Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Look, Listen, and Feel: Using Your Senses to Improve Your Running Technique

Are you making New Year's resolutions? Setting running goals for the year? Do you want to run a new distance or PR a certain distance?

Back in the day when I was a new runner, I was really fortunate to run with a friend, Jayne, who had experience as both a runner and as a personal trainer. As we ran and worked out together, she gave me invaluable advice on which I continue to rely to this day. One thing that we really worked on was my running form. No matter what kind of shoes you are wearing or how much data you get from your Garmin, you'll never improve if you don't work on good running form. To this day, I am grateful to the advice Jayne gave me in that regard.

After reading Mindful Running last year, I started paying close attention to my form again. I was frustrated with my poor performance earlier in the year, culminating in that DNF at a Labor Day 10k. Something had to change and I began utilizing some of those mindfulness techniques on my runs. I don't think it's a coincidence that I started running some very satisfying miles after that, finishing 2017 on a high point. Running with good form increases your efficiency as a runner (you aren't wasting energy on unnecessary movements) and improves your running economy.



Watch any elite runner--they all seem to have such ease with their effort, don't they? Certainly, everyone has their own unique style of running, but the one thing the elite runners all have in common, besides innate talent, is a running form with very little wasted movements. No one has perfect running form, but there are a few common features that constitute good running form: landing over your center of gravity, quick cadence, minimal lateral rotation, and relaxed body position (source).

Shalane Flanagan has near perfect form.
There's a YouTube video discussing her technique.
You can go to a running coach and pay $$ to do drills and exercises to improve your form. But there are some things that you can do on your own that just might be useful in helping you to make adjustments to your form and improve your running technique.

All you have to do is look, listen, and feel.

Look:
The idea for this post came to me a few weeks ago as I was looking at running selfies on Instagram. Everyone has their own unique running form, that's for sure. But as I looked at the pictures, I realized that there is a lot to learn from studying your own selfies. In the past, I found that by studying my yoga selfies, I really improved my body position and form. Sometimes we just aren't aware of our body position. I started studying my running selfies and worked on changing a few things with my form.

stock photo
The hardest part about looking at your own selfies is to be objective! You can always ask a trusted running friend to help you out. As your read this section, refer to the picture of Shalane above.

Ask yourself:
How's my posture? Am I lunging forward, reaching towards the finish, leaning from the waist or is my head held high, chest upright, with a straight spine? The gaze should be looking ahead, not down. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you up towards the sky.
Where are my arms? Your arms should be at your sides, held at a 90 degree angle, with a forward/backward swing, not crossing your body. Your hands should be at waist level and cupped, as if you are holding an egg.
Where are my feet? You should run with short strides with your feet landing underneath you, not ahead of you. By the way, heel striking is not the devil. Foot strike is less important than where your foot lands in relation to your center of gravity. Instead of worrying about whether or not you land on your heels or your toes, focus on where your foot lands under your body. Your knees should be at a 90 degree angle. The goal for your run should be a quick cadence of 170 steps per minute. Listening to music with a cadence of 160-180 bpm can be helpful. There are metronome apps you can download that are also useful. Try to synchronize your footfalls with the beats.


Listen:
What is your body telling you? This requires turning off your music and focusing on your footfalls and your breath.
What do you hear? Do you sound like a Clydesdale or a thoroughbred? Do you hear loud clomping or a quiet, quick trot? At my last half marathon, I heard a clomper coming up behind me. Can you imagine the effort and impact a heavy stride has on the body? Are your footfalls even or is one foot hitting the ground more heavily than the other? Sometimes when I'm tired, I hear one foot slapping on the ground or dragging/scuffing. That slapping sound happens when my shins are tight, so I stop and stretch. The dragging/scuffing sound means I'm tired.
How is your breathing? I recently ran a race where a guy's breathing was so labored, I sped up to get away from him--I didn't want to have to do CPR. Are you a heavy breather? Is your breath rhythmic or uneven? If your breathing is labored, hearing your effort can mess with your head. When I'm struggling with the breath, I try to synchronize my breathing with my steps. Sometimes when I'm running too fast, my breathing gets out of sync and I stop, walk, and reset my breath.


Feel:
This is where those principles of Mindful Running come into play. As you run, stay in tune with your body.
What is your perceived effort? Does the run feel easy or hard? If the run feels hard, do a body scan.
Are my teeth clenched or is my jaw relaxed? Smile. It relaxes you!
Are my shoulders up around my neck? Shoulders should be down and back. Shrug them down.
Are my arms at my sides? Are my hands clenched into fists? My piano teacher used to remind me to play as if I had my hands cupped around an egg. I use this technique on the run all the time.
Where are my feet landing? Am I overstriding?



