Over the last year or so I’ve done some coaching courses, a lot of reading, and started a running squad down on the Tan. I’ve been known (to my friends) as somewhat obsessed with my own running form in the past, and form is something that I like talking about and working on with the squad runners.
My own journey to better (not perfect) running form was long, experimental and required a lot of work. In coaching what have come to be my “beliefs” about form, I try to boil all that down to a set of principles that are easy to adopt and remember.
What follows is an introduction to SUPER running, my running form memory device. Whilst it’s hardly the most revolutionary guide to ever confront the running community, SUPER running is what I use to keep my own form on track as I roll along, and I’ve managed to infect a few others with the idea
Sports people are an obsessive lot. Whatever one’s ability, level of competition or goals, we all look for ways to get that “edge”, a path to improvement and our own personal best.
If you’ve ever been a golfer, swimmer, tennis player or basketballer, you’ll have spent time honing your technique and form, aiming to develop that perfect swing, stroke or shooting action. But what about your running form?
There’s no doubt that running form is a great contributor to efficiency, and whether you want to go fast or long (most of us want both!), cutting out the waste in your action can help. More often than not though, we tend to accept that our own gait is simply a product of natural biomechanics. “That’s just the way I run”. We focus on weekly kilometres and pace, but give little thought to form, even when our “natural” running form is hurting, or we find ourselves constantly injured!
Keeping good form as the kilometres roll by is difficult, especially as you tire, but there can be gold at the end of the technique rainbow if you decide to try.
Before you leap in though, beware the temptress! Improving your technique can be a slippery slope toward obsession. Believe me, I know! As a recreational runner, you need to question how far you want to go in altering your action. If you currently run pretty free from pain/injury and you’re making gains toward your running goals, it’s probably best not to “fix” anything! Whatever the case, we can ALL improve our form, and this guide is designed to help you, whatever your commitment/belief level.
So, is there one “best” way to run? Well that’s the $64,000 question! Coaches and scholars alike have been seeking the truth for decades and in the internet age, you’ll find no-end of books and web sites that offer an answer. POSE Technique, Chi Running, Evolution Running and a whole swag of Barefoot seers, everybody is sure they have it right . . . . . . and of course they do. The truth is, that the best form for YOU is that which helps you to Keep Running. It’s the action that keeps you healthy and moving freely, enjoying what you are doing, running without pain or discomfort.
Regardless of the spruiker, there are a few themes that resonate throughout all of the form literature. Some simple and effective tips that, after you strip back all the guff, can help you improve and (therefore) enjoy your running more, while reducing your chances of injury. So, without wanting to feel left out of the gimmicks, we present . . . . . . SUPER Running!
SUPER Running is not a revolution. There’s nothing radical here. We’re not about to pretend we have discovered the font of eternal speed and I don’t think there’s a book in this. SUPER is an acronym; an easy way to remember a few main themes that all the experts tend to agree on. Some things you can work into your training without needing to have yourself analysed at the A.I.S.
S – Stride (Take more steps, avoid over-stride)
US college coach Jack Daniels (and his wife) once counted the stride rate of 46 Olympic runners (800m-Mara). They found that all but 1 strode at a rate above 180 steps per minute. Since then, this number has become the accepted guide for optimum cadence, but it’s a rare find in your average Joe. That’s good though, because it means you already know you probably take too few steps! Don’t get too bogged down on the actual number, but try to take more steps as you run, shortening your stride and moving your feet faster through your action. Try to avoid over-striding (throwing your leading foot way out in front of yourself), as this will make it difficult to create a balanced landing (See Platform below).
U – Under (Keep your landing under your body)
Where does your foot land with each running step? Can you see your foot when it hits the road? Balance is very important in running, as is a feel for your centre of gravity. Imagine a wheel rolling along, effortlessly. The wheel’s point of contact with the ground is always directly below its centre of gravity. Perfectly balanced. Now imagine that your legs are a wheel. By working to ensure your foot lands in a line directly under your hip, you’ll “roll along”, remaining more balanced, and bringing the natural rebounding tendons of your foot & lower leg into play. This will require you to start the rearward motion of your stride before your leading foot contacts the ground, something you can practice in your form drills and build into your strength sessions.
P – Platform (Make your landing a confident and balanced one)
Platform is about foot strike. It’s a non-prescriptive mind-cue to help you maintain light and confident gait. Perhaps the most argued topic in running recently has been foot strike. Everyone it seems has an opinion on which part of the foot should first contact the ground with each stride. The problem is, changing your own strike (say from a heel to forefoot strike) is HARD. This type of radical form alteration will take you months of difficult training, and most likely some pain as your muscles adapt. Great rewards may come from such a change, and if you’re keen to try then go for it! Just make sure you read up, make a plan and take it really slowly. Be prepared for what will be a real challenge, and know that such lengths are not required for improved form. More important than the heel/forefoot argument is to be sure that when your foot lands, it provides a stable, balanced platform for your body. Your stride should be soft and light but confident, making use of your whole leg for balance and cushioning. Try to run quietly, as if you’re trying not to leave any footprints behind. There are several drills and exercises that can help you to develop this, without trying to change your entire action. If you are following the Stride/Under ideas of SUPER running, you’ll find yourself naturally tending toward a forefoot (front) or midfoot (flat) landing, and that’s good for both your efficiency and injury rate.
E – Elevated (Run Tall)
Stand up tall and run run like you mean it! Not only will you feel good about yourself, you’ll help to improve your form. So far, SUPER running has asked you to keep a balanced body over a balanced platform. Running “tall” will help you to find your own most natural shape for this. Your head weighs about 4.5 kgs, so keep it elevated, aloft, let your neck and shoulders carry it! Similarly, your torso should be “up”, positioned where your hips (and your SUPER platform) can support it. Try this. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Now reach up, stretch your arms and hands way up above your head. You’ll feel your body adjust itself. Your chin will rise, your hips will tilt forward. Feel your back stretch? As you lower your arms again, try to stay in that “tall” posture, keep everything in place. Now run a few paces maintaining this position, leaning forward slightly at the ankles (not the waist!). Feels good, right!? You’ve just found your zen, an ultimate state of running form enlightenment. Think about this during your sessions. Run with your eyes on the trail up ahead, keeping your shoulders strong but relaxed, don’t let them slouch. Think of a builder’s plumb bob, running from your head, through your hips to your landing platform – a straight vertical line. If you feel like you’re “sitting down”, pull your bum back in, stand up again, run proudly. You look great!
R – Relaxed (Have some fun!)
Running is fun. I know that sometimes your family and workmates find it hard to see the fun in spending hours each winter week, pushing yourself along a muddy track in the rain, but don’t worry – we get it. And you should NEVER forget that great feeling you have when you’ve made a PB, or reached a fitness level, or even when you’re simply puffing and sweating. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You should never feel fearful or resentful of your runs. If you do feel that way – you’re doing it wrong!
- Relax and enjoy yourself.
- Keep form, but stay loose.
- Push yourself, but don’t let running become a burden.
- Laugh with your friends, give other runners a knowing nod.
- Don’t be a stranger to the high-five!
- Encourage and be encouraged, stay “up and about”
If you remember these things, your body will respond and your technique will benefit. Keeping the fun in your running will help make it a lifestyle, something automatic and non-negotiable. A way to BE MORE INVOLVED in your life.
Remember, there’s more info on the squad over at the Keep Running website. Seeya out there!