Who Taught You How to Run?

Who taught you how to run?  Most people, including myself, would ponder at this question, and then realize that the answer is nobody!  Kids start running at a very young age.  So young that it probably looks more like speed waddling than running.  Most parents just let them run, hoping they won’t fall over and hurt themselves.  By the time kids start organized sports they have already been running for several years.  Over that time the motor program for running has been engrained more and more deeply in their brains as muscle memory.  Each and every time they run that program becomes stronger, like a habit.

What influences the way we run? 

The biggest factor is the shoes we wear.  The effect shoes have on running form (foot strike in particular) has been researched numerous times.  Children will most likely run differently in heavy, padded shoes than they would barefoot.  A padded shoe allows them to hit the ground harder without feeling much pain in their feet, knees, hips, and backs.  Padded shoes also facilitate striking the foot with the heel first, which has been researched to be unnatural and injury inducing.  About 80% of runners in the U.S. wear thick-soled shoes and strike the ground with their heels first.  And most of them have been wearing such shoes for most of their lives!  No wonder why running has such a high injury rate!

What is proper running form?

Think of running like catching an egg. To catch an egg without breaking it you have to gradually slow down the egg’s momentum with soft hands. The egg is exerting the same amount of force whether it breaks in your hands or not. The difference is the way you catch it. The same is true for running. Each time you land on the ground you are catching your body! Gradually slowing the downward force of your body is less harsh on your bones and joints than stopping it instantaneously. Therefore, your body is less likely to break down, just like the egg.

When the heel strikes first, the calf muscles are dormant, and the ankle and knee joints instantly absorb the shock of hitting the ground. This shock is up to 3 times the runner’s body weight! Bones and joints alone are not built to absorb shock of that magnitude with each stride. That is what our muscles are there for. So, let’s use them to our advantage! When the foot strikes the ground with the ball of the foot (forefoot) first, the strong, springy calf muscles act to absorb the shock of the body hitting the ground. After the calf muscles are utilized the upper leg muscles (thighs & glutes) do the same followed by the core muscles and vertebral discs. Another advantage of Forefoot running is the position of the foot strike in relation to the runner’s center of mass. Picture the center of mass being right in the center of your stomach as you run. Landing on the forefoot influences shorter stride length, so your foot strikes the ground further beneath your center of mass. This makes it possible to use the front (quadriceps) and back (calves, hamstrings, glutes) of your legs more evenly when you land each step. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PH-3cHxXAK0#action=share Heel-strike running facilitates longer strides, so you’re foot is more likely to strike the ground farther in front of your center of mass. In this position your quadriceps are being overworked. The calves and hamstrings aren’t activated and the big, strong glute muscles are not being used as much as they should. Overworking the quadriceps puts added stress on the kneecap (patella) and the tendons that attach to it.

This leads to the most common running injury: Patellofemoral pain. Using your leg muscles in a more balanced fashion helps protect internal structures like joints (bones, ligaments, tendons). Will changing shoes correct form? NO!! Unfortunately, simply switching shoes will not change your running form. Your form has been learned and practiced for years. Think of it like learning how to write with your off hand in the middle of high school. Doesn’t sound very easy does it? Although changing shoes is the first step in correcting running form, the best way to learn is from a qualified trainer or coach. Like many subjects out there, many opinions exist on what proper running form should look like. From conducting research first-hand at San Jose State University I am confident in my perspective on running form. Not only will it make running easier on the body, but it will increase speed and coordination as well. I know from experience! Be sure to question your coach or trainer, WHY WHY WHY? Find out the reasons behind their instruction. This will help you find the right teacher. It will also empower you by knowing more about your body, and that will serve you well in all your future athletic endeavors and life beyond your playing days.

Heel-strike running facilitates longer strides, so you’re foot is more likely to strike the ground farther in front of your center of mass.  In this position your quadriceps are being overworked.  The calves and hamstrings aren’t activated and the big, strong glute muscles are not being used as much as they should.  Overworking the quadriceps puts added stress on the kneecap (patella) and the tendons that attach to it.  This leads to the most common running injury: Patellofemoral pain.  Using your leg muscles in a more balanced fashion helps protect internal structures like joints (bones, ligaments, tendons).

Will changing shoes correct form?

NO!!  Unfortunately, simply switching shoes will not change your running form.  Your form has been learned and practiced for years.  Think of it like learning how to write with your off hand in the middle of high school.  Doesn’t sound very easy does it?  Although changing shoes is the first step in correcting running form, the best way to learn is from a qualified trainer or coach.

Like many subjects out there, many opinions exist on what proper running form should look like.  From conducting research first-hand at San Jose State University I am confident in my perspective on running form.  Not only will it make running easier on the body, but it will increase speed and coordination as well.  I know from experience!

Be sure to question your coach or trainer, WHY WHY WHY?  Find out the reasons behind their instruction.  This will help you find the right teacher.  It will also empower you by knowing more about your body, and that will serve you well in all your future athletic endeavors and life beyond your playing days.

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