What is Good Running Form?

English: World athletics final Stuttgart 2007 ...

What is good running form?

That is a question that has both bothered me (and a lot of other people) for a while now. I am interested for selfish reasons – to my way of thinking if you have good running form, you should be able to:

  • run faster
  • be more injury free
  • enjoy running more

However, I haven’t really worried about my running form for years and mostly just went out the door or stepped on the treadmill and ran.

Unfortunately, over the past 10 or so years, running became more and more of a chore – it might have something to do with being older, but it seemed like it was more than that. When you disregard my major non-running related injuries, I was almost always nicked up in some way or another (my knees, hips, back or ankles always seemed to be hurt or ache) and it was rather uncomfortable for me to run further than 5-6 miles at a time or over 30 miles a week.

Background

During the 70’s I was initially taught to run with a mid foot landing and stayed this way pretty much through the start of the 90’s. However, at some point in the 90’s I changed over to a rear foot style of running (along with being introduced to heavy motion control shoes) and continued using this style until I injured my knee in and required surgery last May.

I had brief forays into running primarily in lightweight trainers and I always seemed to run better in them (faster, less injuries and it was more fun-I felt faster), but when I would go to the pros to get my next pair of shoes, they always put me back in the heavy motion control shoes, “they” said that I needed for my running style and I would hurt myself training in those light weight “racing” shoes – after all I was “just” a recreational runner.

A lot of research

In hopes to not re-injure that knee, once I returned to running again in October 2011, I did done a lot of research on what is considered good running form.  Specifically how I can incorporate better running form, to decrease the impact that running has on my body (especially my knee) and to reduce the aches and pains that I seemed to always have while running.

Secretly, I also wanted to someday run another Marathon 🙂

Two Camps

There seems to be two different camps in the running form controversy:

heel strike vs forefoot/midfoot strike

I hate to use the terminology “barefoot running style”, which to me is something different from running in shoes


The video is not the best, but it does give a clear view of the differences between running with a heel strike versus a forefoot strike.

Is there a right way and a wrong way?

The majority of running shoes over the past several years have been made for runners to run with a rear foot landing style and have a built up heel to dampen the shock that the body has when it lands using this style. However, I can not find information to support why this is the “best” way to run or how it reduces injuries to runners.

Over the past few years there is a lot of interest in different running styles, which are called many things (barefoot and natural come to mind pretty quickly) but comes down to landing on your midfoot or forefoot, which is supposed to reduce the impact of landing when running.

There are has been a lot of talk about there being different opinions on which method is “correct” for the majority of runners.

However, I couldn’t find any support for the heel strike method of running – which seemed odd, because there is supposed to be such a big controversy about it. Why do so many use this form of running and why are shoe manufacturers building shoes to meet this need? There are a lot of questions being raised about this issue, but I am not going to get into the conspiracy theories.

If you go on the Internet there doesn’t seem to be much controversy on which method is better, i.e. heel striking is bad and mid/fore foot running is good.

I would love to read articles or watch videos to support that heel strike is a good running form and what they are basing their information on and what they are comparing it to.

Videos

I don’t expect you to watch all the below videos, but these are a few of the ones that I have watched that helped me learn more about forefoot/mid foot running or have given me information on how to transition from a heel first running style to midfoot running styles.

From what I can see is that they all seem to be variations of the same basic running style with a little different vocabulary or labels used to differentiate their style from others. If I am wrong please let me know the major differences (not minor tweaks) once you are in motion, not the philosophy behind them.

Good Form Running – New Balance


Pose Method


ChiRunning


Bareform Running – Merrell


Natural Running – Newton


Easy Running – PRS


I purposely didn’t comment on any of the videos and decided to let them stand on their own merits and no they are not advertisements for these companies or products ;-).

Not an expert

No I am not an expert and can only speak for myself, but based on what I have watched, read and then learned from actually going out and using both the heel strike and midfoot forms of running after not running for a long time, there are definite difference between the two styles.

When I was trying to figure out which running style I was going to use back in November, my knee was still recovering from surgery and it let me know that landing with a midfoot strike was less painful than using a heel strike.

