To Correct Running Form, Do This Simple Test

To Correct Running Form, Do This Simple Test

The Importance of Correct Running Form

Excelling at Spartan racing means excelling at both running and dynamic strength work (and at a whole lot of other things too). But while many of us train our bodies in a fairly well-rounded way, sometimes as the race goes on we struggle with the running between obstacles. Our bodies start to break down and our form falls apart. Correct running form is crucial.

Jay Dicharry is one of the premier running biomechanics experts in the country, working with top professional athletes out of his lab in Bend, Oregon. And the physical therapist has recently come out with a new book, Running Rewiredin which he tries to help runners with correct running form and get faster—something we all want. Here Dicharry offers three things you could do right now to start running better.
Running Rewired: Reinvent Your Run for Stability, Strength, and Speed, by Jay Dicharry. Velopress. $24.95.

Fix Your Posture

Most runners (and non-runners) have “horrible posture alignment,” says Dicharry, which throws off everything. If you’re arching your lower back, then it locks up the extension in your hips and hamstrings, and forces you to stretch out and overstride when you run, which reduces your running economy and increases the risk of injury.

The problem is that many of us have a slouch in our upper backs and shoulders, but when we think about “running tall” or standing up straight, we tend to just stick out our chests in a kind of overextended military-style posture. This actually causes us to arch our lower backs, which isn’t good. Instead, to have proper alignment, we need to keep our ribs pulled down and our spine neutral.

Getting ready to tackle a Spartan race? Download The Spartan Training Plan as your blueprint.

Quick Test

Dicharry has a quick test to see where your posture is at and a few cues to fix it. Stand straight and feel the position of where your weight falls in the middle of your foot. Rock forward and feel it, and rock back again. Then, put one hand on your sternum and one on your ribs, and focus on dropping down your rib cage without slouching. It helps to relax your shoulders. Drop your hands to your sides and turn your hands so your thumbs point out, then turn them in; this will help bring your shoulders down.

Now that you feel good posture alignment, practice it. “The more time you spend practicing bad posture, the more normal it’ll feel,” says Dicharry. This might even mean stopping every half mile when you’re running and taking a few seconds to correct your posture.

Get Rotating to Correct Running Form

Most of the work we do in the gym or training tends to be in two directions: front and back, or left and right. But when we run, we have to contend with rotational forces, which move in more than two planes. Our torso rotates slightly as we run, and we offset it by moving our opposite arm forward with our stride.

“When we run, we have to stabilize a ton of rotational forces,” says Dicharry.

If you can’t control those rotational forces, then your form will start to break down, and you’ll have too much movement side-to-side instead of forward. And you definitely want the majority of your momentum when running to push you forward.

The only way to get your body prepared for rotational forces, however, is to train it with rotational forces. “Get into rotation,” says Dicharry. That means doing rotational work on your foot muscles, your hips, and your spine.

For example, when training your foot muscles (which are often overlooked), try this exercise: anchor a Theraband to a table or another heavy object and then stand perpendicular to it, so that the band is at your side and stretches across the front of your body. Stand on one foot, holding the band in front of you with both hands, and rotate away from the anchor point and back. Turn around and repeat this while standing on the other foot. This exercise forces your foot to stabilize itself as you rotate, and requires you to push off from your big toe, which is important in running.

This is the kind of rotational work that will make you a better runner—not necessarily bench pressing heavier.

Control, Control, Control

In order to run fast, you have to apply a lot of power to the ground as quickly as possible. While general gym work and functional fitness training is good for your overall health, it doesn’t necessarily help you do that. What you need to work on is moving under control and then exploding.

Many of us have strong quads, and yet we also do gym work (like squats) that loads our quads but doesn’t help us apply power in a controlled and explosive way. If we move from being quad-dominant to being more butt-dominant, then it can help us stop overstriding and shift the muscular load.

Try this exercise. Stand holding a long dowel behind your back lengthwise, so that it touches your head, your mid-back, and your tailbone. Stand facing a box, with your toes against it. Now try to squat. Your knees won’t be able to go forward because of the box, and in order to keep your back neutral, with the dowel, you’ll have to shift the effort to your butt and hamstrings. Do these squats to teach your body how to engage those muscles. Deadlifts are also good, says Dicharry, because they often force us into a neutral posture, as long as we hold neutral between reps and don’t extend out at the top.

“Make sure you control your body,” he says.

Now that you have a plan to correct running form, make sure you pace yourself. You hit peak soreness 48 hours after a hard workout, says Dicharry, which means you don’t want to do a strength workout and then a sprint running workout two days apart. Instead, a common spacing is: Monday-Thursday, or Wednesday-Saturday.

“You can’t do high intensity 100 percent of the time,” he says. But you can maintain good posture and body awareness 100 percent of the time.

Getting ready to tackle a Spartan race? Download The Spartan Training Plan as your blueprint.