Making significant changes in your running technique is deep work. It means changing not only the way you run, but the movement habits you have all the time. However, small simple factors you never even think of can have a large effect on your running and are a good place to start changing your gait for the better. Here are five simple running tweaks you can try right away:
Your watch is heavy and if it’s a fancy sports watch it might be quite bulky as well. Having that weight at the end of one arm is like adding weight to the bottom of a pendulum–it changes the speed it swings and the effort involved. It is likely changing how your whole body moves. And not only that, if you look at it often you’re doing a movement with one arm that you never do with the other. So on your next run try switching your watch to your other wrist. If you’ve been struggling with a chronic ache or pain anywhere in your body, you might be surprised to find this helps. And if all’s been going well in your running, this will just help even out the stresses on your body and improve your coordination one extra little bit.
Maybe you’re already doing this, but probably not. Being warmer and looser when you start running doesn’t just mean you feel better at the beginning of the run, it also means the whole run will play out differently. The running gait is a cycle, and the way you move right at the start sets off a chain reaction that you have a limited ability to alter without stopping. Being looser, warmer, and readier when you take your first step means a better entire run, not just a better first mile.
Most of us have the habit of keeping our hip joints a bit flexed and not using our glutes or back muscles as we should, due to the long hours we spend sitting every day. Yet we need to be great at extending our hip joints and using our glutes and backs in order to run well. Starting your run uphill allows you to place each foot down slightly higer than the last foot, which is more comfortable if your hips are flexed. It also encourages you to use your glutes, and lengthens your hip flexors and calves without any shock. Once you crest the hill, you’ll be readier to run on the flat or even downhill than if you hadn’t started uphill. (If you don’t have a hill nearby, try going up stairs for 5 minutes before you start running, and if at all possible avoid starting runs downhill.)
The way we see has a massive effect on how we move. Depending on your particular situation, improving this may mean something different. If you wear glasses, see if you can switch to contacts for running, as better peripheral vision will change how you hold your head, which changes everything. If you wear graduated lenses or bi- or varifocals, don’t run in them. You won’t be able to see the ground properly and you’ll constantly find yourself doing funny things with your head to correct for this. And even if you have perfect vision, you may find you have a habit of looking downwards or running without looking around much. Try this exercise and see if your whole body doesn’t feel a bit different afterwards. You can do it on every run if you wish.
All too often runners allow their exhale to be driven out in a single whoosh as one foot hits the ground. And what’s more, it’s usually the same foot every time. This isn’t good for your pelvic floor or for your symmetry, and can reinforce movement patterns connected to injury. Instead, see if you can make your exhale soft over several footfalls. If you feel you need to inhale too soon to do that, you’re running faster than you should be doing on a daily basis, so slow down. And to improve your symmetry, begin experimenting with alternating what foot you start your exhale on. (Okay, that last one’s not a simple tweak but it’s worth the effort!)
How did these work for you? Leave a comment and let me know! And be sure to sign up for the free Mind Your Running Challenge, which starts January 14, 2017.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.