Monday, May 16, 2011

Good Running Form, from Head to Toe!

Proper form is important to learn right away as you start out on your running journey. No more slouching or pounding on the heels! Read on to stay injury-free and perform well this season.

Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet. This will straighten your neck and back, and bring them into alignment. Don't crane your neck or allow your chin to jut out.

Relax! This is critical to maintaining efficient running posture. For optimum performance, your shoulders should be low and loose. As you tire on a run, don't let them creep up toward your ears. If they do, shake them out to release the tension. Your shoulders should remain level and not dip from side to side with each stride. One tip for relaxing the shoulders is touching pointer finger loosely to thumb tip, or anything to keep the hands relaxed as described below.

They aren't just along for the ride. Your hands control the tension in your upper body, while your arm swing works in conjunction with your leg stride to drive you forward. Keep your hands in an unclenched fist, with your fingers lightly touching your palms. Imagine yourself trying to carry a potato chip in each hand without crushing it. Your arms should swing mostly forward and back, not across your body. Keep them between waist and lower-chest level. Your elbows should be bent at about a 90-degree angle. When you feel your fists clenching or your forearms tensing, drop your arms to your sides and shake them out for a few seconds to release the tension.

If you are keeping your head up and looking ahead and your shoulders low and loose, your torso and back naturally straighten. This efficient, upright position promotes optimal lung capacity and stride length. "Run tall" or stretch yourself up to your full height with your back comfortably straight. If you start to slouch during a run take a deep breath to straighten again. As you exhale simply maintain that upright position.

If your torso is properly positioned your hips should be too, pointing you straight ahead. If you allow your torso to hunch over or lean too far forward during a run, your pelvis will tilt forward as well, which can put pressure on your lower back and throw the rest of your lower body out of alignment. For good hip position, think of your pelvis as a bowl filled with marbles, then try not to tilt the bowl and spill the marbles.

Rather than the high knee lift of sprinters, efficient endurance running requires just a slight knee lift, a quick leg turnover, and a short stride. Together, these will facilitate forward movement instead of wasting energy on vertical movement. At proper stride length your feet should land directly underneath your body. When your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can bend naturally on impact. If your lower leg (below the knee) extends out in front of your body, your stride is too long.

To run well, you need to push off the ground with maximum force. With each step, your foot should hit the ground lightly--landing between your heel and midfoot--then quickly roll forward. This is very important to shin splint prevention and a key mistake beginners make is heavy heel landing. Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground. You should feel your calf muscles push you forward on each step. Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running is “springy” and quiet.

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