APPROACH TOWARDS RUNNING TECHNIQUE
by Charles Moreland USA
am a 20 year old Fine Art studio major at the Rochester
Institute of Technology. I've always held self control
and discipline high on the characteristics of what
each person should know and understand. This is
potentially why I have spent over half my life devoted
to the martial arts. This is also why I have taken
to the wonders that are Parkour.
often ask people around me for a nice run. The joys
of running are two fold when you have a running partner
and it is an easy way to help serious runners push themselves.
However, up until recently, I've never been able to
convince anyone to run with me. This problem eluded
me until the 'joys' of winter forced me to run inside
on the gym track or risk turning out like the Ice Man.
Running inside is a detriment for me, however it did
let me see exactly why I was having this problem. Negating
two or three people, everyone had horrible running form.
Everyday it was a new clunker which enlightened me as
to why no one likes to run: no one knows how!
Now it is exceedingly difficult to teach someone how
to run properly with just text, but I hope that this
paper will be a push in the right direction for some.
Running is one of the most basic of instincts and for
many is a necessity for basic human development. Running
was our source of safety from the dangers of prehistoric
Running was designed to be done barefoot. It was our
own brain growth and the development of our frontal
lobe that first gave someone the idea of wrapping the
feet with leather to keep them warm, and later padding
to help keep them safe. Over these last thousand years,
shoes have now become extensions of our feet that have
the ability to amplify their characteristics.
Modernism has a downfall however. Shoes from early childhood
are the reason why most people have lost the ability
to run. Shoes provide for a margin of error which negate
the immediate bad effects from improper stride. Thus,
proper form is not self developed during our childhood
and through adolescence many of us lose stride. Improper
stride is inefficient and directly relates to the general
consensus of running being dull, a headache, and most
of all, hard!
Our society as a whole is starting to understand the
issue that obesity is an epidemic and it's great to
see so many new people taking to running once again.
However, most of these new runners would be better off
not running and finding alternate forms of exercise.
Improper stride is not anatomically correct and so when
it is maintained over several years, problems start
to develop. The occurrence of shin splints, periostitis,
vast majorities of knee and foot problems as well as
back related injuries come into play.
So we understand the consequences of improper stride.
How can we understand proper form? Proper form is based
around efficiency of movement. You may not realize it,
but every step you take follows a specific pattern that
took thousands of years to develop. We evolved to better
adapt to our surroundings and through this process,
we evolved a method for efficiency.
I could just start diving into running mechanics, however
how can we understand the mechanics of running without
first understanding the mechanics of walking and why
they are different?
Due to the mechanics that happen while running, it is
most efficient to strike in the mid-section of the foot.
But why then do we not strike with the mid-section while
walking? Walking is most efficiently performed when
the foot follows the toe to heel path. During the initial
phase of walking, the center of gravity is moved forward
slightly to allow for inertia, but once a stride is
achieved, the heel strikes the ground and acts as a
counter-balance to keep us upright.
When walking, foot strikes happen in front of the body
which explains the efficiency of toe to heel movement.
This action allows us to maintain steady momentum while
keeping our neutral center of gravity. These mechanics
explain why we can maintain a continual pace over much
longer periods than we can while running. However, it
also explains why we cannot walk fast.
Fast walking becomes clearly inefficient when following
the rules just mentioned. Each stride is going to require
a certain force to accelerate and propel the body forward
to maintain momentum but due to the mechanics of walking,
each push off is going to require a heel strike counter
balance which will only expel and waste energy. This
is why we run.
So how does running differ? Running mechanics can be
broken down into steps. For the sake of simplicity,
we can look at a full stride consisting of a loading
and firing phase along with a foot-strike, transition,
and push off phase. Other issues we'll look at will
include posture, breathing, arms, and personal mindset.
A stride begins from rest first with a shift of weight
forward in the desired direction. Because we want to
continually move forward, this shift in the center of
gravity will not change unless we desire to change direction
or increase speed. This center of gravity shift places
weight on the midsection of the foot which brings up
the first phase of a stride: the push off.
The push off phase is one which a vast majority of people
confuse and causes the first mental obstacle in regards
to running. Many people destroy the efficacy of the
run by first thinking that a run is something that attempts
to counter-act the forces of gravity. This causes undeveloped
runners to have an up/down mentality approach
towards running. This mindset causes your body to expel
unnecessary energy to propel the body up against the
forces of gravity and then more unneeded energy to be
expelled to slow the body's descent upon foot-strike.
