Running form is something every runner wonders about sometime in their active life whether they are a beginning runner wanting to start out right, a regular runner who has some aches and pains, an advanced runner who wants to improve performance or someone who just doesn’t want to have to stop the sport they love due to chronic physical problems. Good running form is not something we are born with as once believed back in the 1970’s and it is not something that necessarily just comes about by running miles and miles until your body just gives in to efficiency as believed in the 1980’s. Running form has to be practiced just like shooting form in basketball, poses in karate or tae kwon do, or throwing a spiral in football.
One of the best ways to practice good running form is to run barefoot on a firmer surface and feel what your body does. Running barefoot will force your body into protecting and propelling itself in its most efficient form without having to think about it, this is the body’s natural ability to survive. You will notice that your feet land closer together almost at midline, you will run more toward the balls of your feet, land softer, take your feet off the ground quicker, take shorter strides to keep your feet and legs underneath your body instead of in front, and run more up-right aligning your ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle. These are the things you should think about when you put on your running shoes to go out for a run.
To improve running form I tell people to envision running on a balance beam. If you were to run on a balance beam you would keep your feet landing and taking off at midline, you would have very little vertical bounce, and you would keep your head up aligning your entire body so that you don’t lose your balance and fall off the balance beam.
Why is it so important to run on the midline? Think about what you would do if I handed you a jump rope and told you to jump rope with one leg. You wouldn’t keep your leg to the side directly under the hip because all of the stress would vibrate in your lower body joints and use a whole lot of muscle to balance. You would bring the leg to the center so that the whole body distributes the shock for you and the muscles can conserve energy.
The upper body is also very important for good running form. The right arm controls the left leg movement and the left arm controls the right leg movement. If your elbows swing side to side like a linebacker ready to block someone then your throwing a lot of your weight side to side on your legs putting stress on the outside of the knees and hips. If one arm swings different than the other arm then your legs aren’t symmetrical either. Your arms should be bent about ninety degrees and your elbows should swing straight forward and back while your shoulders are back and relaxed. I tell people to imagine that someone is too close behind them and to swing their elbows back like they’re elbowing them.
What about Vibram Five Fingers and minimalist shoes? For the right person these are great shoes to use as tools to improve form and efficiency. I say “tools” because that is how you should start out thinking of them – a tool to use once or twice a week for one to two miles as a strength day or a form day. Many people have been in stable shoes all of their life and need to start out slow and build all those little muscles that have maybe never been used. Gradually you can increase the amount of miles run in minimalist shoes but be sure you have a strong base so you don’t get injured. Once you can run more miles on two days a week, you can increase the number of days run in them or decide that you just want to use them solely as a training tool and continue to alternate with your regular running shoes. The advantage of wearing a minimalist shoes like the Vibram’s is that you are mimicking what it’s like to run barefoot so you can become stronger, more efficient, and learn better form. Racing flats (minimalist shoes) are similar but not quite as precise, you can still get away with heel striking and not quite as efficient form so you need to think about running with good form.
A few of the Vibram Five Finger models we carry:
Sprint – open top Vibram with a strap across. Best for spring and summer running.
KSO – (Keep Stuff Out) has a covered top for people who want to keep rocks out on trails. Great for running roads and trails in the spring, summer, and fall.
Bikila – has a little cushion on the bottom for those not quite ready to go without. A great transition shoe from regular running shoes or to protect the feet a little extra from small rocks. Road and trail running in the spring, summer, and fall.
Trek – a leather version made for trails. Extra traction with a soft kangaroo upper. Trail running in the spring, summer, and fall.
Treksport – a sporty shoe with extra traction originally made for trails but some people like it on the roads as well. Running in the spring, summer, and fall.
Flow – a Vibram made for cold weather and wet or snow type conditions. Made with a neoprene upper for those wanting a late fall and winter barefoot shoe to keep running through the year. Will work with some of the short gaitors to keep snow out and ankles warmer. Injinji socks (with individual toes) are also available for extra warmth to wear with Vibram’s.
Performa – a women’s indoor barefoot shoe to wear around the house or for yoga.