No matter how accomplished or seasoned the runner, there's always room for improvement! That's the thing about running--you can't get complacent. By tuning into your senses, you just might find what you're looking for.

Do you tap into your senses to help you run more efficiently? Have you ever studied your running selfies to observe your form or has anyone ever critiqued your running form? Do you run mindfully? I'm no expert but I really think there's something to be said for running more mindfully!

I'm linking up with Marcia, Erika, and Patti for Tuesdays on the Run as well as Lora, Debbie, and Rachel for Running Coaches' Corner!








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59 comments :

  1. running form is definitely something I need to work on. I noticed that my form goes to crap when I start to get tired, usually the last few miles of a long run.

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    1. I feel like that happens to me too! The strength training really helps me push through the fatigue, for sure.

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  2. I can definitely tell when I'm exhausted (though I'm not always aware of it as it's happening)...race pics do not lie (especially the ones near the finish line). My run yesterday was a tough one, and I could feel everything was off. Granted the temps were cold (ummm, -20), but we ran on a trail that had not been cleared of snow, so it was like running in quick sand. Over-pronating (more than usual), arms everywhere, and very inconsistent foot landing. Glad the start of my off-season immediately followed ;-)

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  3. Yes, I think of all of these things. I am a natural mid-foot striker, although when I was new to distance running, I though it was "more correct" to be a heel striker, so I changed my gait. I've since learned otherwise and have to returned to my natural gait.

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    1. Ha! And now everyone is trying to get away from heel striking...

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  4. Well, obviously I don't take many running selfies.

    OTOH, I do try to be mindful of my body during runs. My breathing, how everything feels, is that damn right foot angling out again . . . what is up with that anyway?

    I also know that I definitely have some form problems that are not helpful. There seems to be 2 schools of thought on that, though: don't tinker with your form or you'll end up injured, or correct your form or you'll end up injured! I think the truth lays somewhere in between.

    Great tips & cues, Wendy!

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    1. You are right--you don't want to change your form but the points I made here are things everyone can do to enhance their form. There is always room for improvment! Even at Shalane's level.

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  5. Great points! I firmly believe you shouldn't tamper with your natural foot strike. After all, some of us heel strikers have no mid-foot at all to work with. LOL!! I remember hearing once you should pretend you are holding a potato chip between your thumb and forefinger and I still think about that.

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    1. I kind of like the idea of running with a potato chip in my hand...

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  6. This post is right on time as I really want to make some tweaks to improve my form this year! I know that my shoulders often feel tight after long runs so I need to work on posture. And somehow I've become quite the stomper...I'll definitely think about all of these moving forward!

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    1. When I'm clomping, its time to go home. That's not a good run for me.

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  7. So true! I often like to zone out when running but I know that's not the best option. I've noticed my form definitely starts to go as I get tired and I really should start paying attention so I can catch it when it happens.

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    1. It's a fine balance between enjoying the ride and being mindful!

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  8. I definitely needed to work on my form when I was coming back from injury. It was one of the first things my chiropractor in Dallas had me work on.

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  9. Yes!! Wendy, this is such a great post!!! I need to check out that book, too, but I frequently do a scan to tap into what's going on. Sometimes, I forget and this is a great reminder - and a great tool for new runners! One thing I've added since my knee surgery is a mental "soft knees" reminder. It helps me remember to keep my knees fluid and, well, soft, rather than stiff - it's like I'm saying, hey, you're overstriding, get that bounce back in there! lol

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    1. Every since I read Mindful Running, I've worked on tapping into my body while I run. Sometimes i forget and I pay for that.

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  10. I know my form slacks off when I get tired. I need to remind myself to keep those shoulders down. and be lighter on my feet.

    Running is my therapy and I often sort out my problems while running...not very mindful.

    Thanks for the helpful suggestions.

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    1. I like to work things out on the road too. But when I'm training or racing, I need to focus on the task at hand.

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  11. 3 simple words to say, but three hard words to do. I never once took a picture of myself during a run. It was just for a picture to post, so of course it wasn't natural. I always listen to my headphones so loud so I can never hear myself nor others breathing beside me.

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  12. I really want to work on my form this year! I am hoping to record myself more once I have a treadmill. I think the hardest part for me is the "feel". I'm pretty sure I clench my jaw and raise my shoulders but I don't even notice Im doing it!

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    1. I do all the same things, so I have to stay on top of it!

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  13. I definitely need to work on my form. Some of the pictures I've seen are just awful. As in, how did I even move forward with that form LOL.

    -MCM Mama

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    1. Haha! I don't know, Erika, you do a pretty good job moving!

