A goliath in the fitness world, running is perhaps the single most universally used wellness and fitness tool, and for good reason. It’s simple, effective, and challenging enough to make most of us feel like we’ve exerted ourselves adequately.
But for all of its simplicity running comes with a lot of grey areas. Many people, in fact most people, aren’t running as efficiently as they could be. We all grow up running how we see fit: we stick to what is comfortable and easy. But familiarity with a motion doesn’t imply efficiency, and there is almost always a way to improve.
First, some motivation: human beings are the best endurance runners in the animal kingdom. Seriously-- there is no animal on earth that can keep up with a fit homo sapien over extremely long distances. In our hunter-gatherer past, humans could sustain a slow but steady pace and hunt with remarkable success. So, in essence, don’t be intimidated if you’re a new runner. You’re literally built for this.
Form is everything. Running utilizes the same principles of movement as other aspects of fitness like weightlifting or organized sports. One such principle is called joint stacking, which essentially means that when our body’s joints are stacked on top of eachother, we can support heavier and more consistent weight loads. When your foot hits the ground during a running stride, your ankle should be right underneath your hip. It shouldn’t extend out in front of your body, and it shouldn’t be behind you. If you land like this, you can maintain a quicker pace over longer periods of time because your stacked joints are bearing weight that your muscles don’t have to.
Many people lean back when they run. Their mouth, agape from exhaustion, will shoot towards the sky and their feet will extend out in front of them in an attempt to drag their body forward. This is wildly inefficient. To fix this, try to “actively fall”. Stand tall, stick your chest out, and maintain a center of gravity that leans slightly forward. At high-level paces, your forward lean should be enough to feel like stopping your stride would lead to a face-plant; your next step should save you from this “active fall” every single time. The benefit to this is your weight carries your body forward instead of your muscles having to drag your center of mass over your hips time and time again. By actively falling, your body almost carries itself forward automatically with far less effort.
Arms, Arms, Arms
Finally, use your arms. Don’t flail them wildly, and don’t neglect them all together. In running, arms are a sort of counterbalance that can help regulate a steady pace and generate power when need be. Keep your elbows close to your body and relax your shoulders, swinging them comfortably with each stride. If you pay close attention during a run, you may notice that your arms and shoulders drop to your hips (at least they should) when slogging up a hill. When coasting downhill, they do the opposite and your shoulders shrink up into your collarbone as your hands fly up past your chin. This is our natural ability to maintain balance across terrain. If hills are especially hard for you, try exaggerating these motions a bit.
Form isn’t an exact science, and tinkering with these suggestions to find what’s both comfortable and effective is most likely the best way to approach running. Get out there and give it a try!