5 Tips for the Form Seeking Runner

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Photo by Rafael Diaz

There are a few different philosophies on running. One philosophy places running on a pedestal and suggests it a necessity to living well and staying in great shape. Another suggests running is a tool for overall wellness and training but is great primarily in deliberate moderation. And yet another philosophy suggests that running is not a natural human movement and practice of it will end with desperate utterances like “Oh god my shins are about to splinter into tiny little pieces”. My own inclination is to lean toward the positive elements such as liberation through fresh outdoor air and sunshine, exploration of unknown trails and exercising efficiently while living and working in a time-crunched society.

For all the times we’ve laced up to fit some good cardio in, I’m sure at one point or another we’ve all wondered if our body movement is anatomically correct; especially in an age where it seems all of our actions are recorded or about to be recorded on someones iPhone. We consider and fret over things like, how should my foot hit the ground? What do I do with my hands? Fortunately there are answers for all of these questions.

Running comes naturally to some people, but even those talented phenoms need to practice good form every day to compete at the highest level. And for the rest of us, there are simple techniques to achieve more balanced, efficient and occasionally aesthetically appealing running form. A form which can ultimately improve both our cardiovascular endurance and our enjoyment of the activity itself. Working on form in specific ways can also help prevent injury and possibly alleviate that little foot or knee pain you’ve been experiencing for months or even years.

Shoes

Stanley with shoes

Do you know if you’re a pronator or supinator? The angle at which your foot makes contact with the ground should determine, at least in part, what kind of shoe you wear. Running shoes are identified by their varying degrees of support depending on the amount of foot angle correction they provide. In simplified terms, if you land on the inside of your foot, you pronate. Scientifically, pronation means the joints in your ankle naturally lean inward so you’re prone to have a heel step extends through the inner part of your foot. Conversely, if you land on the outside part of your foot, you supinate. If you land in about the middle and have a pretty straight shot from heel to toe you can consider yourself a neutral, and a little bit of a freak. Naturally, neutral foot strikers are somewhat uncommon in western civilization for some reasons we won’t get into in this article. Just know that it’s important to get the right shoe that fits your foot and your foot strike to prevent any injuries. A good local shoe store can watch you walk and run to determine what type of foot striker you are and suggest appropriate shoes. If you decide to bargain shop for running shoes online and without consulting a knowledgeable salesperson, you may eventually regret the $20 in savings when your shins, knees, feet and hips start to complain!

Hands and Arms

The sweet and simple instruction manual on these extremities: elbows should be at a 90 degree angle and swing slightly behind you but not above your chest. Your hands should be relaxed. A simple trick for your hands is to imagine you’re holding spoons that are balancing eggs. There is a theory that if your hands and face are relaxed, then everything else follows suit. Running can tense up the neck and shoulders so, if you can keep your hands and face neutral you can prevent tension building up in those areas which keeps your whole upper body more upright.

Posture

Generally speaking, your body works best if it’s aligned. The biggest points of alignment relevant to running would be your tailbone tucked in, stomach muscles engaged, shoulders back and down, head center over your body and chin tilted slightly up. Your head holds a whopping 8 pounds of brain and bone combined so, if your head and neck lean too far forward [or back] you begin to strain your back and other little muscles you didn’t know existed and that eventually adds up and leads to injury. Alignment is extremely hard to accomplish while you run, but if you can remember to keep your hips forward and your back upright, that will help running feel better. Yoga and abdominal exercises are GREAT for supporting alignment- especially exercises that target the lower ab muscles.

 

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Photo by Rafael Diaz

Breath and Breathing

This is going to be different for everyone based on fitness level and what kind of workout you’re going after. My general rule of thumb for both regular runs and some more uptempo stuff is one breath for every two steps. Another more technical way to look at it- focus on diaphragm breathing. Diaphragm breathing is a technique to bring rhythm into your breath and also calm your whole body. While this method might best be used during some challenging cardio, when you feel stress in your breath and body, it is also great to practice it as a calming mechanism and curing side stitches! To practice diaphragm breathing, (aka deep abdominal breathing) breathe in through your nose as deep as you can and fill your lower belly up with air. Exhale slowly through your mouth. You know you are doing this correctly when you see your tummy fill up with air with minimal chest movement. This is challenging to do on a run. Which is why it’s perfectly fine to breathe in and out of your mouth or nose at the same time but trying to focus on belly expansion rather than rib expansion. More benefits to diaphragm breathing can be seen here. I have to repeat myself when I say this is a fabulous tool for side cramps. About twenty of these breaths does the trick.

But, with all that said, and at the end of the day if you can forget about your breathing and just enjoy where you are; that’s my best advice.

Hair

Now for the most important category.

I think every girl knows what to do with their hair when it comes time to exercise. Either you do the pony, the braid, the headband, the bun- whatever works. I, personally, am a pony girl. I love my ponytail. There is no right or wrong in this category, however, if you have thin hair I would advise against tight pony tails and buns because it places pressure on individual strands of hair. This leads to unwanted breakage and then you have tons of little random whispies, like mine.

Without getting into overly complex areas of the running dynamics, I think I covered all the basics for now. Ultimately, if you are running and are paying attention to specific elements of your form it’s great to be diligent for small periods of time but I think the most important factor is to just run! Get out there, forget about what people think and be present with where you are and how lucky you are to be moving and taking care of yourself.

 

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Now go out there and kick some booty!

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About Jenny Bergren

A California transplant, Jenny is a fitness and inspiration junkie. Weekdays she works as a commercial and retail designer, weekends she hits the trails- rain, shine, or snow. With a collegiate and post collegiate background in competitive running, long and explorative trail runs are firmly her highest exercise priority with backcountry powder skiing a close second. Off the mountain you can find her happily experimenting in the kitchen with her sous chef Stanley the Vizsla.