Yes I know very unscientific and only applies to me, but it was the deciding factor about how I was going to run in the future. More pain versus less pain – really which do you choose? I don’t like pain, so the choice was easy for me.

I was going to run with a midfoot strike.

It did help that the research and most everything else was pointing me in that direction too.

What is Good Form?

The above videos, along with others different companies/people and books that I have read that promote a mid or fore foot landing style of running, all have seem to have several things in common:

  • Stop before you run to check your posture
  • Mid foot/fore foot/full foot strike
  • Running under your hips
  • Lean from the ankles
  • Running tall
  • No cross-over center-line arm swing,
  • Running relaxed
  • Shortened stride
  • Faster cadence
  • Run quietly
You know something, the above is pretty much the same information that I learned back high school (except for the lean – we were taught to run straight-up) and had re-emphasized the mid 80s, while training with some pretty damn good runners in Connecticut, who worked hard on improving my form. Funny how things come and go around sometimes, isn’t it.

Basically, what I learned from all this research and watching the videos, was that the way I was taught to run back in the dark ages was correct (thank you Mr. Smith) and that I never should have changed over to being a heel striker at some point in the 90’s.

Now I had to re-learn that good running form again.

NOT SO FREAKING EASY

I have worked on transitioning back to midfoot running since November and it has been one of the hardest things that I have ever done in running.

I had run with a heel strike for such a long time that the muscle memory was pretty damn well ingrained and it was automatic for me to run with a heel first landing. It was hard work to change that and has been a long transition process (well to me 4 months is a long time).

Running with the midfoot style is still not always automatic after almost 4 months of working on it, pretty much every time I run. Especially when I get tired on a longer run or when I want to run a lot faster, I have to really focus on running with my new/old form.

However, I feel I am making progress and now when I run in the high-heeled trainers that promote heel strike running, the heel strike doesn’t feel “normal” and I know that I am doing something different than I should be. In fact that is the reason that I returned a pair of very nice running shoes 2 days after I got them – I “knew” they were working against my current running style and promoting a heel strike style – so progress is being made.

Why Bother

If it is so hard to change over to a midfoot style of running – why bother? From what I have learned, it is more efficient and hopefully will reduce the number of overuse injuries that I suffer. I have noticed that I am not as sore after a 25-30 mile week or now that I am starting to run longer runs, when I finish, I much more pain-free than I had been in the past and the recovery period is quicker.

The reality is that

For me changing to a midfoot landing running style is going back to how I ran, when I was much younger and a more successful runner. Do I still run on my heels from time-to-time yes I do, especially if I am tired or I am running faster than usual. I haven’t been able to do track workouts, to practice this new form while running faster and I automatically go into “power running form” to run faster, so it is something that I still have a lot to work on, to use it all the time.

When it gets a bit warmer, I will be putting up before and after videos of my running, to see if there is any difference. Running on ice in the driveway, is not a good way to have good form 🙂

So what is good running form?

For me it is

  • Stop before you run to check your posture
  • Running under your hips and landing with your mid foot or forefoot with a short stride
  • Lean from the ankles – (this is something that I have a lot of problems with – getting the “correct” lean, I want to run upright) several people have given me strategies to improve this and I am trying to incorporate them
  • Ensuring that I have great posture after I get going and haven’t gone “turtle”
  • No cross-over center-line arm swing,
  • Running relaxed
  • Faster cadence
  • Run quietly (if I am running quietly, the other things are generally happening)

Starting to Work

The midfoot running form is starting to work for me and I am not out to convert or change anyone to the new and improved “Shaw method of running”. Hmmm it is an idea though – maybe I could make some money on it – naw forget about it – too many others thought of it before you did Shaw. 😉

Check it out

If you run with rear foot heel strike, do a little (or a lot) of your own research, to see if that running style is best for your long-term running success. Take a running form clinic (there are several available – for a price) and think about where you want to be in the future with your running.

