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Running - Where to Start, Pt 3 - Running Form

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Running - Where to Start, Pt 3 - Running Form

The sports industry is crowded with people who love to talk about what shoes to buy (I’ve been guilty of this too) and how the new purchase will make all the difference. Individuals sometimes become all tribal and defensive about the brand that speaks to them. It happens in cycling particularly, as it’s another sport where a purchase feels like it can make the defining difference to your performance on a given day. We’ve all seen the cyclists zooming the streets of early morning London riding carbon fibre bikes purchased for around the £2k mark with the latest gears plus light weight wheels that shave 100 grams off the bike weight. Getting outside and moving is so important, but this image is tempered by the fact that many of the individuals on the daily commute have not paid attention to their diet or form. I have no issue with how some chooses to spend their money, but it highlights an important point:

When training, what you buy doesn’t matter, instead how you train and the desire to master form does.

The above statement can be applied to pretty much everything in life.

Let’s enter the debate on running form. There’s a lot of chatter about mid-foot or fore-foot landing, cadence, hip extension and leaning forwards or not. All the information out there on blogs, books and youtube is pretty overwhelming; it’s an exciting journey of discovery but it’s time-consuming! So I’ve tried my very best to build a concise introduction to Running Form, pulling in sources I found reliable and techniques that help you discover your form. The great thing about Running Form is that it’s the perfect introduction to physical culture and movement in its purist incarnation. It highlights the important pursuit of seeking understanding of how your body should move. Firstly we should understand our current limitations, then we need to pay heed to the mechanics of human anatomy and how it should obey the laws of nature. It is important to learn to listen to your body, and develop the skill of human movement.

"Nature does not adjust to your level of skill"

How the essential elements of good form are expressed in your running is a consequence of a number of things (in no particular order):

Your Aerobic Fitness

Your Strength

Your Mobility

Your Movement patterns

Your Diet / Fuel

Your ability to listen to your body and rest

Your Stress levels

Running form is very telling of where an individual’s strengths and weaknesses lie. Some people have great form for the first half of a race then it falls apart. Others form falls apart when they run slowly, others fast. Some can trot along for a good distance but have no pace. Some have never had anything like good form at all, whilst some people are heel strikers but have zero injuries and great form elsewhere. But a lot of people don’t even know where to start. That was me back in 2011. My form was very poor, indeed my wife can attest to the sound of thudding feet and intermittent scuffing of the pavement and curbs during our evening runs.

If you read some of my other posts you’ll know that I had serious knee issues before I started looking at form. I have to admit it was a really steep learning curve, I still feel like a beginner as form is something I’ve had to work really hard to achieve. It’s not natural to me. Whereas my wife (who doesn’t need any form coaching really) naturally runs in an effortless manner. This could be down to the ballet she did as a child or that she does a job where she stands frequently, I’m not sure. But I do believe good physical education can counter the effects of heeled shoes and sitting at desks day in day out as a child and adult.

Many children have fantastic running form, it’s often a little uncontrolled but they move very naturally. This appears to disappear in the majority of people by the time we hit our teens. Consequently, I think it’s more important than ever to make sure a child is put in good minimal shoes, and they sit less, so that that modern life is less likely to prejudice and erode their movement patterns. Children should also get the opportunity to experience multiple sports to give them a general physical education. It’s far too easy to specialise a child’s physical education early because a parent likes a particular sport, I fear there are very real consequences for a child’s physical health. This is, perhaps, a subject I shall post on another time.

How should you recognise good form?

Here is the best visual representation of form on the net. The video is by Dr Mark Cuccazella, a military Doctor and a very fine runner (he also runs the Natural Running Center blog, and Two Rivers Treads shoe shop in the states).

Link: The Principles of Running

It says more in its short run-time than I can possibly get in here, but I’ll look at some salient points to consider when looking at your running form. This video provides a step by step introduction to good form and running mechanics with visual aids. Mark runs barefoot in the video, but a shoe should not interfere with the mechanics of running form, instead they should provide protection and not correction.

Below is a link to an interview of Lee Saxby, a leading running form specialist, who formerly advised and consulted for Vivobarefoot providing real world coaching feedback on their products, is primarily a senior POSE Method instructor. POSE is a movement theory by a Russian Sports Scientist that has a theory based on human mechanics and looks at the body like an engineer would a machine. He asks questions such as what forces act on our bodies, how do our bodies recycle energy? How do we create motion with the least mechanical issues and the greatest efficiency for movement, endurance and power? Questions that never appear in a shoe ad, but are fundamental questions when looking a locomotion, and should not be absent from conversations about Bio mechanics. (also see Dr. Nicholas Romanov’s new book – ‘The Running Revolution: How to Run Faster, Farther, and Injury-Free… for Life’ . A book from the originator of POSE)

Here is Lee Saxby Coaching Form

Here’s the Interview

It’s important to see examples of good form, and start paying attention to the cues good coaches use. Take a look at the top ten marathon runners in any race, they all run with similar mechanics. Now that is not to say that they don’t have individual styles (some more efficient than others), but for optimum performance you need to obey the laws of the human body. We all have two legs, with joints in the same places and all have to move through space, against gravity with the lowest total impact on our bodies. Repeating the earlier quote, you should pay heed to “Nature won’t adjust to your level of skill’. Who said it escapes me!

Finding the right form will not only make running more efficient, reduce impact and allow to you move faster, it will also become more enjoyable and also provide benefits of a muscular ‘reset’. When I mention running form in polite conversation the usual retort from the sceptical is that that’s a silly idea, and that we all have our own style. Well it's a valid comment, there are no barriers to entry, anyone (even a 75 YO grandma) can run, so it provides the illusion that an individual’s personal style of running is correct to that individuals bio mechanics. The thing is people wouldn’t even question the idea that you need to coach the Olympic Lifts or swimming. The barriers to entry are steep (death by 100kg of iron, or death by drowning…!) running and even cycling seem so simple success can’t be down to technique, it must be genetics!

One of the interesting points made by Saxby is that we have the software to run well, we were born with it. However, we are greatly influenced by culture and our environment which can remove us from our innate movement patterns. The solution is to reignite that software and use practice and habit formation to reinforce our these good movement patterns so they become our normal movement patterns even under fatigue or stress. That last point is particularly important because as we fatigue form will go first if it’s not hard wired, forcing muscles unaccustomed to stress to take the load. The fast road to injury.

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