When it comes to tinkering with your running form, it is important to tread carefully. While certain changes in the way you run can elicit major benefits, it can also lead to a whole host of problems if you don't approach it in the right way. This is why practicing exercises that encourage optimal form is a better strategy than simply trying to alter your gait over many miles.
"We never recommend that runners make wholesale changes to their form," explains Seth Nickerson, a USA Triathlon certified coach based in Scottsdale, Arizona. "That's why drilling is so important. The runner can focus on specific elements for short periods of time."
When you approach changing your running form in a methodical way, you may see your performance profit in more ways than one.
"Changing running form can bring about big improvements in performance and help prevent injuries," says Nickerson. "Even small form corrections can reap benefits."
Surprisingly, the most common form-related mistakes runners make usually have nothing to do with their overall fitness. "Instead, they are usually the result of something else, like poor posture, an injury or a lack of body awareness," he says.
How to Tell if You Should Tweak Your Form
Perhaps the most easily identifiable mistake runners make is swinging the arms across the body, resulting in an inefficient twisting at the waist that can overstress certain muscles. Nickerson says he also sees runners bending forward at the waist rather than from the ankles, which puts more of the workload on the lower back and can impede proper breathing. The other common issue occurs when an athlete runs excessively upright, thereby thwarting gravity and often overstriding.
Since diagnosing these issues can be difficult to do on your own, getting a gait analysis can be a great strategy for improving form, especially for runners who have been hampered by injuries.
"A video-taped run gait session demonstrates to runners how all of their limbs are working together as they stride," says Nickerson. "Until runners see their bodies in motion, they can't begin to understand what they are truly doing."
Upon seeing yourself on tape, simple changes can often be made almost immediately. If you have the chance to go back and do a second or third analysis to see the results elicited by those alterations, this can be a particularly powerful exercise. This process is all about body awareness and understanding that tweaks in your form can improve how the entire kinetic chain functions together.