We are going to be doing a lot of running at Alchemy this summer, and I should know because I do all of the programming (cue: the evil laughter)! Because I want to make this skill focus not only bearable but also enjoyable for everyone, I’ve put together what I hope are some helpful running tips.
You gotta get warm
Shin splints, sore or “failing” feet are a common complaint when you first begin running—especially on pavement—but most discomfort can be avoided if you take the time do a proper warm-up.
A quick stretch, jog and/or leg shake isn’t enough, though. Ideally, you want to perform a full-body warm-up to prime the body for running and one that incorporates moves like A-skips, B-skips, side shuffles, lunges, rowing, torso twists, and carioca shuffles all of which will help get the muscles/joints warm and ready.
Good running form feels good
The strain of exerting yourself aside, if a run feels like some medieval form of torture then you’re not doing it right. Running should feel good for the most part—like you’re doing as little work to propel yourself forward as possible. This sensation, however, is the result of good form. And that’s the tricky part for many of us.
We often think good running form means a long reaching stride and super-upright torso. In fact, the opposite is true. The torso should be relaxed as you run and the leg should not reach forward but rather behind you to properly activate the posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, low to mid-back, shoulder/scapula). This allows the forward foot to land on the ground in a neutral position (not a heel strike) and directly under the knee and hip, giving more support to the ankle and foot as well as minimizing the impact on the shins, knees and back.
Shoot from the hip
Luke, use the hip … I mean force … but mostly the hip to lift the leg and propel you forward as you run. Star Wars reference aside, you’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about. It might be easier to feel what I mean first. To do that, try some lateral and forward leg swings, coupled with bounds, to help you understand how to actively engage your hips and what it feels like. Once you’ve felt the sensation, apply that feeling more subtly to your run.
Listen to your glutes
When I run I like to focus on my backside. Not on the way it looks, but how it feels as I move, which gives me a good indication of where I’m at with my form. When I can feel the end of my stride contracting/squeezing my gluteus then I know I am in a good running position. (The stride should cause a contraction that rides all the way up the leg to the glutes and beyond.)
Don’t forget core and shoulders
Running is not just about the hips and legs but also includes other areas of the body. So, keep a tight core and actively rotate your shoulders through your stride. If you need a visual, think about the boxer’s punch where power comes from the combination of hip and shoulder rotation. Moreover, an active push forward of one shoulder while the other shoulder pulls back, allows the body to move forward faster. Complete this pattern with a forward reach of your hand —I like to think I am reaching for an exquisite beer — and you can help the body to drive more powerfully into your stride.
Finally, be sure to keep your upper traps and neck relaxed—don’t let them tighten up as it impairs proper rotation of the body.
Running to the finish:
Simply put, running is a full-body movement that uses the muscles of the legs and the hips to generate movement while also engaging the core, arms and neck to maintain the best positioning. When running, we want to stay relaxed and focus on the core and hips leading into the movement of the extremities (the legs and feet in this scenario). This will all help to minimize impact and increase efficiency.
Some red flags that your technique needs tweaking:
-A sore back
-Noisy or heavy footfall
Some cues that you’re on the right track:
-You can feel your glutes working
-Your neck and shoulders are loose and relaxed
-You’re leaning into your stride rather then reaching
-Hips are engaged and you’re letting gravity bear some of the load
A final piece of advice: I’m the kind of guy who likes to take things slow, and I advise you to do the same with running form. If you’re not getting your stride right then pace yourself appropriately and focus on getting it right.
Craig Latendresse is a coach at Alchemy CrossFit.