“Drop your flipping shoulders!” is pretty much what I had to yell to myself as I was running for years. Add to that list, “Stand up tall,” “Right elbow, tuck in that right elbow, idiot!” Oh the beautiful language of a runner’s inner-monolague when trying to fix their form.
Form is a tricky issue to deal with, mostly because however a runner naturally takes to the action is, well, natural. It’s without thought and it FEELS normal to them, no matter how wonky or biomechanically wrong it ends up being.
Fixing your form is also difficult because you can’t SEE yourself; you need an outsider to tell you 1) You’re doing this whole running thing wrong and then 2) To accurately tell you if what you’re doing to FIX your form is working. It goes without saying that you need to ensure that this outside person knows what they are talking about…lol.
I just wrote an article for Competitor.com: “Fixing Your Form a Half Mile at a Time” which discusses the four biggest culprits for form flaws in runners and then how to begin fixing your own form. Read the article and I’ll add a bit more over here.
* Constant Thought: In the article I explain that as you start to correct your form you need to do it SLOWLY, but that for the time you do think about your form it needs to be constant. Ideally pick the last 1/2 mile of each run where you literally THINK of your form flaw correction the whole time. Chant whatever you need to in your head (“Drop your shoulders!”), watch your shadow, chant some more.
* Reteach Muscle Memory: The reason you need to be so diligent is that changing an ingrained habit, like form, is a process of reteaching your muscles and nerves how to fire. You are essentially changing what feels completely normal and natural to your body; to make it CHANGE to what is correct will feel unnatural, if you don’t keep tabs on yourself it will ‘naturally’ slip back to what feels ‘right’ (but it’s wrong…got it…hehe).
* Outside of Running Work: Lots of form issues need work done from two sources: 1) Running implementation, as is thinking about running biomechanically correct as you’re running, and 2) Drills, core, weights, stretching etc. Lots of form flaws stem from other weaknesses, so strength moves and ‘extras’ need to be supplemented. Example: A weak core causes runners to hunch over.
* CAREFUL…Watch for Compensation Injuries! The reason you need to be so gradual in fixing your form is that your body has been running the ‘wrong’ way for years. It is used to running that way, usually it is caused because of weaknesses elsewhere, and with weaknesses that means other muscles have had to adjust to pick up the slack. Bottom line is if you try changing too many things too fast you will wind up with over-compensation injuries because you’re body isn’t used to running correctly.
* Repetition, repetition, repetition: I’ll say it again…form work is constant and yes, a pain in the butt. BUT it is worth it in the end. Make sure you’ve got an informed coach/person/expert to watch you as you shift your form and have them continually check-in on your progress. It can also be helpful to have someone video you running every couple of weeks to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
* End Result = Worth It: “This sounds like a lot of work,” you think. Yea, to be honest it probably is…but read the article and I’ll explain why it’s worth it. Hey, running itself isn’t easy but the end reward is worth it, right? Here is some simple runner math for you: bad/sloppy form = inefficient = wasted energy = lost time. By contrast: better/improved form = more efficient = more energy can be spent running forward = faster times.
So, because I was thinking this on my run, “Tuck in your stupid right elbow already!” until I wanted to lop off said elbow, I will bid you adieu with some fitting parting words…
“Fix your form already.”
1) By now we know running with better form will make us more efficient (read as: faster) but do you tend to avoid doing any kind of form work? Or are you doing form work, and what do you do?
2) How do you keep tabs on your form? (ie: look at shadow, ask others, see yourself on video/pictures, etc.)
3) What’s something you did that made the biggest difference in cleaning up your form?
Truthfully, a coach who would keep on me and help me. If you don’t have a coach, I’d suggest finding a fellow runner to REALLY stay on you; you can return the favor of course…sort of partners in stopping form atrocities.