The spring thaw has arrived and you can finally do your long runs outside instead of on the dreaded treadmill. Set yourself up for an injury-free running season by taking some time to evaluate your running form. Take it slow and try these tips one at a time. When one adjustment starts to feel natural, move on to the next. Happy running!
1. Relax and stay as loose as possible.
Don't hold your muscles tight or use excess force while running. Doing so will sap your energy and create unnecessary tension in your body. Practice jogging very slowly at first and keeping your whole body as relaxed and loose as you can.
2. Lean forward and let gravity move you.
Instead of reaching forward with your legs, bring your center of gravity slightly forward so that your legs have to keep moving to keep up. This helps to prevent heel-striking and makes running feel easier. If you want to go faster, lean forward more.
3. Take shorter, more frequent strides.
Taking shorter strides also prevents heel-striking and makes running easier. If you take shorter strides, your legs won't have to reach and pull your whole body forward. Instead, your legs will stay underneath you and do a lot less work.
4. Don't heel-strike.
Landing on your heels sends a great deal of force right into your knees while they're in a fairly straight position (the cause of many runners' knee pain). If you take shorter strides and bring your center of gravity forward, you will most likely automatically land on the middle of your feet. Another way to discourage yourself from heel-striking is to invest in a running shoe with a thin, flexible sole.
5. Make sure your knees and feet are pointing straight ahead.
Every once in a while, look down while you're running to check your form. Are both knees and feet pointing straight ahead? If you see any inward or outward rotation, there's a good chance that rotation could cause knee or ankle pain at some point. Slow down your pace and adjust your stride so your knees and feet are pointing and moving straight ahead.
6. Notice the differences between your right and left sides.
We tend to use the sides of our bodies differently, mainly because we're either right- or left-handed. If you're running long distances, the way you use the sides of your body may lead to hip, knee or ankle pain on just one side. While running, notice how you're holding and moving your right and left sides differently. Then try to even yourself out and move symmetrically. It will feel weird at first, but adjusting your form to be more symmetrical will go a long way toward preventing injuries.
7. Listen to your body.
Pain is your body's signal to your brain that something is wrong. Don't ignore it! If you feel even the slightest bit of pain while you're running, experiment with correcting your stride and letting go of unnecessary tension. Can you adjust your form so that the pain goes away? The more you pay attention to what you're feeling as you move, the more adept you will become at making subtle changes and learning how to run without pain.
Photo by Robert Randall