Humans owe their existence to running. Known as persistence hunting, our ancestors used packs of runners to chase down game until the animal became so tired it could no longer flee. Aside from being a way to maintain fitness, running can be beneficial to your mind. Endorphins are released by your brain during moderate to high intensity physical activity, and lead to a state of mind referred to as ‘runner’s high’.
By utilizing proper techniques, injury can be minimized. The obverse is also true, however.
Proper running technique cannot be undertaken with improper footwear. Our feet are made up of tiny bones and ligaments that spread out when they strike the ground to absorb impact and minimize wear on knee and hip joints. To do this effectively, the foot needs to contact the ground on the ball of your foot. Some running shoes are designed to ensure your heel strikes the ground first, which does not allow your foot to distribute the load evenly.
To get a better understanding of this concept, run a few steps barefoot outdoors. Striking the ground with the heel first causes pain and discomfort, and can lead to injury. Most feet have an arch between the front and back of the foot, which also helps to distribute weight. As an arch is one of the strongest architectural shapes, supporting the underside of the arch from the bottom will actually weaken it. Some running shoes do just that, which will weaken a foot’s ability to distribute load over time.
Barefoot-style or minimalist shoes will allow the most benefit to be derived from footwear. They can prevent injury from uneven ground while still allowing the feet to perform as they should.
Long strides, possible when the heel strikes the ground first, are not efficient and can lead to injury and wasted energy. Strides should be short, and the feet should contact the ground directly underneath the body. If the lower legs extend out in front of the body, the stride is not short enough.
Arms assist in propelling the body forward in conjunction with leg movement. Tensing the arms or clenching the fists can cause the upper body to tense up, causing more effort to be expended by the lower body. It may be necessary to occasionally lower the arms and shake them to loosen the muscles.
Even though the head does not help with running, it will guide the rest of the body in proper form. Instead of looking downward, keep a neutral gaze straight ahead. Doing so will enable the back and chest to remain upright and straight, which increases the ease of running and forces a more natural gait.
One of the key areas to focus on for proper form, the hips will naturally align perfectly if the upper body is straight. By looking downward, the torso will roll forward and also angle down. This puts pressure on the back and maintains an unnatural position, and increases the load on the lower body. Hips need to be upright and pointing forward, just like the head and torso.
When the feet strike the ground, they should begin to roll forward. At the front of this roll, the foot should push off the ball of the foot and spring forward. To gauge this easily, if the foot is loudly slapping the ground, the form is incorrect. Proper running should not be very loud.