Changing your running form is not easy and if you decide that you need to, it is a commitment to stick with it, when it would be easier to just keep doing what you are doing.

It is something to think about, but the choices are all yours.

Like it has been said:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Frost

Seemed appropriate.
This is a post, I have worked on for over a month and has been re-written probably 8 times  from the ground up, it was for some reason a very difficult one for me to get “right” and I still don’t know if I got it “right”

What do you think?

Which running style do you use and why did you chose it?

First Run in New Balance Minimus Trail 20

This morning I got to try out my New Balance Minimus Trail 20 shoes. How did it go?

The first run

For the first run in a completely different kind of running shoe, it went very well.

The first mile I was focusing pretty hard on running completely forefoot and getting used to the feel of the shoe. The forefoot striking was causing some aches and pains in my left calf (the one I strained on last Friday’s snowmobile trail run), so I went to a more of a ChiRunning whole foot strike, which really seemed to make a huge difference with these shoes.

This foot strike style is more of what I tried to run in with my Peregrines and felt much more comfortable than the forefoot strike, I would definitely need to build up my calf muscle a lot more for to completely change to forefoot running. I really think that walking a lot in the Earth Shoe Lazer with its negative heel drop and having run in the Peregrines with their 4MM drop since November, helped a lot in making run a lot easier for me than it has been for some, when moving to a minimal shoe. I will be able to tell you more tomorrow about how sore I am from my first day.

Very Different

The MT20s do feel completely different from any running shoes, I have run in, in a long time. I have a feeling that the closest to the MT20s, would have been the old Blue Asics Tigers, that I ran in during high school in the early 70s. Everything else has had a lot more cushioning than these. The MT20s do make it so you use more of a midfoot strike without thinking about it so much. I hope that this helps me become automatic with this style of running, because I have worked on it for a while now.

You definitely can feel the road much more than you can with regular running shoes, the little pebbles and everything else that you step on. It isn’t quite at the barefoot level, but you can feel the road nicely. However, I knew this when I bought the shoes and expected it. Oddly enough (I know I am weird), I liked the way I could feel the road under my feet, maybe if I was running on a different surface or a tough trail it would be different. However, being able to feel the road more, does cause me to focus on where I am putting my feet and stay in the present, instead of the wool-gathering that I tend to do when running on roads with well-cushioned shoes – when things are going well.

You know that auto-running that we sometimes do :-).

Satisfied

For a first run in a completely different kind of running shoe, I am very happy with how they felt. I still don’t know how they will be (or how my form will hold up) for longer distances, but for a first impression – it was very favorable.

I am still a little apprehensive about making this change to a more minimalist shoe, but definitely feel a lot more confident about the move than I did before the run this morning. I will know more in a week, especially if I can still do my longer running in the MT20s. Friday should be a good test, I plan to run Middle Road, which is over 5.0 miles.

Today’s Splits

The run itself was pretty darn good considering the experimentation that I was doing, my splits were:

Distance      Pace       Cadence

1.0                 9:38        86

2.0                 8:38        89

3.0                 8:00        88

As you can see, as I got more comfortable in the shoes, I was able to pick up the pace a little, figuring my stride when going faster will be a work in progress, but that will come. I still have to work on picking up my cadence, but that is progressing nicely.

For the first run in a new pair of shoes I am very happy, they did what I wanted. No pain, no blisters and were comfortable for a pair of fairly minimal shoes.

Is Barefoot Running Right for Me?

My wonderful feet – they have a lot of miles on them 🙂

Over the course of my career as a runner, I have seen many fads come and go, especially with running movements and how to run.

Right now barefoot running is gaining a lot of popularity and publicity about being an alternative to the running shoe.

After reading Born to Run see my review here, this book really piqued my interest in Barefoot running again.

This move back to running barefoot has left me in a bit of a quandary. I admit there are some things about it that I really like and then again there are some other stuff that bother me about running barefoot.

My Definitions

There are many definitions of Barefoot running out there and the one that I consider to meet my definition of barefoot running is nothing between your foot and the ground.

