If you can walk, then you can run right? Well, not exactly.
Many people have very poor walking techniques and these often translate into how they run. Even people with satisfactory walking gates can still run badly. Add to this, incorrect shoes and constant pounding on hard surfaces, then what began as an activity to improve overall health and well-being can end up causing you serious damage. Worse still, most runners with poor technique don’t notice the damage they are causing until years later, when the effects of worn cartilage and inflamed joints become more pronounced. So how do you know if you are running incorrectly? A good "tell" would be to listen to your body: if your arms, shoulders or back hurt or feel tense during training, you need a form adjustment.
A common mistake runners make is to "over move" their upper bodies. This means they introduce unnecessary twisting movements that take their bodies out of central alignment. This is usually the result of over swinging the arms, which causes the shoulders to rotate the upper body from side to side. Running is a linear sport. The goal should be to move forward in a straight line keeping the center of the body over the leg making contact with the ground.
To correct unnecessary rotation of the upper body and regain proper alignment, think of the body as having a central line (like the zip of a jacket). Every 30-50 paces, look at the position of your hands as your arms swing forward. If you can see your thumb and forefinger, your hands are likely crossing your central line. Hold your hands slightly wider than your hips so they are a little wider from your body. Also, think about reaching into an imaginary back pocket as you swing your arms back. This extends your reach in a straight line, reducing the tendency to cross the "zip" line.
Another common running mistake is a slouching posture, exacerbated by bending from the waist. Poor posture diverts the energy that you could use to improve your running speed and distance and leads to many common injuries. When you run, imagine your head is being pulled up by a string that feeds through the center of your body and out the top of your head. This string is stretching you up towards the sky, forcing the back of your head to align correctly with your spine.
Your head is the spine’s guidance system. Where the head goes, the spine will follow. Therefore, hold your head up, chin parallel to your chest and keep your eyes forward, looking at the ground a body’s length ahead of you rather than at your feet. Once you are upright (i.e. no longer slouching), lean forward from the ankles without bending at the waist. Keep your weight slightly forward so that your foot lands more directly under your body as you run.
How you run is determined by the strength and flexibility of certain muscles and how your body is built. Consequently, aim to run "naturally" that is, in a way that complements rather than counteracts your body’s make up.
Avoid over-striding (usually the result of reaching forward with your foot), as this will set you up for injury. Do not try to lengthen your natural stride. A short, quick stride is best.
Land mid-foot first. Landing mid-foot promotes a balanced running position. However, the most important thing is to keep your knee in line with your ankle, making sure your foot strikes under your knee, not in front of it. Incorrect knee/ankle alignment is one of the major causes of running injuries. Run light and avoid pounding the ground. As your foot strikes the ground imagine you are landing on fresh snow without leaving any footprints. This will encourage you to land softly.
High cadence (number of steps per minute) also promotes short, quick strides and mid-foot strike. Aim for a cadence of 180 steps per minute. To find your cadence: jog for one minute. Count the number of times your right foot hits the ground. Then double it.
Trying to make a sudden, radical change to your form, without giving your body a chance to adjust, can also lead to injury. Therefore, introduce any changes gradually and give your body a chance to adjust by cutting back your training time, reducing your speed and distance. Once you have comfortably integrated the changes, you can build back up to your original training regime. Happy running!