I have a friend who is getting started running (Yay for her!), which has me thinking a lot about beginner running questions. I know that when I first started out, I would get overwhelmed by thinking about the form of how you’re supposed to run and wondering whether I was doing it “right.” Obviously, I’m not an elite runner or a sports medicine specialist or anything like that (so be sure to get advice from a real professional) but these are the things I keep in mind:
– Take shorter steps, with your foot landing underneath you: I cannot concentrate on heel striking versus mid foot striking or anything like that when I run – it’s just too much for my brain! However, I do frequently remind myself to keep my steps shorter and keep my feet landing underneath me. As a beginner it felt like I need to take longer strides to get faster and it turns out that just the opposite is true generally! Also, by not overstriding, I’ve minimized a lot of the trouble I had early on with plantar fasciitis and other aches and pains. There are also lots of tips about using these shorter steps to increase your cadence or foot turnover, but that’s frankly beyond my mental abilities most days. 🙂 You should totally try that if you can though.
– Drop your shoulders! When I first started running, I would frequently find myself with these sharp pains and aches in my shoulders afterwards. I expected leg pain but shoulder pain? That threw me off. It turns out, I tend to hunch my shoulders when I’m working hard. Now I periodically check my shadow and my shoulders to see if I’m out of whack. I’m not the only person with this problem, apparently, as it frequently comes up in form tips. One of my favorite ways I’ve seen to address it is consciously raising and lowering your shoulders at every mile marker to recenter things. I also liked the tip I saw a while back that said to imagine a super hero cape flying from your shoulders. What better visualization could there for your running?
– Keep your hands soft: Hunching your shoulders and clenching your fists not only leave you with weird aches and pains after the run, but they also waste energy that the rest of your body needs to run. Keep your hands soft, as if you were holding an egg (or in my case frequently, a flower you see on the side of the road that you pick for your flower loving boy).
– Lean forward from your ankles or your hips, not your waist: You don’t want to hunch over. It isn’t efficient and it doesn’t feel good. I find myself doing this going uphill, so I visualize a lasso from my hips to whatever tree/light post/person is ahead of me to pull me along without bending over.
– Swing your arms to power your run: Yes, your arms actually help you run (so I should totally drop and do push ups RIGHT NOW). Importantly, be sure they’re swinging in a way that helps you run – i.e. back and forth, not across your body. Twisting your center mass constantly is not a good way to move forward more efficiently.
Tweaking your running form can make you a more efficient runner and decrease your chance of injury. If you’re having pain with your running, going to a physical therapist or other sports medicine specialist who could evaluate your form may be really helpful in identifying problems. Thankfully, (knock on wood) I haven’t had any long lasting or serious running injuries but I frequently self-check my form. It’s a great way to distract myself when I’m in the middle of a long run (or at the END of a long run, when I know my form can suffer) or to feel like I’m doing good “work” in my easy runs that might otherwise seem useless. Don’t worry – I know easy runs are important and good work. Obviously, running form is a hugely complex thing and there are lots more nuances to it than the things I’ve mentioned here but these are the little things I find it easy to think about on my runs as a purely recreational runner.
For more information from far more expert people, check out these articles:
Do you check your form while you’re running? Have you ever been formally evaluated? I confess, I’m a little afraid that if I were formally evaluated, they’d tell me I was doing it all wrong and I’d have to start over!
If you were a beginner runner, what questions would you have?