Correct Running Form
Correct running form is essential for all types of runners to become more efficient and successful. With improved posture you'll face less injuries and be able to train more, longer, and harder.
A good running form is not only for elite runners or professional runners as some may think. Nobody wants to get injured because of improper running form. So why not improve it by bringing more awareness to your running style.
Various running forms have been taught over the last few decades. However, sports science is proving new running forms to be more efficient and save. These days the best running form is labeled as the "Kenyan method" or "Kenyan running form". The Kenyans have set several records, are always present in high level races, are know for their economy-style running form, and hard training sessions.
The Kenyan running form applies to the following key points. The position of the upper body, the point of landing on the foot, the angle of knees upon landing, swing and angle of the arms, the turn-over and stride length. The effects on the running form are explained in detail on this page.
Try running barefoot to discover your optimal running form. You'll discover immediately that when you run barefoot, you're not landing on your heels. Instead you are landing on your midfoot/forefoot.
The Kenyan method dictates a straight body to a slight forward lean. The slight forward lean comes from the ankles and not by bending from the waist. There should be a forwardly slanted straight line from the head through the waist to the feet A slight forward lean should be just enough to improve cooperation with gravity. The forward lean is not to force a faster pace or a shorter stride length. Often toward the end of a training session fatigue and tension in the muscles makes you slant forward too much making you over-stride. Over striding increases the risk of injury.
In the 80's, runners were taught to land on the heel and push off with the front of the foot. Sport scientists have taken a closer look and came to the conclusion that landing on the heel was a result of over striding or caused over striding. When over striding, the foot makes first contact with the ground in front of the body. This puts greater stress and pressure on the knees, possibly leading to unwanted injury. Also this heel strike puts a brake on the momentum build-up after pushing off. The improved foot plant is on the mid-foot. Correct running form is mainly established by the mid-foot landing. The mid-foot strike means that the heel and the toes touch the ground at the same time. With a slightly bend knee, the foot will hit the ground under the center of gravity for the best running posture.
Arm Angle and Arm Swing
The most efficient angle would be 80 and 100 degrees. Letting your arms hang lower would force extra effort on the shoulders for moving the whole arm back and forth. Any smaller angle than 80 degrees would make the biceps work hard to keep the hands near the shoulder.
Swing movement of the arm should be in the direction of running in order to help the legs propel straight. A sideways sway of the arms would waist valuable energy. Remember that the swinging arm is only to keep your balance. When running up-hill the arms can be used to assist forward propelling.
Stride Length and Stride Frequency
Elite runners have a turn-over of about 180 per minute. The Kenyans use short steps also called "baby steps". This short stride length uses less over-all energy, alleviates the shock in the knees, and improves energy efficiency. As the knee joint absorbs most of the damaging shocks of the landing foot, this is an extremely positive benefit. Shorter stride length means less vertical up and down movement is required and is thus more economic and efficient.
Possibly most vital benefit of using short, quick steps is that it maximizes the “free speed” which is obtained through elastic recoil. (like a hybrid car using the energy from braking to power the engine) Each time the efficient runner’s feet hit the ground, his or her muscles and connective tissues stretch out like a rubber band. These tissues then snap back powerfully in the quick steps. This is called elastic recoil which is propulsion that requires no energy expenditure. Running with baby steps is the key to optimizing elastic recoil.
Not really coming from the kenyan running style but a very important point not to forget is to keep the hands relaxed. Avoid clenching the hands into a tight fist. Instead, the fingers should lightly touch the palm of the hand. Imagine you are holding a potato chip in your hands. This gentle grip will promote relaxation for the whole arm and shoulder regeon. When there is too much tension in the hands, this will move to the upper arms, the shoulders, and eventually the rest of the body, wasting valuable energy.
Try to bring more awareness to your overall running form and make improvements where possible. Don't try to change your whole running posture at once, this will only increase tension. Pick up one point and work on that for a week or two, but always remember to stay relaxed.
Adapting to a new running form might bring along some muscle soreness in the beginning. Since new muscles are forced to do more of work, take it easy on them by reducing pace and distance.
When we strive to exchange words like "impact", "strike" and "pound" for kind words like "touch", "lightly contact" and "tap", by changing our running form, we might be on the road to less injuries and improved marathon times.
It has been known that the Kenyans do running form practice after their training runs. This is to promote awareness of correct posture and motions even when tired (or exhausted). It is also good in combination with the cool-down run.