Good running form is about spending the least amount of energy to move the fastest speed possible in the forward direction. The way to go faster in the forward direction is to put most of your effort in that direction. It seems like a simple concept that should go without saying. The average runner, however, spends about as much energy pushing up and/or sideways as the amount of energy she spends pushing forward.
Key to Form # 1: Foot Landing
There are many sources out there telling you how your foot should strike or not strike the ground. Is heel-striking always bad? Is mid-foot striking better than forefoot striking? I believe mid-foot is more natural and helpful, but as a coach this is not my focus. “Striking” refers to which part of your foot touches the ground first.
The part of your foot that touches the ground first is not as important
as where your foot is compared to the position of your knee.
Your foot should touch the ground lightly when your knee is directly above the center of the foot. Too many runners land with their foot in front of their knee. This is how to put the brakes on! This is how you slow or stop! It is also how you get pain under the front of your knee after a while or the next day.
No matter which section of your foot touches the ground first, the bulk of your weight should be carried on the middle of your foot. Your heel may be touching the ground, your toes may be touching, but it is the middle of your foot that should feel the burden of the weight of your body. As you make contact and accept all of that weight, gently shift so that you feel the weight there as you push forward.
We do not hit the ground with our feet. We lightly touch the ground
and then accept our weight, gently balancing it on the mid-section of our feet.
This takes a coordinated effort of all of the muscles from your hips to your toes to keep this action as gentle as possible. This avoids injury. Think light! Move like a ninja!
Key to Form #2: Point All Effort Forward
The keys to good running form are all based on this forward moving concept. Your arms should move straight forward and backwards, not swiveling one side to the other. Up and down movement is wasteful too. When comedians make fun of joggers, they run in place bouncing up and down like a yo-yo. The better the running form, the less bounce you have. This is one of my personal weaknesses on which I must focus and correct periodically.
Focus on moving your feet backwards. As soon as you make contact with the ground, you can:
- use your hamstring muscles (on the back of your upper legs) to PULL your body forward &
- use your quadricep muscles (on the front of your upper legs) to PUSH your body forward.
Once your foot is directly under your body, you can:
- begin to let your heel lift off of the ground while you continue to PUSH your body forwards using the other parts for leverage &
- use your calf muscles on your lower legs to PUSH forward.
Key to Form # 3: Core Strength and Hip Steadiness
Your hips should remain steady, keeping your belly button facing directly forward at all times. Even while you drive your leg all of the way back as far as it can reach to push you forward, your hips should remain square, holding that belly button forward. If the hips are rocking forward and backwards or side to side, you are wasting energy. If you held them still, you would go a little faster with the same amount of energy. This is the role of a strong core. All of your abs and stabilizing muscles around your waistline help your hips remain strong while you body twists above them. The hips are the anchors that provide leverage for your legs to pull and push backward on the ground. This is what propels you forward.
Key to Form # : Hip Drive and Extension
Look at the photo above. That is Emil Zatopek winning the 10,000 meters in the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952. He also won the 5,000 meters and the marathon. Zatopek is a great example of the power generated from the hips. Yes, the hips are remaining steady, but the power is created there just below and above the hips. Above the hips, muscles are holding the hips steady. Below the hips, the muscles are pushing backwards to propel the body forward.
Look at that photo one more time. Do you see how far back he is pushing? As his stride finished, Zatopek remained in contact with the ground while his leg straightens out behind him. That last push is call leg extension. The whole motion of straightening the leg is called hip drive. Hip drive can be powerful. It is the most powerful force when you do squats and dead-lifts. It also holds the potential of being the most powerful part of your running form.
Most runners, however, do not use their full leg extension. Hence, they are missing out on the extra power created in that last piece of hip drive. That is like owning an 8 cylinder car, but only activating 6 cylinders. If your car was not running on all cylinders, you would take it to get it fixed! Most runners, however, do not know they have an extra gear.
Learn about hip drive and hip extension to take your running to the next level!
In post 4 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:
- A full range of strength training exercises to enhance your health and running performance
- How to decide which exercises to do and how much to do
In post 5 of this series on Next Level Running, I will address:
- The fundamental workouts that will make you a better runner
- The role of consistency
“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!” — P. Mark Taylor