Push offs happen beneath the center of gravity and the
body follows the path of a projectile being fired at
very steep degrees. This form of running is the main
reason why many people associate running with pain and
Up/down running is the cause of many running related
injuries. Because the body is moving in an up and down
manner, the hip and knee joints do not flex but rather
stay straight. Because of this, there is no loading
process and when the foot-strike happens, the legs must
first absorb and then push off which will require greater
amounts of energy. Time spent earth-bound is increased
as greater forces are applied and in many cases, these
forces are put on the skeletal system which leads to
significant damage to skeletal structures. Looking at
this from Newton's point of view, we are accelerating
an object, and stopping an object, accelerating an object,
and stopping an object once again. Sounds tiring.
Running is designed to be a movement along a horizontal
plane. It should be looked at with horizontal motion
in mind, which is to say you are not working against
gravity you are moving perpendicular to it. A proper
stride starts with a light push off in a forward direction
well behind the runners center of gravity. The body
itself does not make drastic changes along the vertical
plane but rather should stay low to the ground. Time
spent on the ground is decreased and minimal. By looking
back at Newton's perspective, the object is in a constant
state of motion. The power needed during each foot-strike
to maintain this constant motion is relative to the
speed at which you are moving.
While a push off is being made, the opposite leg is
flexed to allow for more efficiency while moving along
it's horizontal plane, as physics tells us a shorter
object will circumvent space faster than a longer one.
This flexion also makes for an easy transition into
the loading (cocked gun) phase. By loading the leg and
preparing it while in the air, we can minimize the time
needed to spend on the ground which helps us decrease
the amount of velocity we will lose. A load leads to
a fire and the legs extend towards to ground. Because
of this process, a foot-strike should always be done
in the midsection of our feet and under the center of
gravity. This keeps our center of gravity forward which
allows for better management between momentum and inertia.
This mechanic also allows us to disperse our weight
amongst three major joints in our body (the ankle, knee
and hip) keeping the force centered around our musculoskeletal
system and off of our skeletal and joint structures.
Posture is just as important a factor as proper stride
is. A common mistake in novice runners is the tendency
to lean forward at the hip, emulating the postures of
elite runners they may have seen on television. What
actually occurs is an illusion that makes us think they're
torsos are leaning forward. However, when looking at
certain snapshots, you can see that in fact their entire
body is aligned properly in a straight line leading
from the firing leg, through the back and up through
the head. The back is straight and the chest is out.
This allows for an opening of the lungs to allow for
more efficient breathing. By leaning over at the hip,
you place excess amounts of stress on the lumbar vertebrae
which is the main cause for most running related back
injuries. You also close your chest cavity forcing your
diaphram to more forcefully contract and expand with
each breath. This expels energy and causes you to fatigue
Arms are an extension of the torso. They serve to counter
act the forces generated by leg swings to maintain proper
balance. However, unless you are in a dead sprint, your
arms serve no other purpose. Tensing the muscles in
the arms will only cause blocky, robotic like technique
which once again causes your body more unneeded stress.
Arms should be loosely flexed around 90 degrees and
should feel utterly relaxed. Your arm motion is not
an active movement, which is to say they are not moving
themselves. Arm motion is brought about by the legs
and not vice versa. A good technique I follow is the
two finger method, which places my thumb in between
my four fingers. This supposedly helps keep the forearm
Breathing is potentially the least accounted for mechanic
that causes most novice runners discomfort. In 1971,
Bowerman and Brown suggested that breathing should be
synchronized and rhythmic. Twelve years later, Bramble
and Carrier found that as performance levels of runners
increased, so too did their reliance on rhythm and synchronization.
The rhythm is important as it brings harmony between
the energy demands of the stride and the process which
provides it's energy. This is a technique that requires
experimentation as everyone will be slightly different.
As an asthmatic, this technique alone is what spurred
on my enjoyment of running. It suppressed the desire
for wheezing when in conjunction with proper posture.
Rhythmic breathing allowed me to optimize the oxygen
I was taking in, serving as a buffer for the thirty
percent scar tissue I have caused by severe asthma.
As an example, during a light to moderate pace run,
I inhale over the course of four strides and exhale
over three. Breathing itself should feel just as relaxed
as everything else regarding a run. A tense runner is
an unhappy runner.
When your status as a runner increases and you become
more accustomed to faster paces, a technique suggested
by Thomas S. Miller, Ph.D, called belly breathing becomes
increasingly useful. Belly breathing is best exemplified
by pursing your lips during an exhale. The action causes
your stomach muscles to tighten to push out the air.
At first this technique sounds rather inefficient, however
when looking closer, the push from the stomach muscles
actually forces out all the carbon dioxide held with
in the lungs. As your muscles relax, a vacuum is created
which easily draws air into the lungs and efficiency
By making these changes to stride and posture, one will
feel much more relaxed during a run. The run becomes
more fluid and efficient which brings with it more levels
of enjoyment. A run is exhilarating and dynamic; It
becomes something that makes you feel energized, rather
than something that brings thoughts of pain and toil.
