Runners looking to improve their form are often frustrated by their inability to make lasting change. Any modification a runner makes in posture, footstrike, or stride can quickly fall back to familiar patterns.
The problem isn't that they lack the focus and dedication, or that are uncoordinated or wearing the wrong shoes. The problem often stems from restricted range-of-motion or specific muscle weakness or imbalances that don't allow them to stride effectively.
Identifying and correcting these areas is the goal of a new site hosted by Topo Athletic. Georgia Shaw, Topo's director of marketing, calls this "pre-stride biomechanics"--or things you can work on before you take your first step.
Shaw's been observing how runners move for a decade, working in the shoe industry and seeing the type of form minimalist shoes were meant to encourage but many people had trouble achieving. A little over a year ago she teamed up with Brad Cox, a running coach and creator of ACU-Running, to work on this educational program. Together they developed a way to deliver ACU-Running--typically reserved for Cox's private patients--in a free do-it-yourself package.
The site they've designed bridges the gap between physical therapy--where an expert assesses problem areas and manipulates your limbs to correct them--and the numerous drills and exercises athletes do at home to improve.
"Most important," Cox said, "is getting the athlete to recognize the movement pattern and be able to correct it. We're making the brain work on putting the pieces together."
The site presents 12 videos demonstrating simple assessments for mobility and stability, from leg raises to single-leg squats. For any area where you "fail" you are directed to videos that will help you get better by demonstrating exercises that to improve your strength and skills. A final phase shows form cues that integrate your new skills and apply them to your running.
So why is a shoe company investing in an educational program that will be free? "Topo has created shoes that allow you to move naturally," Shaw said. "If you're missing these pre-stride elements, you won't be able to get the most benefit from them. We want to take a leadership role in this conversation, to help you run longer and more comfortably."
When it comes to running form, one thing we're all learning is that it's not about the shoes. It's not quite like getting a personal session with a physical therapist, but the Topo program appears to assess areas that many experts agree are keys to smoother, more injury-free running.