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How Your Running Form is Hurting You

When looking at runners' motion on video, there are many things to look at, but there are some general things that I see as opportunities for improvement. The following is a list that works as a starting point to help a runner adopt better patterns of movement.

  • Long strides: When I look at where the foot hits the ground, often the foot is well out in front of the body’s center of gravity, landing on the heel. This is essentially “running with the brakes on”, slowing you down but also increasing the amount of impact your joints have to take on. If you can learn to shorten your stride with use of the metronome and drills, then this impact can be greatly lessened. (pic of long stride vs. short stride)

  • Bouncing up and down: I look at the head on the video, and see how much your head is moving vertically from the lowest to highest point. Ideally, there should be little or no movement. We want to move forward, not straight up in the air. It is estimated that in a marathon, a runner may run a mile vertically in addition to the 26.2 horizontal miles. Obviously this robs you of energy and increases strain. By learning not to push off the back leg and keeping your eyes fixed on an object along the horizon, you will not bob up and down as much, and your joints will thank you.

  • Knees collapsing inward: This is common in many runners who have weakness in their core, hips and feet. Ideally, we want the hip, knee and ankle to be in a straight line, which decreases the amount of twisting the knee has to endure. No way does your ankle want to be twisted thousands of times per run with your body weight on top of it. Do the exercises to strengthen your core, hips and feet, and you’ll notice a difference in the stability of your form.

  • Crossing over: When I look from behind at the foot landing, I want it to be under the hip to a little bit towards the midline. Oftentimes I see the foot land across the midline, which leads to the knees collapsing inward and excessive pronation of the foot and ankle joints, as well as hip drop. I find this to usually be due to lack of control, meaning we are not mindful of where the foot is landing, but also hip and core weakness. Working on exercises to get strong in your core and hip abductors and external rotators (think sideways leg lifts, planks and clamshells)

  • Hip drop: When I see the body in full weight bearing on one side, I look at the opposite hip level to see if it is dipping down. This is another sign of core and hip weakness. This will often go right along with the knees collapsing inward, since the core and hip muscles can’t hold this form, leaving your joints and ligaments to take up the slack. Core and hip strength is critical to improve this.

  • Pushing off the back leg: When the back foot leaves the ground, I look for calf muscles staining to push you forward and a straight back knee. This means you are pushing instead of picking up the back leg and falling forward. This leads to quicker fatigue and increased joint torque at the ankles and especially the Achilles and plantar fascia. Working with the metronome and thinking about running on tissue paper without tearing it helps to change this habit.

  • No Pelvic Rotation: When I see the waist, there should be some rotation in the lower body where the one side of the pelvis goes forward as the other side goes back. When people don’t move here, the stiffness translates into impact through the lower back—not good! Working on body loosening exercises and “hula hoop-type” exercises starts to get the body moving in this area.

  • Sitting back/leaning from the waist: This is a common issue with heel strikers, with the hips behind the rest of the body. Since the hips are right around the center of gravity, this means your foot has no choice but to land in front of you, increasing strain. The key here is to work on your core strength and alignment, leaning from the feet instead of the waist. Also, I see a lot of hip flexor tightness and gluteal (butt) weakness from people sitting most of the day—exercises such as bridging can really help to get your hips forward while running.

  • Too much side to side: When the arms are crossing midline of the body, it means lots of energy is directing you sideways, not forward like you want to go. Usually the fix here is to simply be more aware of this, thinking of the elbows going straight back as the body is leaning forward. A little movement of the arms inward is natural, but you want to make sure you aren’t crossing your belly button.

  • Stiff upper body: this is usually quite noticeable without the video, that people are tensing up in the upper shoulders and neck with very little arm movement or fluidity in their stride. The key here is to RELAX! Sometimes shaking your hands out helps to release some tension. Keep your thumb and forefinger lightly touching, and gently swing your hand right by your hip pockets (or where they would be if you don’t have pockets).

  • Head and shoulders forward and rounded: This has usually developed over years of poor posture while sitting and standing, and shows up as tension in the upper shoulder (trapezius) and front of the chest and shoulder (pectoralis major and minor). Working on the foam roller can really open up the chest and improve your posture with regular stretching. Getting up from your chair at work or school regularly to stretch is also very important. When running, thinking of tucking the chin slightly as you feel the back of the neck lengthen is important to avoid tension in the neck and shoulders. The take home message for this is to “run tall”.

There are other things I look for as well that may not be as common, but this is a good general list. Asymmetries are common and sometimes even a normal part of the running form, but I will point these out to you on the video and give you ways to correct it. What’s great is with proper knowledge and practice, you can improve your form dramatically, decreasing the amount of impact in your stride so you can run longer without pain or strain. This is totally worth working on, so your dedication to improve your stride will reap big rewards if you stick with the exercises and drills I give you. Get out there and have fun with it! In time things will feel more natural and flowing instead of straining. Long may you run!!

Trent Corey PT, DPT

Xtra Mile Physical Therapy

To schedule a free 15 min call, click here.


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