Having something between your foot and the ground to me is minimalist running and is something different from barefoot running, along the same lines but is not barefoot.

Minimalist running is on a continuum from extremely thin sandals to 8MM drop fully enclosed running shoes – there is no real hard and fast definition of minimalist running.

In my opinion the use of “Barefoot running” when talking about running shoes or sandals is part of the marketing strategy by companies, to climb aboard the barefoot running advantages bandwagon and associate those advantages to their products for marketing purposes. Great strategy and it seems to be working from the number of Barefoot running shoes that I see advertised in magazines, websites and blogs. Hell I even want to try some of those shoes too.

I believe that this moving target of a definition of what barefoot running is, has caused a great deal of confusion for some runners like me, who are wondering what it is all about.

My definitions make sense to me.

My two questions about Barefoot Running

  • First is it a fad that will go the way of other fads that I have seen over the past 40 years?
  • Second is it right for me?

Is it a Fad?

I have to agree with what I have read so far, that barefoot running probably does force runners to run with a more efficient form and gait – otherwise it hurts to run, but in my opinion is not the panacea, that some of its more dogmatic proponents would have us believe. I tend to stop listening or reading and tune out those barefoot adherents who spout the “my way or the highway” gospel of barefoot running and who argue that their way is the only way. Which is unfortunate, but that is what I do and I have a feeling that many others do as well.

The Negatives

There are more than a few negatives that runners have to get by to reach the panacea of running barefoot.

From what I have read, there is a pretty significant transition period before you can actually run barefoot, after a lifetime of being in shoes, humans need some time to readjust to running barefoot. The opportunity for injury during this period is pretty good, if you overdo it too soon. I will find out a little more about this during the spring when I start going to the track and try running barefoot a little.

We also have to take into consideration that the modern landscape of concrete, tar and rubbish is much different from the natural surroundings that our ancestors had to run barefoot on. An apples and oranges comparison.

There there is the weather factor, for many of us living in the snow belt and with colder temperatures, running barefoot is not really a year round option. Sorry that is my opinion. Can it be done – sure, will many people do it – no. Most will want something one their feet, call it psychological, being comfortable or whatever you want, it is the way it is.

The other issue is that there isn’t a lot of money to be made from running on what we already own and hopefully doesn’t wear out, so the shoe companies are not going to get on board with true barefoot running and will use their marketing might to downplay its benefits.

There are other negatives, but I am not here to bash the barefoot running movement. I think that many things they are doing are good and might be good for other runners and running as a whole as well.

Mainstream?

Will barefoot running ever go mainstream?  That is a good question, while there might be seem to be a lot of proponents for barefoot running, now all they are is a very vocal minority. From my experience and observations of the running community, I do not believe that barefoot running will become the primary way of running in most places or for most runners.

Most of runners will continue to wear shoes when they run. Probably as the running shoe industry’s might, swings behind more minimalist running, that will will become more mainstream, but actually running barefoot in my opinion will continue to be a fringe group of runners.

To answer the question – Is running barefoot a fad? No I don’t believe so, but believe that it will have different periods of popularity and waning interest. Right now we are in a period of increasing popularity.

Is Barefoot running right for me?

During this spring and summer I am planning to run barefoot, as a supplement to my regular running, which will force me to improve my running form. I believe that this will be the main reason that I use barefoot running initially – to help straighten out my running form.

However due to some of the reasons above, especially the winter weather one – it gets mighty cold up “heah” in Maine during the winter.

I just ain’t tough enough to run barefoot during this time of year – yes you can call me a wimp or a wuss anytime you want. However, to do so you, you have to come to my house and run with me on a cold day during December, January, February or even March.

If you do, I can promise you a decent meal and something to drink after, plus a place to warm up your frozen tootsies, while we swap lies about our running and yes then you can call me a wimp. 🙂

The transition time doesn’t really bother me (it does a lot of people though, who just want to run), however, the different landscape is a definite concern, the trash, rubbish and junk thrown where I run is ridiculous and can be dangerous to someone running barefoot.

Are these all obstacles that could be overcome if I really wanted to run barefoot – absolutely.