Running should be looked at as a pleasure; something
soothing, fluid and relaxing. With this mindset comes
better understand these elements of running, hopefully
some visual examples can better solidify their interpretation.
Here you can see the period just before contact is made
for the foot-strike phase. As you can see, the leg is
already extending towards the ground to fire and make
for a quick transition. The opposite leg is flexed to
allow for more efficient movement along the same axis
while also being prepared for the firing foot-strike
and transition phase. The left foot is on a gradual
decline and is everted slightly to ensure contact in
the midsection of the foot.
The back is up and the chest is out. Despite this
I could probably even modify this slightly and straighten
out the line that is being made from the firing
leg through my torso by leaning forward just slightly
more. Elbows are flexed but relaxed, being guided
by the motion generated by my lower body. My head
is up and looking forward, not haunched over or
looking at the previous photo compared to this one you
can see the horizontal element coming into play.
The static horizontal made by the fence serves as a
reference to show how my vertical position changes from
push off to mid stride. The change is insignificant
and only a couple of inches. This demonstrates a more
rock skipping type stride rather than an
up/down technique which is inefficient and
causes excessive fatigue.
These are not demonstrations of perfect technique though.
Perfection takes years of dedication and hard work to
achieve and serves as a demonstration of utter beauty.
The best possible example I could ever give is Hicham
El Guerrouj's world record setting mile run in 1999.
Watch closely their technique. These are elite runners
and they make it look so effortless! They do not huff
and puff and they never haunch over. They appear to
be in complete harmony as they fluidly fly across the
track. There is no better demonstration of proper form.
El Guerrouj sets a world record in
technique required for proper form revolves around proper
condition of the ankle stabilizers. I'm a big advocate
for barefoot running, however until strength is gained,
no serious or extended running should be performed without
shoes. Light barefoot jogging I found beneficial to
serve as a guideline similar in concept to rolling on
concrete when learning how to roll. Learning should
always be done on soft surfaces with an occasional concrete
roll to gauge performance. So too should you practice
with shoes and slowly work your way towards workouts
involving some form of barefoot jogging.
Regardless whether you do or do not wear shoes, strength
of the ankle stabilizers will help you maintain proper
stride and help you avoid such injuries mentioned previously
in this paper. There are some very simple ways to condition
your ankle stabilizers to safely and effectively handle
such loads of stress if you are a beginning runner.
Lose the shoes and socks and do some of these walking
drills that take no more than 5 minutes everyday:
on the edges of the feet
on the inside of the feet (Note: this involves a
very slight lift of the outer toes)
with toes facing in
with toes facing out
on the heel of the foot (Note: if there is no soft
surface around, put your shoes back on)
conclusion, running is a learned skill that sadly has
lost priority in our modern age. Many people misjudge
it's role in effectively maintaining a healthy state
of being throughout our lives. Because running is no
longer pushed at young ages, and because more and more
kids end up with shoes on their feet at younger and
younger toddler years, we never acquire the condition
needed to provide as a base for proper running technique
throughout our lives.
As stride efficiency increases, so too does our enjoyment
of it's performance. It is a tool we can use to center
our thoughts and for some is a method of personal meditation.
This form of running is one that leaves you invigorated
and refreshed looking forward to the day or the tasks
that lie ahead. Running is not something to be loathed
but embraced and all it takes is a little knowledge,
some motivation, and dedication. Soon you'll be finding
yourself running faster and for longer with out ever
is movement along a horizontal plane, not up and
of gravity should always be forward
should make very light fwap, fwap, fwap
sounds NEVER loud CLUNKS!
transitions and push off should happen very quickly,
try to spend as less time as you can on the ground
should always land on the mid-section of the foot.
This allows utilization of all three lower body
should be straight and your chest should be out
should be loosely held at 90 degrees and should
be very relaxed
forward! Not at the ground. There's a lot to look
forward to ahead
should be in rhythm and synchronized with your strides.
It too should feel relaxed and easy no matter what
obstacles you may have (asthma or equivalent)
listen to music while running. Get in tune with
your body and focus on breathing and strides. Let
it sink in
running partner is always a great way to have fun
while pushing yourself
but not least, it's never a bad idea to SMILE!!
Bakoulis, Gordon. Getting Real About Running. New York.
Ballantine Publishing Group, 2002.
Broer, Marion R. Ph.D. Efficiency of Human Movement.
Philadelphia. W. B. Saunders Company, 1960.
Miller, Thomas S, PhD. Programed to Run. Champaign,
IL: Human Kinetics, 2002.
Morris, Rick. "Running Form for Distance Runners."
Planet. March 15, 2008
IN THE FORUMS