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  14. It can be really hard to be objective when looking at your own form. Sometimes I wonder how I even finish a race looking like I do running! Listening to my breathing can really help me. Great post today!

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    1. It's pretty amazing what a difference it makes to tune into your runs once in a while! Particularly when things aren't going well.

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  15. This is great, Wendy! As I transition to forefoot running and improving my running form, I'll definitely need to rely on my senses. I plan on incorporating videos to really capture that "look" sense. :)

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  16. you know me :-) Im a hardcore walker BUT BUT BUT ALLLL THIS APPLIES HERE TOO.
    Im doing another full soon and need to step back and revamp and reexamine.

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  17. I tend to tune out while running by listening to podcasts, but I did work on becoming more mindful this year, I know my form needs work though

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    1. I think it's ok to tune out--we all need to do that--but tune in every once in a while, just to see how things are going!

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  18. These are such great tips. I’m going to start paying attention to where my feet are. I wish I could run in front of a mirror without falling off a treadmill! I do better being able to adjust my posture while I can see what I’m doing vs. after.

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    1. Don't laugh, but when I did pool running, that really helped me adjust my stride. You can't overstride in the pool.

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  19. Such good advice, as always! I've pretty much just run, thinking what comes naturally is best. However, I won a Lumo Run in an IG contest last year, and would run with it and get great tips on improving my cadence and form. I don't run with it too often, but I find myself talking to myself during races and reminding myself of the lessons I learned from it.

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    1. There's nothing wrong with sticking with your natural form. These are all ways to tweak it a little bit to make it work better for you!

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  20. After suffering one knee injury after another in BOTH knees, I started working on my form while running on the treadmill. It was easier to practice all that you mentioned above on the treadmill. I’m happy to say I’ve been injury free almost three out of five years of consistent running. This is great info Wendy! Thank you and Happy New Year!

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    1. I'm glad you were able to improve your form on the treadmill. Since there's no variation in cadence or terrain, that is a great way to work on consistency.

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  21. Great post, Wendy! Very informative and so much good information. I love taking running videos of myself because I pick apart my form all the time. It's really helpful for me since I'm constantly plagued with ridiculous injuries.

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    1. I've had my share of those ridiculous injuries over the years--I have had a pretty good streak the past 2 years and I do think it has a lot to do with the tweaking I did with my form. Of course, all that work I did in the CF box has to be helping too.

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  22. I know that my form suffers when I get tired. I've also found that when something feels off ... ankle, foot, hip... if I focus on my form, the feeling usually goes away.

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  23. This is such great advice! It's not as complicated as some people make it seem. I've been blessed with pretty good form, but it gets more challenging as I get older. :-).

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  24. This is great advice. I never considered form when my high school swim coach tried to make me run. I'm sure I looked like such a spaz and probably would have liked it a lot more if I'd listened ;-)

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    1. My son really wanted to be a running back in football, so when he was in middle school I talked him into going out for track. Best.advice.ever because his form improved dramatically. He's a beautiful runner. Too bad I can't talk him into running with me!

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  25. great post! I try to be aware of my form, technique, breathing, etc as much as I can. I did a chi-running workshop some time ago and that got me a bit more tuned in. But also because of my foot issues, and my zero drop shoes I have to be even more aware of my form and foot strike! My trainer last year also gave us similar training and tips. The better your form, the better your running will be :) Work in progress over here!

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    1. I refer to chi-running on occasion when I need to work on something with my form. There's always something to work on!

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  26. Thanks for the great advice! I definitely don't pay attention frequently enough to how I'm running, instead I often go just based on feel. I'm sure that being more in tune to my body will help me to improve and become faster.

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    1. I like to just go, but I do try to tune in when I'm getting tired.

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  27. This is amazing advice!! I totally need to pay more attention to my running form! I've definitely noticed it before in past running "selfies" or videos! Doing yoga helps me a ton with my posture though so as long as I can keep that going alongside my running, I feel like it'll get a lot better with each run!

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    1. I agree with you that yoga helps a lot, both on and off the mat!

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  28. Very informative!!
    I run by feel but I don't pay attention much to my form. At my pace, it's a lost cause. lol.

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  29. Great post! I have tried to change my form over the year and usualy end up injured. On a plus I have a great cadence, form comes and goes, but I am definitely going to take some of this advice!

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    1. Notice I didn't say change, just "tweak". Experts advise against changing your running form but there are always things we can do to make it more efficient!

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  30. I have looked at my running posture, but I have no idea how to properly make changes...I guess that's why some people make the big bucks to help us :) I LOVE using selfies with my yoga poses and can usually make the proper adjustments on my own.

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    1. It works with running selfies or videos too! You might be surprised what you can do on your own.

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