Category: Distance Running Question: What is proper running Form for distance running? Submitted By: Run-Down Answered By: Run-Down Answer: Heel striking is the natural tendency of most untrained or under trained runners. While heel striking is fairly efficient in terms of general energy conservation, it is terribly inefficient in terms of energy expenditure from the standpoint of maintaining a fast pace. The main reason is that heel striking is effectively the same as breaking your momentum with each foot plant. Your center of mass is behind your lead foot, with your foot going forward at the point of impact.
Toe running, which is discussed separately in the FAQ, certainly overcomes the momentum issue. By toe running (and not over-striding), you are landing with your center of mass directly over your lead foot, with the foot basically stationary relative to the ground or moving back slightly. Thus, there is no breaking effect. However, toe running is not at all efficient. It requires a great deal of lower leg and foot strength, all of which are small muscle groups that fatique quickly.
The answer is mid-foot striking -- the perfect balance between efficiency and speed. As with toe running, the idea is to plant with your center of mass directly above your foot. The main difference is that the landing and push-off is not quite as aggressive with mid-foot striking as it is with toe running.
Visualize yourself running light and nimble. A good way to get the feel of proper running form is to run barefoot on a soft surface like grass. You will quickly realize that although heel striking may feel natural, it is only because you normally have shoes on with heavily built up heels. Without that cushioning, the natural tendency is to lean forward more and land farther forward on the feet.
That brings me to the next aspect of running form -- torso (upper body) positioning. You want to either be straight up and down or slightly forward. This ties in directly to foot placement, but also affects things like stride length and frequency, as well as general strain on the body. You want to get the most out of your stride, but over-striding can be just as bad as under-striding. Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect over-striding without the watchful eye of a coach.
Lastly, arm swing is an often overlooked aspect of form. It is normal for distance runners to have more cross over (i.e. there arms cross in front of their chest instead of travelling straight ahead like a sprinter) in their arm swing, but the more you can minimize this, the better. What happens is that, in all but a few cases, crossing over with your arms causes your torso to rotate. In turn, this causes the hips and legs to rotate the opposite direction to counter the motion and remain balanced, which obviously greatly reduced running efficiency.
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