What is Good Running Form?

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What is good running form?

That is a question that has both bothered me (and a lot of other people) for a while now. I am interested for selfish reasons – to my way of thinking if you have good running form, you should be able to:

  • run faster
  • be more injury free
  • enjoy running more

However, I haven’t really worried about my running form for years and mostly just went out the door or stepped on the treadmill and ran.

Unfortunately, over the past 10 or so years, running became more and more of a chore – it might have something to do with being older, but it seemed like it was more than that. When you disregard my major non-running related injuries, I was almost always nicked up in some way or another (my knees, hips, back or ankles always seemed to be hurt or ache) and it was rather uncomfortable for me to run further than 5-6 miles at a time or over 30 miles a week.

Background

During the 70’s I was initially taught to run with a mid foot landing and stayed this way pretty much through the start of the 90’s. However, at some point in the 90’s I changed over to a rear foot style of running (along with being introduced to heavy motion control shoes) and continued using this style until I injured my knee in and required surgery last May.

I had brief forays into running primarily in lightweight trainers and I always seemed to run better in them (faster, less injuries and it was more fun-I felt faster), but when I would go to the pros to get my next pair of shoes, they always put me back in the heavy motion control shoes, “they” said that I needed for my running style and I would hurt myself training in those light weight “racing” shoes – after all I was “just” a recreational runner.

A lot of research

In hopes to not re-injure that knee, once I returned to running again in October 2011, I did done a lot of research on what is considered good running form.  Specifically how I can incorporate better running form, to decrease the impact that running has on my body (especially my knee) and to reduce the aches and pains that I seemed to always have while running.

Secretly, I also wanted to someday run another Marathon 🙂

Two Camps

There seems to be two different camps in the running form controversy:

heel strike vs forefoot/midfoot strike

I hate to use the terminology “barefoot running style”, which to me is something different from running in shoes


The video is not the best, but it does give a clear view of the differences between running with a heel strike versus a forefoot strike.

Is there a right way and a wrong way?

The majority of running shoes over the past several years have been made for runners to run with a rear foot landing style and have a built up heel to dampen the shock that the body has when it lands using this style. However, I can not find information to support why this is the “best” way to run or how it reduces injuries to runners.

Over the past few years there is a lot of interest in different running styles, which are called many things (barefoot and natural come to mind pretty quickly) but comes down to landing on your midfoot or forefoot, which is supposed to reduce the impact of landing when running.

There are has been a lot of talk about there being different opinions on which method is “correct” for the majority of runners.

However, I couldn’t find any support for the heel strike method of running – which seemed odd, because there is supposed to be such a big controversy about it. Why do so many use this form of running and why are shoe manufacturers building shoes to meet this need? There are a lot of questions being raised about this issue, but I am not going to get into the conspiracy theories.

If you go on the Internet there doesn’t seem to be much controversy on which method is better, i.e. heel striking is bad and mid/fore foot running is good.

I would love to read articles or watch videos to support that heel strike is a good running form and what they are basing their information on and what they are comparing it to.

Videos

I don’t expect you to watch all the below videos, but these are a few of the ones that I have watched that helped me learn more about forefoot/mid foot running or have given me information on how to transition from a heel first running style to midfoot running styles.

From what I can see is that they all seem to be variations of the same basic running style with a little different vocabulary or labels used to differentiate their style from others. If I am wrong please let me know the major differences (not minor tweaks) once you are in motion, not the philosophy behind them.

Good Form Running – New Balance


Pose Method


ChiRunning


Bareform Running – Merrell


Natural Running – Newton


Easy Running – PRS


I purposely didn’t comment on any of the videos and decided to let them stand on their own merits and no they are not advertisements for these companies or products ;-).

Not an expert

No I am not an expert and can only speak for myself, but based on what I have watched, read and then learned from actually going out and using both the heel strike and midfoot forms of running after not running for a long time, there are definite difference between the two styles.

When I was trying to figure out which running style I was going to use back in November, my knee was still recovering from surgery and it let me know that landing with a midfoot strike was less painful than using a heel strike.

Yes I know very unscientific and only applies to me, but it was the deciding factor about how I was going to run in the future. More pain versus less pain – really which do you choose? I don’t like pain, so the choice was easy for me.

I was going to run with a midfoot strike.

It did help that the research and most everything else was pointing me in that direction too.

What is Good Form?

The above videos, along with others different companies/people and books that I have read that promote a mid or fore foot landing style of running, all have seem to have several things in common:

  • Stop before you run to check your posture
  • Mid foot/fore foot/full foot strike
  • Running under your hips
  • Lean from the ankles
  • Running tall
  • No cross-over center-line arm swing,
  • Running relaxed
  • Shortened stride
  • Faster cadence
  • Run quietly
You know something, the above is pretty much the same information that I learned back high school (except for the lean – we were taught to run straight-up) and had re-emphasized the mid 80s, while training with some pretty damn good runners in Connecticut, who worked hard on improving my form. Funny how things come and go around sometimes, isn’t it.

