Runners with perfect form are rare and perfect form does not necessarily a good runner make. There are plenty of elite runners who have form peculiarities. In recent years, runners like Ritz and most recently Mary Cain have received lots of attention for their attempts to correct form. For Ritz, it doesn’t seem to have borne out enormous benefit and he’s still struggling with injury. With Cain, it’s too soon to see if the tweaks will help. There is an increasing body of work that suggests that perfect form isn’t necessarily something to work towards; the way we run, quirks included, may be most bio-mechanically efficient for us. That being said, there are things that most runners can do to generate more power and run more efficiently.
I have good parts of my form: high stride cadence and a light, mid-foot landing. This explains my relatively low incidence of injury (my two surgeries not-withstanding, but those are from anatomical variance). I have bad parts of my form: my quick cadence means I terminate my stride early and my hamstrings don’t snap my foot back well. And then there are my t-rex/twisty arms that waste a ton of forward movement. Recovery from surgery is the perfect time to focus on my form. Since I can’t run, my choice for exercise is predominantly lifting and I’m taking advantage of that opportunity. My major focus is on building stronger hip flexors, stronger arms and back and improving hamstring flexibility. Read on for a few explanations of why and links to great articles covering common form issues.
What is your form weakness? Have you ever tried to improve your form? Any major improvements in performance?
“Generating hip drive is also a concern for runners with a very short, quick stride. When these “choppy stride” runners try to accelerate, they often find their speed and ability to change gears during a workout or race is limited by their cadence—since their default gait already uses a very high stride frequency, they can’t increase it any more to speed up! These kinds of runners tend to terminate their stride a bit early, giving the appearance of a quick “lifting” of the foot off the ground instead of a good drive with the knee straight and the ankle plantarflexed. Learning how to increase stride length by generating more power from the hips is a big help if you are a “choppy” runner.”
“Hanging from a bar, draw your feet up to the bar while bending at the waist. Build up to three sets of 10. An easier version is to bring your knees to your elbows. Use a 12-inch diameter band, or double loop a longer one. Place the band under your left foot, and put your right foot in the loop. Pull your right knee up toward your chest 10 times. Repeat 10 times and then do the other leg. In waist- or chest-deep water, perform high knees in place for 30 seconds, recovering for 30 seconds. Repeat 10 times. You will work against the pressure of the water, strengthening your hip flexors without the pounding.”
“To help the above occur as efficiently as possible, arm swing should be initiated at and through the shoulders. Driving the elbows down as well as back can help avoid elevation of the shoulders, which in itself causes tightness and limits range of motion.
Just as bringing the knee through in swing phase needs to be a passive movement, so does the forward movement of the arm. Driving your arms up and forwards wastes energy and reduces the efficiency of the stretch reflex mechanism in the shoulders. Your hands crossing the midline of the body is a sign that you may be driving the arms forwards instead of backwards, or that you have tightness in the chest.”