Should You Change Your Running Form?

Some things you just can't rush. This is true of many things in running, but it's especially true of form changes. Oh sure, you can read the books, attend the clinics, and buy the shoes, but forcing things often leads to injury. There are the occasional runners gifted with the right balance of strength and good natural form. But whatever it is—being raised in elevated shoes, spending a lot of time sitting at desks, running the "wrong way" for years—whatever explanation you may believe, most of us have to invest significant time if we want to become more injury resistant via improved running form.

This is the summary of my journey, and I don't think it's a unique trip.

The desire to move in this direction came from the same motivation most runners have—getting away from recurring injuries. No, the high hamstring strain and Achilles tendinitis that plagued my training the past few years weren't entirely form-related. They were more likely the result of a bit of too-much-too-soonitis. But the "too much" threshold can certainly be raised through the gains described below. And the benefits in potential improved running economy and long-term performance through consistency make the investment very worthwhile. Yes, every runner will be a little different, but these ideas are accurate for a great many of us.

More: What Kenyans Can Teach Us About Running Economy and Efficiency

The goal in working on form wasn't to become a minimalist runner, or even to completely stop heel striking. Such actions are just steps on the path to running success, and may not even be necessary ones at that. The goal was to become quicker and lighter on my feet, and to be able to move to shoes that are lighter and less cushioned—especially in the heel—with an understanding that this can boost performance simply by quickening the stride.

More: 6 Tips to Improve Your Running Form

Form follows function, and you can't jump directly into running form improvements without making the right investments in strength and coordination. This may involve fixing imbalances, improving your mobility, or overcoming inherent weaknesses. Shortcutting this step is a major cause of issues such as Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis arising from the use of minimalist running shoes.

There were three phases in my effort to become a less pronounced heel striker, each of which involved a focus on both strength and mobility improvements and specific form gains related to these improvements, as detailed in the table below.

Transitioning to Midfoot/Forefoot Running

  Strength and Coordination/Mobility  Form   Emphasis
1. Stop overstriding  Core (esp. glute and hamstring strength) Increase stride rate; decrease stride length. Push off; don't reach/pull. Gross motor
2. Run lighter Calf and foot strength and mobility Forward lean at the ankles. Stable upper body (minimize bounce/rotation). Gross motor
3. Complete the transition Foot proprioception and ankle dorsiflexion Toe up, toe off Fine motor/neuromuscular

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