The biggest obstacle

The biggest obstacle to my running barefoot is me.

I simply don’t want to run barefoot most of the time now.

There I said it, sorry Brian and the others that have attempted to convince me of the benefits of why I should convert. I just am not ready to do that yet.

I can see barefoot running as an extension to help and improve my running – for that purpose barefoot running has a place in my running tool belt, but it will not be my primary form of running.

Right now I want something between the ground or road and my foot most of the time.

Even in the book “Born to Run” the Tarahumara wore sandals on their feet when they ran. So in spite of what some of the barefoot running zealots say about the benefits of walking or running barefoot – humans turned away from being barefoot for a reason and went to running with something to protect  their feet from the environments they were in.

The reality is that

I plan to move further down the minimalist running shoe spectrum as I get more comfortable with being back to running and build my base conditioning up. I will probably move to a zero drop shoe like the Altra, Skora, Merrell, New Balance or Saucony minimalist shoes this summer. That is if I do not get another pair of Saucony Peregrines (which I just might after the positive experience I am having with my present pair).

I would like to try the Vibram Five Fingers/toe shoe or other more minimalist shoe eventually.  However, at some point I will probably find my comfort level on the minimalist shoe continuum, to the point that if I go below certain level, I don’t enjoy running as much. Then I will go back up to previous level, because I run for the joy of running and am not restricted by a certain dogma or style of running.

I simply want to run in the style or method that works for me.

Who knows, as I run barefoot over the course of the spring/summer and move further down the minimalist running spectrum, I might change my mind and run more barefoot than I anticipated. I have learned to never say never.

To answer the question – Is barefoot running right for me? Probably not.

I’m Back! November 2011 Running Reflections

I AM BAAAAACCCCCKKKKK!!!!!!!

SORRY for yelling.

No I am really not – but I am so excited about the progress I have made over the past month that I wanted to shout it out LOUD. I had been running a little here and a little there since June, but I but I finally decided to put up or shut-up about running and my knee at the end of October and keep a log on what I am doing.

This is the first month that I have been able to really run in what seems like forever, well actually since February 2010. That was when I injured my knee playing racquetball, it has been a long time getting over that injury, culminating in surgery during May 2011 and the recovery period for that.

I had 82.6 miles total for the month of November with two weeks over over 20 miles and another over 18. No not all of the runs have been easy and I haven’t wanted to go run on some days, but I got out there and did it more and better than I have in a long, long time.

Also during November I got a new pair of Saucony Peregrines, that I think have helped make a big difference in my running. They promote running on my mid-foot, instead of the heel strike that I had been trying to avoid, but just seemed to keep reverting back to with my other shoes (except the racing flats).

I am finding out that I seem to run better in more minimal shoes and when I go back through my logs (the ones that I still have), the low rise heels seem to work for me as far injury prevention – which means I run more.

Here are the screen shots of my November running logs:

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This is just a simple spreadsheet in Google Docs that I use to keep track of things, so I don’t have to do all the calculations manually.

I am still running at around a 9:00 minute pace per mile, but I do feel that I am getting stronger and it isn’t as hard to get into the 8:00 minute pace range every once in a while.

Although I may never run another marathon, I do want to run a fast 5K. My goal is to run a sub 20:00 minute one by December 1, 2012. I know that this is a pretty lofty goal for someone who is currently running 9:00 minute miles and will be turning double-nickel next August, but I think the natural speed is there and if I train right, well I believe that I can do it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep track of my weight at the start of the month, the only thing I know is that I weighed 196 when school let out on June 17th and today my weight was 176. That is 21 pounds away from my goal weight of 155.  Hopefully, now that I am running again, I will hit that sometime next May. Slow and steady without any fad diets, just healthier eating and shutting the pie hole down once in a while.

Yes it feels so good to be running again and as long as I stay mostly smart about my training, I hopefully can avoid the injury bug that seems to have followed far too close to me ever since January 2008, but that is a different post.

By the did I tell you I AM BAAAAACCCCCKKKKK!!!!!!!