By Catherina McKiernan
It’s ironic, but I have actually learned quite a lot about the mechanics of running since I retired from competitive athletics. Now I put my time and energy into the whole area of correct mechanics for running. I do it through the ChiRunning method and I am delighted to share this knowledge with the readers of Irish Runner. I hope it will help you experience and enjoy running in the same way I have done since I started taking more notice of correct mechanics and their importance to the sport of running.
Even though I don’t compete anymore, I still clock up a good few miles every week in the Phoenix Park. I know that had I not changed some aspects of my running style, I would still be getting injuries. I am more confident now that if I maintain good running form and stay focused and relaxed, I can run as much as I like. I am now back doing what I did when I was living down on the farm in Cornafean, feeling the sheer sense of freedom and enjoyment that running gives.
When people meet me, they always ask why I don’t compete anymore. When I was competing, I trained hard and had to prepare meticulously all the time. I have lost the appetite for the really hard training which is required to compete at the top. But I still love running with a passion and I go out every morning, running through the beautiful Phoenix Park which is very close to where I live. As all runners know, there is no better feeling and no better medicine than a nice run, whatever the weather.
10 Components of good running form
The following can be developed over time to change your running form and make you more efficient and injury free. Some people have some of the components naturally, whereas some of us need to focus and practice them over a period of time, until they become a natural movement for our bodies.
You need to be flexible; not only in your muscles but in your tendons, ligaments and joints. They all work better when they move with flexibility and any restriction in your muscles, ligaments or tendons will limit your range of motion. As we get older we tend to become less active. If you don’t use your muscles and joints they will begin to stiffen. Flexibility doesn’t just happen; you have to work at it. Even stretching a few minutes a day is enough for most people to maintain a good range of motion and decrease their chance of injury due to muscle pulls.
2. Good posture
Your form is totally dependent on your posture. Good posture is when your spine is reasonably straight, with not too much straightness and not too much bend. The more you slump, the more your body’s muscles need to work to hold you upright. Also, up to 30% of your lung capacity can be restricted. When you have good posture or good body alignment, your shoulder, hip and ankle bone are all in a straight line. If your body is out of alignment it is going to cause fatigue, discomfort and eventually pain. Poor posture also restricts the circulation of blood to your muscles and organs.
3. Good leg motion
Having too long a stride or over-striding is a huge cause of hamstring and knee injuries. This is when you land with your feet in front of you instead of under you. Not bending your knees when you run will create stiffness and poor circulation in your legs. Your knees should be bent at a 90 degree angle when you are warmed up and running at a good medium pace.
4. Good tempo
A lot of people have too slow a tempo when they are running. When you run you want to spend the least possible time on your legs. The longer you take with each stride, the more time your foot spends on the ground and the more your legs have to work to support your body weight. Even if it is a split second during each stride, it adds up quickly when you are taking 1500 steps per mile. Work to maintain a cadence of 85-90 strides per minute with each leg.
5. Body sensing
It is good to develop an ability to sense the muscles in your body and to be able to sense tension or tightness in your muscles. When you learn to body sense, it makes it easier to relax your muscles while running.
6. Good mental focus
If you want to make adjustments to correct poor or improper running form, you will need to focus to re-educate your body. When you body sense what adjustments you need to make to your running form, you can focus to tell your body what to do, until it has learned the form and does it naturally.
7. Good upper body/lower body co-ordination
Your upper body and lower body should be doing equal amounts of work. When your upper body and lower body are working together, rather than against each other, it spreads the work of running over the whole body. A good example of this is when someone has a good leg swing but very stiff upper body. The legs would swing much easier if the upper body were co-operating by being loose and moving with the motion of the legs and helping the legs to swing, instead of working against them.
8. Good breathing habits
When your breath is shallow, you use only the very upper part of your lungs and don’t take advantage of your total lung capacity. It’s best to practice your breathing when you are not running, so that you can feel what it’s like before you try to do it on a run. When you exhale’ you should pull your belly button in towards your spine, which will empty the bottom of your lungs. Then when you relax your abdominals they will expand and draw air into the bottom of your lungs. There are many new habits you can learn to become a more efficient runner and proper breathing s a good habit to have whether or not you’re a runner.
9. Having a good bend in knees and elbows
The less you bend your arms and legs, the more work your muscles have to do when you are running. An arm or leg that is bent at the knee or elbow will swing much easier than one that is straight. When you are running at a good steady pace, your forearms and shins are parallel to the ground.
I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to relax while you are running. The more you relax, the easier it is to run and if you relax while running you are doing yourself a very big favour. Relaxation is the absence of unnecessary effort. With ChiRunning you move from your core, which reduces the amount of effort required of your legs.
Here are some additional benefits to relaxing your muscles. When you are using your muscles to move your body, you have a limited amount of stored energy in your muscles. These muscles burn the food you eat as fuel and produce lactic acid as they get tired. But when you use Chi energy to move your body, you can tap into a limitless resource of energy. It doesn’t mean that you will never get tired, but it does mean that you will be moving in such an energy-efficient way that your storehouse of energy will take longer to deplete.
Another advantage of being relaxed is that when your muscles are loose and relaxed, the oxygen carried by your blood can enter the muscles much more easily than if your muscles are tense. Softer muscles are more absorbent muscles.
This rule also applies when your muscles get tired. What tired muscles need most is oxygen to revive them and adequate circulation to carry away the lactic acid. When you tighten your muscles you rob these muscles of the blood flow and oxygen needed to do the necessary work, so you become even more tired.
So the next time you feel yourself becoming a little tired during your run, just do a mental scan of your whole body and look for any places you are holding tension. Then try to relax those specific muscles.
Having the ability to relax yourself while you’re running will also increase your range of motion. The more relaxed you are, the less resistance your arms and legs will offer to the motion of your body.
Here’s an Exercise.
You can actually practice this when your are not running and then transfer it to your running when you need to. Sit in a chair, lie on the floor or stand upright. Now inhale and try to tense every muscle in your body at the same time. Hold this tension for a count of ten and then let out your breath and release all the tension you have been holding. Practice this until you feel you can release every tight muscle in your body. Be thorough in tensing every muscle and be equally thorough in relaxing every muscle. The next step is to do the relaxing part while you are running and you will feel the benefit.