Origin of Running
What is the proper running form? That's the age-old question… and such a simple question doesn’t always have a simple answer. Before we ask what proper running form should be, we should ask the question, "What was the purpose for running, and where did it come from?".
Long ago, running was for survival. Before it became a sport and enjoyable activity, I think we can all agree that Mr. Cave man/woman were not worried about their figure and went for leisurely jogs through the canyon. They ran with a purpose - either to hunt or avoid being hunted.
Running has evolved into an awesome form exercise that not only lets us reconnect with our primitive ancestors, but can also reduce stress, manage weight, and improve our overall health. So, why does proper form while running matter so much? The answer is more surprising than you would think.
Animal Run Form
When you watch an animal walk, they’re usually grounded by at least 1-2 paws at all times. However, when they run, they perform what we like to call “flight-phase”. This is the time at which all 4 paws are off the ground. They land their paws underneath their hips, then spring off of their hind legs and repeat the cycle. Cycle through each of the pictures below to get a representation of the various mechanics of the way dogs run.
So, what does the running form of a dog have to do with humans? Despite the fact that they run on four legs rather than two, they’re much better and more efficient runners than humans. Every move is calculated, decisive, and with made ultimate athleticism.
The video below shows a client of mine who came to me expressing pain in his knee and hip after he runs. His initial thought process was to just run more often and hope that the problem corrects itself. Ultimately it never did, which lead us to start working together. The form that he’s demonstrating is very common among many runners, especially those who experience pain in their knees, hips, and even shins. In this article, I mention the word "compliance". When I say compliance, I mean your body's ability to absorb shock more efficiently, putting less strain on your joints and skeletal system.
The “casual jog” that he’s demonstrating (at 5mph) is actually just a really fast, uncomfortable walk. And let’s be real, at 6’4”, 5mph could easily be just a really fast walk. By not experiencing a flight phase, you can see that his foot lands stretched out in front of his hips on his heel.
The Big Mistake
His knee is completely locked out straight, leaving little to no compliance through out the rest of his body
With every step, he’s allowing all of the ground reaction forces (due to gravity) to travel straight through his shins, hitting his knee, his hips, and ultimately his lower back.
To correct this, there’s a few things that can be done, if and ONLY if we increase his flight phase!
In order to increase your flight phase you will need to spring off your toes and bring those heels up higher in the back. Doing that alone will help fix a lot of your other form including:
- Knee will pull forward -> allowing him the time to stop his foot from flying out in front.
- Foot will pull back inward -> allowing his foot to land underneath his hips.
- Landing on his toes -> Letting his ankle compress, then repeating the cycle.
Notice when he lands on his toes how much more compliance his body has with the ground. Instead of his joints taking the brunt of the impact, his whole entire body now absorbs the impact.
Perfecting the Form
Now that we know what’s wrong, it’s time to use what you’ve learned and put it into action. With this form of fitness being new to my client, he still has to work at it in order to progress. The video below shows a colleague of mine demonstrating perfect run form. It looks almost 100% the same, except for the fact that he increases his flight phase by just that much more! That small adjustment snowballs into everything else happening perfectly.
- Heels up high in the back
- Avoiding heel strike
- Landing his feet just slightly more underneath his hips
- Springing up off his toes to repeat the cycle
The Take away
Whether you’re running a 15 min/mile pace, a 10 min/mile pace or even a 6 min/mile pace, this form is the form that should be utilized at all times. The faster you run, the harder you’ll need to push off to increase your flight phase. The slower you run, the less flight phase you’ll need. Either way, slow or fast, a flight phase MUST be utilized in order to perform optimally and to build your muscles in an optimal fashion. So, whether you’re hunting, being hunted, or just out for the casual jog, from here on out, every movement should be made decisively, with a purpose, and with ultimate athleticism.