The Balanced Runner Keys Series: Awareness

By Jae Gruenke | Natural Running Form

Apr 18

This post is the tenth in a series explaining The Balanced Runner Keys.

You’re probably reading this blog because you want to learn the right way to run. You may have very pressing reasons for that — perhaps you’re hurt, or you feel like running is really taking a toll on your body, or you feel there’s a better runner inside you. These reasons may lead you to work very hard on your running technique, trying to get it right.

This is consistent with what many people say about working on your form or technique — getting it right is really a lot of work, takes concentration, and may even require you to cut your running way back, only running as far as you can do so with good form until you gradually get strong enough to maintain it for longer and longer distances.

There are two problems with that. One of them is that good running technique is easier than bad running technique, and if you have to work that hard to execute any particular kind of movement, it isn’t good technique! I’ve written about that general principle many times in this blog and will do so many more times because while obvious it’s generally overlooked.

My focus today, though, is on the other problem with trying so hard to run right: you have skipped a step. A crucial step. Without it you can’t run correctly no matter how hard you try, and it’s this: you have started by trying to run right instead of taking time to become aware of how you naturally run.

Becoming aware of what you’re doing is the necessary precursor to any improvement. If you’re lost in a city, you can’t use a map to figure out how to get where you’re going until you figure out where you are. Once you know your location, then you know whether to turn right or left at the next intersection. If you don’t know where you are, all you can do is flail.

It’s the same thing with how you move your body — how would you know what to change if you don’t know what you’re doing?

In all likelihood, the reason many runners skip this step is that it may feel hard to tell what you’re actually doing. But that begs the question — how are you going to accurately feel whether you’re executing the changes you’re trying to make if you can’t feel what you’re doing? So skipping the awareness step isn’t an option.

Not only that, but simply paying attention can improve how you do an activity, without any instruction being necessary. To see what I mean, try these two experiments:

EXPERIMENT ONE:

  1. Sit up straight.
  2. As you continue to sit up straight, evaluate the amount of tension in your body. How hard are you working to do this?
  3. Now return to how you were sitting before and evaluate the level of tension in your body — do you feel more or less tension than when you were sitting up straight?

EXPERIMENT TWO:

  1. Continue to sit as you have been, and notice how you’re doing it. What part of your bottom is touching the chair? How have you arranged your legs? What shape is your back? What do you feel you’re doing with your belly, chest, shoulders, and head? When you breathe (just a normal breath), where do you feel movement?
  2. Now sit up straight. Have you done it the same way you did in experiment one?
  3. As you continue to sit up straight, evaluate the amount of tension in your body. How hard are you working to do this?
Which felt more relaxed and comfortable, the version of sitting up straight you did in experiment one or experiment two? I’m willing to bet a lot of money that you felt less tension when you sat up straight in experiment two, and maybe that it even felt better than when you weren’t sitting up straight at all.
Improving your running technique works when you do it like experiment two. Start with awareness, scanning through your body and noticing what you feel and how you’re moving. Then it will become possible to truly begin to improve.

Newsletter

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter filled with analysis, information, insights, and tips you can apply to your own running!

Follow

About the Author

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.

Leave a Comment:

(6) comments

Marino April 20, 2015

Thanks for the insight, will pay attention on my next run. Too bad I live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean (Brazil) to attend one of your workshops!!

Reply
    Jae Gruenke April 23, 2015

    My pleasure, Marino. Hope it helps you! And by the way, since my first online training camp, in March, was a success, I’ll be doing many more of them, so you definitely can take a workshop with me even though you’re in Brazil and I’m in Scotland!

    Reply
Matthew Newnham April 21, 2015

An absolute gem of an article here, Jae. Thank you for such clarity. I can attest in spades to how powerful your work is in finding the optimum running form for each of us.

Reply
scott April 27, 2015

Enjoyed your post as always Jae! Your use of the term “Bottom” brings up memories of growing up in Canada, where the term is used much more than here in the States… terribly UK indeed…

Reply
    Jae Gruenke April 27, 2015

    I think over the years I’ve tried all the English words there are for the posterior, and some Yiddish ones too just for good measure. “Bottom” generally seems comfortable for people, so I’ve gravitated towards it, though I should inform you I’ve actually started using the word “bum” with some clients lately. How’s that for British!

    Reply
Add Your Reply

Leave a Comment: