This is the second article in a three-part series on running form analysis. In this article, I analyze Attain Wellness Head Strength Coach Ben Ilaria’s running form.
Although running is the most accessible sport to humans (in some cases, runners don’t even need shoes), it is by no means an easy sport. Proper running form is critical to performance, much like how a golfer’s swing dictates whether the golf ball lands on the green or in the water.
So what exactly does proper running form look like?
Running is a forward motion, and your posture plays a critical role in maintaining forward momentum. Thanks to the forces of gravity, a slight forward lean is all it takes to carry your momentum forward.
In the picture above, Ben demonstrates a good forward lean. The vertical green line indicates the tilt of his torso, while the horizontal green line shows that instead of having anterior tilt, his hips are in a neutral position. So what is causing this forward lean? The answer lies in what’s happening further down the body.
Try this test out. Stand tall somewhere with cushioned space in front of you. Gradually start leaning forward without tilting your hips, and try to keep your whole foot on the ground. If performed correctly, you should start to feel that your forward lean is initiated by a tilt at the ankle joint, not the hips.
Observe the orange circle at the bottom of the image. Notice how the longer leg has an anterior tilt while the foot (inside the orange circle) is still in contact with the ground. When the push-off leg is straightened to begin the next gait cycle, we should be able to draw a straight line (the orange line in the image) from the ankle joint to the shoulders.
An anterior pelvic tilt can be a sign of a weak core and tight hips. Both a weak core and tight hips can negatively impact your running efficiency by causing breakdowns in form. A strong core is needed for stability, while mobile hips allow runners to increase their stride length (which is a component of running speed).
Below are exercises and stretches you can do to strengthen your core and loosen your hips.
Core Strength (Anti-Flexion): A core-strengthening exercise is the Front-Loaded Walking Lunge. Although the quadriceps are the primary movers, core strength is still required to maintain stability throughout the movement.
This exercise helps strengthen the core muscles to resist flexion because of how the weight is distributed. Since the weight is towards the front of your body, you have to maintain an upright posture to avoid falling forward. A strong core allows you to keep that upright position.
This exercise is also more accessible than the Front Squat, which requires far more total-body mobility. Either dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell can be used as the load at the front of your body — whichever is most comfortable for you based on your ability. If you cannot perform the exercise with weight, start with bodyweight and focus on keeping an upright posture.
How to perform the Front-Loaded Walking Lunge:
- Grab a dumbbell, kettlebell, or barbell; rack the weight on your shoulders
- Take a step forward and get into a lunge position. Make sure that your front foot stays completely on the ground. (Much has been made of how your knee should be positioned in relation to your foot — as long as your whole foot remains on the ground, you will have performed a successful rep. However, always try your best to keep your knee stacked over your ankle or midfoot).
- Pushing through your front foot, raise yourself back up and bring your back foot to meet your front foot. (To increase the difficulty of the exercise, instead of bringing the back foot to meet the front foot, go right into the next lunge).
- Continue alternating legs for 8-12 reps on each leg.
- Repeat for three sets.
Tight Hips: Tight hips inhibit knee drive when running. Although high knee drives are associated with sprinting, long distance runners should still have the capacity to get their knees up high. After all, speed is a product of stride frequency and stride length, and if you want to increase stride length, you need to increase your knee drive.
Keeping your hips loose will promote their mobility. Proper warmups and cool downs are a great time to stretch muscle and avoid hip tightness.
The Quadruped Hip Extension and Pigeon Pose are great exercises for keeping the hips loose. Although the Quadruped Hip Extension actively targets the glutes, it passively stretches the hips throughout the movement, which makes it a great move at the beginning of your dynamic warmup. The Pigeon Pose directly targets the hips and allows you to get a deep stretch.
How to Perform the Quadruped Hip Extension:
- Start in a table top position.
- Keeping your leg bent at a 90 degree angle, lift one leg at a time up towards the ceiling (or sky if your outside).
- Hold this position for two-three seconds, then lower back to the starting position
- Repeat steps 2-3 on the opposite leg.
- Alternate until you have performed 8-12 reps on each leg.
- Repeat for three sets.
How to perform the Pigeon Pose:
- Get into a high plank position (yoga plank).
- Draw your right knee to your chest and invert your leg so that your right foot comes as close to your left hand as possible.
- Sink your hips into the ground. Extend your arms forward to get an even deeper stretch.
- Hold for 20-30 seconds).
- Repeat steps 1-4 on the opposite leg.
- Repeat for 2-3 sets depending on your level of hip tightness.
Incorporate these exercises into your warmup and cool down routines to promote core strength and hip mobility so that you can maintain a proper forward tilt.
Remember: your forward lean should be initiated at the ankle joint. Tilting at the hips can be a sign of a weak core and tight hips, and negatively impact running performance.
This was Part 2 of our Running Form 101 series. Keep an eye out for Part 3 to find more ways to improve running form and become a more efficient runner!