At some point or another you have thought about or attempted, whether successfully or unsuccessfully, to change your run form. If you’re one of the few closed minded individuals who feel, “I run the way I run” then read no further. This isn’t for you.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of runners. I’ve observe movement daily, whether it’s scoping out a runner hustling down the road or while in the confines of my clinic. My experience as both a physical therapist and a runner have left their finger prints all over my methods.
I’ve seen thousands of people run in controlled environments. Through my work I’ve noticed recurring errors in the way we think about transitioning from a heel strike. Sure, run form is far more than the way your foot hits the ground, but it’s often the jumping off point for most runners. For those looking to tackle the challenge of foot placement, I’ve outlined the three most common errors.
#1 Not Flexing the Knee
You would think that running midfoot is all about your foot placement. Superficially you’re correct; however, you’re chasing dependent factors. The research highlights faster loading rates with a heel strike, but it should really read: running with a straight knee exposes us to faster loading rates. Faster loading rates are more abrupt. Ideally, we’d like to spread, or slow the force of landing out over a longer time.
Truth is, your foot position should remain fairly constant when you transition to a midfoot strike. Instead, focus on landing on a bent knee. A bent knee landing transforms your leg into a flexible shock absorber. Immediately at contact your ankle, knee, and hip will begin to flex. All great things as muscles and tendons absorb landing forces, ultimately transferring them back into the ground at push off.
FOCUS ON: Landing on a bent knee—not on your toes. The shin should be perpendicular to the ground and initial contact.
#2 Running Too Tall
I’m assuming some push back on this next piece, but I’m going with it. Too often runners run too tall. I’m not encouraging you to flex forward with bad posture, but to rather focus on pushing forward and not up. The “feel” for movement is running shorter or keeping your joints bent—not straight. A bent joint is one that can absorb shock, while a straight joint bangs away at the system.
Running too tall creates a lot of “bounce.” Generally these runners are expending a lot of energy launching themselves upwards and not forwards. Tall runners are typically so focused on running midfoot that they generally come down hard on the toes. Visually, this typical equates to leaning too far backwards with a torso that’s perfectly upright. Tall running lacks a forward, horizontal surge at pushoff.
FOCUS ON: You want to imagine running over the ground and not on it. Try to feel your legs remaining bent throughout the gait cycle. Imagine you are two or three inches shorter when you run. Fight rocketing yourself into orbit at push off.
#3 Not Incorporating Strength
This is huge. Transitioning from a heel to midfoot strike diverts forces to new tissues, primarily muscle and tendons. You should prep your body for these forces to avoid injury. With time your muscles and tendons adapt, allowing for cleaning movement absent of compensation.
Forging more “runner-specific” strength enables you to run stronger and control for your motion. Without the strength to support good run form you’re a ticking time bomb. Improving your balance, strength, and flexibility all support your run form.
FOCUS ON: Train movements that match the running motion. Avoid non-weightbearing strength exercises. Start with your abdominals and work towards the feet.