” book by Danny Abshire sets forth a few of these tell-tale signs:

1) The loud runner. You can hear this person coming up behind you. She is probably over-striding and hitting the ground with her heel. Perhaps she is even making a double-impact by landing on her heel first and then striking her forefoot, slapping the ground with appreciable force in the process.
2) The bouncy runner. This type of form suggests that the runner is striking with her heel first and then over-striding. This is not an efficient use of one’s energy. This type of runner breaks with every heel strike and then accelerates by pushing off to begin a new stride. As such, she is constantly raising and lowering her center of mass.
3) The runner who looks down in front. By doing this, the runner is quite possibly throwing off her center of mass and causing another part of her body to over-compensate. The head is a very heavy part of the body and by keeping it upright, less energy is used and one can maintain a natural balance. When looking down while running, it not only throws off one’s balance, but her gait, as well.
4) The dancer. This is the runner who twists her arms, shoulders and upper body excessively while running. For the most part, the upper body should be still and upright when running while the arms alternate moving front to back, parallel to the body. The more a runner swings her arms, the less efficient she will become. Additionally, if she swings her arms too much across her torso, this will cause her shoulders to twist, and will force her body to expend way too much valuable energy.
5) The “feet landing in front” runner. When looking down while running, can the feet be seen in front of the body? If so, this is a good indication the runner is using a highly-inefficient heel-striking gait.

If you want to maximize the time you spend on your runs, keep your form in check. Proper running form simply allows you to be more efficient and to reserve your energy for the task at hand. By employing proper form, you can avoid over-use injuries and notice an appreciable difference in how fast you run. If it helps, have someone videotape you so that you can observe your form and make the proper changes. I am confident you will be impressed by the differences you discover with your running once you recognize proper form.

(Additional information for this article was found at http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-268-8210-0,00.html)

Abshire, Danny. Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger, Healthier Running . unknown: Velo Press, 2010. Print.

Reviewed May 23, 2001

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