Although it is hard to describe good form, we all know it when we see it. Good form is not only aesthetic, it is efficient and smooth! Although some overuse injuries can be traced back to poor technique, don't worry too much about your form. Your technique isn't likely to hold you back when you first start out, but the faster and farther you go, the more likely technique problems will negatively impact on your performance. There are, however, many examples of elite athletes who look like they are thrashing and bobbing around, yet still manage to be effective.
Good running technique can often be judged both visually and from within; if the running feels smooth and efficient, it probably is. A great way to get feedback on your technique is to join a running group. Such groups usually include individuals of varying abilities, some of who should be able to help you improve your performance.
Running and walking are basically similar in terms of technique. The difference is that in walking there is always one foot that is in contact with the ground; while in running there is a period when both feet are off the ground at the same time. In essence, running is an extension of walking. Your form is largely dictated by your biomechanics: how your feet hit the ground. If you swing one arm wildly, it may be for natural reasons to balance what your legs are doing. Nevertheless, some basic statements can be made about "good" form:
Feet: Your feet should point straight ahead and be positioned parallel to one another, When each foot strikes the ground, it should be directly underneath your hip.
Thighs: When your left foot strikes the ground, your left thigh should accelerate backward while your right thigh moves forward (and vice versa).
Hips: Your hips should be flexible, allowing for a longer more efficient stride. If the major muscle groups at the hip lack flexibility, the result is a short, choppy, inefficient stride.
Torso: Your torso should be erect, with your pelvis tucked in (neutral position). Visualize running tall.
Shoulders and arms: Your arms should swing naturally, starting at the shoulder joint. Walkers should keep their arms slightly bent at the elbow, their wrists relaxed, whereas runners should bend their arms at the elbow and keep their hands cupped. Runners should also focus on keeping their shoulders square and driving their arms backward, which will create a rebound effect, sending the arms forward.
When you exercise, you get out of breath. This is both natural and normal. Without giving it much conscious thought, most runners breathe in a 2/2 rhythmic ratio. They take two steps as they inhale; they take two more steps as they exhale. While running very slowly, they often breathe in a 3/3 ratio. While running very fast, they might breathe 2/1, or 1/1, but 2/2 is much more common. If you count breaths in and out and discover you are breathing with a different rhythm, don't worry about it. Adjusting your breathing pattern will not make you a better runner. As well, most runners and walkers naturally breathe through both their mouth and their nose.
Beginner runners and walkers especially will want to watch for these common problems:
Overstriding occurs when, during an effort to increase stride length, the knee locks as you reach with the lead foot. The lead foot then lands in front of your centre of gravity, causing jarring and braking. In this position, the knee is less able to absorb shock and sooner or later pain results. To eliminate overstriding, be sure that with each stride your foot strikes the ground under your hip and with the knee slightly flexed.
Upper Body Twisting
Running and walking are generally linear activities. If you allow your upper body to twist too much, energy that should be used to direct the body forward is expended in wasted rotational motion. What's more, if your upper body twists, your arms and feet tend to follow and cross the midline. Not only is this style of running or walking inefficient, it increases your chances of being injured. Concentrate on moving your arms through 90 degrees while keeping your body square.
High Hands, Hunched Shoulders
When fatigue sets in, your hands will tend to rise and your shoulder to hunch. This leads to increased tension in the muscles of the upper body and wastes energy. Your shoulders and hands need to stay relaxed and loose. To ensure that they do, concentrate on your posture: head up and eyes focused ahead; shoulders square, pulled back and down; chest lifted and abdominal muscles contracted (pressed towards your spine); pelvis in neutral position.
Runners who shuffle typically fail to lift their knees high enough and may swing their arms and hips too much to compensate. Developing adequate hip-to-knee flexibility and strength can help solve this problem.
As a novice runner, your first steps may be awkward. After you have been running for a while, your form will begin to improve as you condition your body. Experienced runners and coaches will be able to suggest some form improvements, but most runners adopt the form best suited for them without much prompting.
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