Whether you are a former runner, a seasoned runner, or just beginning, how you are running is important. I don’t know about you, but until recently I was just lacing up my sneakers and running out the door. I never thought much about the way I was running, just how many miles I was going to do and how fast I could get them done. Your running form is just as important to your training as mileage, duration, and intensity. A few variables that can have a big impact on your performance include a proper warm-up, cadence, and shoe wear.
Proper Dynamic Warm-Up
The way we run is what allows us to continue to do what we love and hit the trails. But in compromising your bodies preparedness for running, faulty mechanics can get us into trouble and potentially put you in pain if not addressed. Impairments in running form can significantly increase forces on the body. Common areas susceptible to an increase in loading include the patellar tendon, plantar fascia, femur, and gluteal tendons, to name a few. These altered running mechanics can come from mobility issues in joints and muscles, or stability and control issues from the neuromuscular system.
It is important to take the time to perform a dynamic warm up before you start your run. Dynamic stretching is more beneficial than static stretching before activity. Simple exercises can include knee hugs, ankle grabs, hip hugs with a twist or frankensteins. Exercises to help improve neuromuscular activation are also important to improve your running form. Examples include lateral band walks, monster walks, or standing single and double leg clamshells.
Changing running cadence is a common topic in regards to improving your overall running form. Cadence is the number of steps you take per minute. The theory is, running at a higher cadence shortens your steps to decrease impact on your knees and hips, as well as optimize your efficiency and decrease injury risk. Several years ago it was proposed that 180 beats per minute was the optimal running cadence. This number came from the legendary running coach Jack Daniels observing elite distance runners in the 1984 Olympics.
It is safe to say that most of us recreational runners are not elite Olympic athletes. Additionally, maintaining 180 bpm may not be optimal for us either. We all differ in our limb length, muscle fiber type, height, and average speed. If you are trying to run at a cadence that is too high, it may feel uncomfortable and you might begin to overstride to keep up. Recently it is suggested that only a 5-10% increase in cadence is beneficial to decrease joint forces and improve efficiency (Heiderscheidt 2011). Now there numerous music apps designed specifically for runners to match a certain cadence and keep you at a pace that is comfortable to you.
One of the most common questions I usually get is, “What is the best running shoe to wear?”. And unfortunately my best answer is usually, “it depends”. There is no one perfect shoe for everyone and each year they are coming out with a different version. Shoe choice is very dependent on foot and ankle mobility, stability, and overall comfort to you as the runner. While one person may be fit best in a neutral shoe, another could require more of a motion control shoe with increased support to the ankle. My suggestion for people is to choose the lightest weight, most comfortable shoe for you and seek guidance when necessary. At all running stores the sales people are well versed in the mechanics of running, especially in the foot. An additional suggestion is if you are going to be running high mileage, it is important to have 2 pairs of shoes to switch between. It can take the foam in some shoes 24 hours to recover from a run.
The best way to get a good understanding of your overall running form is to participate in a running gait analysis. With the proper technology and skills of a certified physical therapist, we can perform a comprehensive evaluation of your mechanics and running form. We will also provide you with a detailed corrective program to work on any mobility and/or stability deficits found. If you have a current issue or have pain with running, you should speak to a physical therapist or a licensed healthcare provider before you begin training to reduce risk for further injury.
Stay tuned for future posts related to running including training volumes, cross-training, and recovery.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.
Heiderscheit, B.C., Chumanov, E.S., Michalski, M.P., Wille, C.M., & Ryan, M.B. (2011). Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(2), 296-302. http://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ebedf4