Basically, what I learned from all this research and watching the videos, was that the way I was taught to run back in the dark ages was correct (thank you Mr. Smith) and that I never should have changed over to being a heel striker at some point in the 90’s.

Now I had to re-learn that good running form again.

NOT SO FREAKING EASY

I have worked on transitioning back to midfoot running since November and it has been one of the hardest things that I have ever done in running.

I had run with a heel strike for such a long time that the muscle memory was pretty damn well ingrained and it was automatic for me to run with a heel first landing. It was hard work to change that and has been a long transition process (well to me 4 months is a long time).

Running with the midfoot style is still not always automatic after almost 4 months of working on it, pretty much every time I run. Especially when I get tired on a longer run or when I want to run a lot faster, I have to really focus on running with my new/old form.

However, I feel I am making progress and now when I run in the high-heeled trainers that promote heel strike running, the heel strike doesn’t feel “normal” and I know that I am doing something different than I should be. In fact that is the reason that I returned a pair of very nice running shoes 2 days after I got them – I “knew” they were working against my current running style and promoting a heel strike style – so progress is being made.

Why Bother

If it is so hard to change over to a midfoot style of running – why bother? From what I have learned, it is more efficient and hopefully will reduce the number of overuse injuries that I suffer. I have noticed that I am not as sore after a 25-30 mile week or now that I am starting to run longer runs, when I finish, I much more pain-free than I had been in the past and the recovery period is quicker.

The reality is that

For me changing to a midfoot landing running style is going back to how I ran, when I was much younger and a more successful runner. Do I still run on my heels from time-to-time yes I do, especially if I am tired or I am running faster than usual. I haven’t been able to do track workouts, to practice this new form while running faster and I automatically go into “power running form” to run faster, so it is something that I still have a lot to work on, to use it all the time.

When it gets a bit warmer, I will be putting up before and after videos of my running, to see if there is any difference. Running on ice in the driveway, is not a good way to have good form 🙂

So what is good running form?

For me it is

  • Stop before you run to check your posture
  • Running under your hips and landing with your mid foot or forefoot with a short stride
  • Lean from the ankles – (this is something that I have a lot of problems with – getting the “correct” lean, I want to run upright) several people have given me strategies to improve this and I am trying to incorporate them
  • Ensuring that I have great posture after I get going and haven’t gone “turtle”
  • No cross-over center-line arm swing,
  • Running relaxed
  • Faster cadence
  • Run quietly (if I am running quietly, the other things are generally happening)

Starting to Work

The midfoot running form is starting to work for me and I am not out to convert or change anyone to the new and improved “Shaw method of running”. Hmmm it is an idea though – maybe I could make some money on it – naw forget about it – too many others thought of it before you did Shaw. 😉

Check it out

If you run with rear foot heel strike, do a little (or a lot) of your own research, to see if that running style is best for your long-term running success. Take a running form clinic (there are several available – for a price) and think about where you want to be in the future with your running.

Changing your running form is not easy and if you decide that you need to, it is a commitment to stick with it, when it would be easier to just keep doing what you are doing.

It is something to think about, but the choices are all yours.

Like it has been said:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost

Seemed appropriate.


This is a post, I have worked on for over a month and has been re-written probably 8 times  from the ground up, it was for some reason a very difficult one for me to get “right” and I still don’t know if I got it “right”

What do you think?

Which running style do you use and why did you chose it?

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9 comments on “What is Good Running Form?

  1. I’m still finding my stride (pun intended!) when it comes to running form. My trainer and I need to spend some more time on it. I know I was definitely a heel-strike runner when I started but I think I’ve started moving to more of a mid-foot strike as I’ve gotten better at running. I have a very short stride and I don’t kick my heels up very high behind me at all. It’s an ongoing process for me, too, because I’m still learning.

    • Meg – I don’t think anyone is ever done tweaking their form, even the elite runners continue to work on their’s with different drills and exercises. I have come to accept that working on my form is just going to be a part of my running life, instead of something that I can do, perfect and continue to just do it :-).

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve also started to change my running style and it has not been easy. I definitely believe that it has made running easier and less painful though.

    • Changing something you have done for a while is always hard, the body wants to do things as easy as possible, I have a feeling that working on and continuing to improve my form is going to be a lifelong thing, not just something that is going to be easy. Even though I still think I have a lot of work todo, the changes I have been able to do have made it so I can run further with less discomfort (notice I didn’t say faster – yet) 🙂

  3. My trainer encourages me to run on mid-foot with a light contact to the ground that sort of springs along. Imagine your foot is going round in a circle, rather than up and down so you complete the whole movement. Does that make sense? Hard to explain in words

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