Have you been working hard on improving your running form? Do you feel like your form always falls apart when you start to get tired? I have good news for you: the problem may simply be that your idea of good form isn’t right.
We all learned in school that being good is hard work. Getting good grades is (for most of us, anyway) hard work. When we want to get better at things we’re taught to work harder. So you may naturally accept that having better running form will be more effort than having bad form.
But the point of cultivating good form is that it improves performance by improving your efficiency, and that it reduces risk of injury because it’s correct for your body. Let’s consider the first part of that: would doing something that feels harder improve your efficiency… would something that feels harder actually be easier? Not likely! Generally speaking, what feels easier actually is easier. And what is easier is also more efficient.
And as for the second part: efficient movement is movement that works with your anatomy and the laws of physics, which again makes it feel easier. Because it does that it’s also movement that is healthy and safe for your body, reducing the risk of injury.
So pulling your navel in, pulling your shoulders back, tucking your chin, squeezing your glutes so you don’t overstride – things that make running a lot more tiring and can’t be sustained when you’re fatigued – are not good running form.
A true improvement in running form feels easier right away, not later when you’re “strong enough.” You are already strong enough to run your customary distance with better form. You can learn how to do it not it not by adding effort to “correct” your movement but instead by scanning your body for places where you feel extra effort, and then seeing if you can reduce it. Being a bit tired can even improve your form because you don’t have the extra energy to fight your body. Pay attention to what changes as you start to fatigue – do you lean forward, keep your hands closer to your chest, feel your chin move away from your throat? These are all elements of good running form.
Of course its possible to be so exhausted your form really does fall apart, but before then it nearly always will have gotten better than when you felt fresh. Pay attention to how you’re moving when you’re a bit tired and see what you can learn.
Some of your movement habits may prevent you from discovering all the elements of good running form – that’s why runners often need help with this. But you’ll be amazed what you can discover, and how much better you’ll feel and perform, if you start working on your form not by working harder, but by working less.
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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.