A while back, I found myself part of a discussion with a few of our coaching and PT staff. It centered around philosophies of running style and how, in an effort to address pain and/or injury, these professionals approach adjusting client’s running form. The consensus was:
There is not a single best running form for everyone.
Mechanical nuances makes it impossible for a one-size-fits-all running style. That being said, our physical make-up (two legs, two arms, one spine in more or less good condition) is similar enough that general principles can guide us as we refine our running skills.
Several problems arise when individuals seek to change their running style. First, they might adopt the Now Trending running form as gospel. The best example that comes to my mind is barefoot running. For a brief time, barefoot running was touted as “the best way” to reduce injuries and return to a more “natural” running form. As the injury rates (and lawsuits) bear out, plenty of people who weren’t injured suffered injuries from this more “natural” gait.
Not all of us are forefoot runners. Not all of us will unconsciously alter our foot’s landing pattern to the forefoot just because we reduce the level of cushioning provided by our running shoes. Some of us will continue to clomp along landing heavily and shockwave after shockwave of impact through our feet, knees, hips, and up our spine.
The flip side of that coin? Barefoot running has improved the experience of a select group of runners. It all depends on what idiosyncrasies you’re bringing to you runs.
A second example is Good Form Running. With its quick cadence, shorter strides, and focus on arm swing, this is a highly structured running form. Again, while it’s great for some, this regimented form is going to cause problems for others.
The real keys to being a successful runner are to find a form that optimizes your natural physiology, take time to strengthen both your prime moving muscles AND your joint stabilizing muscles, and to improve the efficiency of your movements. This is a tall order and takes consistent and intentional training.
If you’ve got pain or suspect your are dealing with a physiological dysfunction, it’s a smart move to get in to see your Physical Therapist sooner than later. They will work with you to determine the likely source of your problem and suggest ways to improve the situation through form changes, strengthening, or both.
If you’re feeling healthy and strong but want to take your performance to the next level, it may be time to see a Performance Coach. A gait evaluation, speed work, or perhaps even shoring up your base might be what you need to get you there.
The take home is: although we all have components to our movement that are our very own, we have to know the basic rules of performance before we can tweak them. And that, more often than not, takes a professional with the skills and knowledge to guide you through the process.