Should You Change Your Running Form?

The progression ended up moving from gross motor to fine motor developments, and was driven by both honest self-assessments of weaknesses, and informal diagnosis from a chiropractor and massage therapist, often in the form of seemingly innocuous questions like, "Is that all the further your toe can flex?" The path therefore wasn't preplanned, but more of a stumble-through process of finding and resolving the next issue at each step. And this isn't to imply that the process is complete, as there are likely further gains to be made.

The initial focus was to reduce any potential overstriding by building core strength, and working on stride rate and the manner in which I generated force while running. Again, the latter had to follow the former. 

More: 5 Core Exercises That Increase Stability and Efficiency

Taking a broader definition of core strength to incorporate the glutes (via the Prometheus advanced core routine) and hips (via the Kratos upper leg and hip routine), and later incorporating the Runners Connect Strength Training routine, I focused on building sufficient strength to push off instead of pulling forward. I combined this with striving for a 180-steps-per-minute cadence to land with my feet underneath my body, instead of out ahead of it, with the knee slightly bent.

To audit these "form fixes," I'd occasionally take stride counts on an ongoing basis (recognizing that "observation bias" may play a role, causing me to increase my rate when I was counting), and observing my form when passing reflective shop windows (note—daylight required). Eventually, this became second nature and on all but the slowest of recovery runs, and my stride rate seemed to be stable around 180. Furthermore, I noticed more soreness in my glutes when running than in my quads or even hamstrings, suggesting success in making the glutes work harder, which was a desired outcome.

More: How to Get a Strong Runner's Butt

While this first phase kept me running for most of 2012, my achey calf remained a source of concern. It was never bad enough to make me take more than a day off, but it seemed always on the verge of tanking the season. 

Incorporating active isolated stretching several times per week helped as my mileage peaked. After the 2012 Towpath Marathon, I shifted my focus to improving my calf strength and mobility, specifically through adding the Achilles routine from the Runners Connect program. After about eight weeks of consistent execution (two to four times per week), I noticed a significant difference in my calf strength. The pain was significantly less frequent, but not completely gone.

More: What Is Active Isolated Stretching?

I also increased my focus on core strength, and again noticed significant gains after eight weeks. My upper body felt even more stable (less bouncing, less rotation) when running, which translated into less wasted energy and better efficiency. Combining this with an increased use of strides during training runs seemed to lead to a generally quicker turnover. And the newfound calf strength and mobility perhaps led to an improvement in my ability to "lean forward at my ankles" when I run and keep my knees bent when landing, instead of straightening my legs out in front.

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