Running form. The thing that is blamed for so much and seems so simple. You just have to: Run tall. Lean forward. Lean from your ankles. Drop your shoulders. Drop your hands. Don’t drop your hands too much. Hit midfoot. Push off. Run around 180 steps per minute. Breathe. Relax. Bring up your knees. Kick back your foot. Wear minimal shoes. Wear maximal shoes. Pump your arms. Breathe 3:2. Run with a metronome. Don’t cross your arms across your midline. See? Easy.
I decided to do a multi-week series on good running form. Primarily 1) midfoot strike, 2) running tall, 3) cadence, and 4) toe off. There are a million different categorizations you can find, from Good Form Running to Chi Running and others, but I think about it in the 4 ways I cited.
Let’s start with how I even became a big nerd about running form (and then on to midfoot strike). The book that changed a lot of people’s understandings of running, Born to Run. That book shifted the paradigm of many runners. It revealed the fact that there was no significant decrease in running-related injuries since the advent of the running shoe, and in fact, perhaps it led to increased injury because it allowed for poor running form. It’s no small secret that if you know a runner, you know someone who’s been injured at least once. Pardon the over-simplification, but what Born to Run argues is that the running shoe has allowed us–perhaps encouraged us–to run with bad form. Primarily heel-striking. When you run barefoot, you are naturally inclined to strike mid-foot (meaning, towards the middle of your foot where your arch can take and re-distribute the force of hitting the ground). Try it. With running shoes, because there is such a big heel stack, (i.e., the amount of height your heel has in relation to your toes. Traditionally, this was 12 mm but has been dropping since B2R), you’re encouraged to strike the ground with your heel first, which is more stress and pressure on your legs and actually works to brake your forward motion.
Reading B2R made me think about my running history, injuries, and form. I had always been in stability shoes. And I’d been injured frequently. The idea of changing my form and changing my shoes started with the book but grew the more I read. Having wide and relatively flat feet, though, I was discouraged from going to the minimal shoes–specifically Vibrams, which were a huge rage when Born to Run first came out. However, I knew that the stability shoes weren’t necessarily preventing injury, so I decided to make the very gradual change to more neutral or minimal-ish shoes over time. I had read enough to know that most people got injured in the transition because they took it too quickly. Your feet and legs are not used to running in this fashion. In fact, they’ve learned to compensate over time, so it takes a little while to get them adjusted. Over the course of a year, I steadily dropped down my heel-toe stack (I wear 4 mm now) and moved to neutral shoes.
Part of the dropped heel’s appeal is that it encourages more of a mid-foot strike. It does not necessarily guarantee it nor is it a magic cure-all for all possible injury. But this was the start. As I was transitioning my shoes, I started really thinking about landing less on my heel and more on my midfoot. I wasn’t always sure what that meant, though, and wasn’t sure if that was what I was actually doing. It felt like I was striking midfoot, but how would I know? Well, as I’ve written before, one way is to check the bottom wear of your shoes. I can’t find the picture of the heel of these Newtons (from this past summer), but I could see that I was definitely hitting with my left heel but not my right, and you can see the uneven wear under the forefoot as well. Small imbalances over time and constant repetition. Not good.
Here’s the thing, though. Midfoot strike isn’t the holy grail. The reason midfoot strike is encouraged is that it prevents what’s called overstriding, which is when your foot is out in front of your knee. THAT is what causes increased stress, pressure, and injury. You can actually be a heel striker and NOT overstride. And technically, although more difficult, you could midfoot strike and still overstride.
I was at Roadrunner Sports the other week to shoe shop and see Bill. He demanded I get on the treadmill because the last time I was there, I was told (by ShoeDog) that I needed stability shoes…mostly because I heel strike, though not badly, and I pronate. For vaguely unclear, irrational reasons, I refuse to buy stability shoes. He wanted to see what the visual proof was so he had me get up on their treadmill and recorded me running. And I was vindicated. I no longer heel strike (although I am collapsing my left ankle in a bit). Like the big runnerd I am, I used my phone to record the video that was taken and shown to me in the store. I wish they would make a profile so you could keep that data! As you can see in the first photo, my midfoot is striking first. In yo’ face, Bill!! Just kidding, I love you.
One visual I use to help me think about keeping my feet under me is driving my knees up and envisioning the rest of my leg folding up with my knee. Here’s a nice demonstration.
Anyhow, hope you enjoyed my super runnerd post. In the meanwhile, here are some form drills and exercises you can try to keep working on form while you wait on next week’s post on Running Tall.