It is no secret that running has tremendous benefits for your physical as well as mental health. It requires neither extensive equipment nor years of training to begin your running journey. And once that euphoria hits, it’s hard to stop.
However, it’s also important to remember that even though you don’t need to be a professional athlete to run, it still involves a certain amount of technical know-how. According to a 2021 review by Dr. Lisa R. Callahan, almost 73 percent of women and 62 percent of men are known to sustain running-related injuries in the knee, hamstring, calf and hip areas. Pushing yourself too hard, switching to the wrong shoes or terrain and most importantly, having a bad form will definitely increase your chances of accidents, long-term damage as well as decreased performance.
Patience is also key when you’re looking for a program that fits you. There is no ideal form, as all of us are unique in our body composition, age and fitness history. Hence, what works for one may not work for the other. Regardless, there are certain mistakes you can avoid and assure a pain-free and safe running experience by staying hydrated, training on your strength and flexibility, and following these six essential reminders.
Do pre-run stretches and drills
Whether you are a beginner runner or a marathoner, your body needs to warm up in order to prepare itself for the high intensity ordeal. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you do not skip on the stretches. Not only will they get your blood flowing, they will also prevent pulls, tears and cramps in your muscles and tendons.
Additionally, a 2016 study by Sarah A. Richmond et al revealed that including running drills in their program reduced the injury risk of junior high-school students by 70 percent. Running drills are quick and effective exercises that mimic the movements of running, impressioning them in your muscle memory.
Wear the right shoes
With more experience, it is an important inference that achieving an ideal running form involves precautions beyond the running itself. To protect your feet and legs, reduce long-term wear and prioritise safety, you must invest in the right kind of shoes.
Especially in your earlier running days, as Xiaole Sun et al have suggested in their 2020 paper for the Journal of Sports, Science and Medicine, “softer midsoles can reduce impact forces” and “thicker midsoles can provide remarkable cushioning effects and attenuate shock during impacts”. In other words, a well-cushioned sole will reduce the stress on your feet and provide a strong base to run off from.
Choose the right track
A research paper, titled “The Influence of Track Compliance on Running” and published in the Journal of Biomechanics, has concluded that “a force equal to five times body weight can travel up the legs when running is carried out on very hard materials, and that this force drops to less than twice body weight on very compliant surfaces”.
Therefore, running on a softer, dirt track is going to be much easier on your joints than on concrete. Especially if you are a novice, it is crucial that you slowly build up your endurance, do strength training and build your leg muscles before you shift to harder tracks.
Swing arms back and forth, not across midline
Running involves a lot more than your legs and it’s best proven by the importance professionals have placed on how to maintain your arms, hands and shoulders. Donald F. Kessler, in his 2020 paper for the International Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training, has observed in his career as a trainer that runners must swing their arms vertically from their hips to their nipples.
To optimise balance and waste minimum energy, you must not cross your arms in front of your chest as it causes your body to rotate more and puts more stress on your lower half. It is also important to relax your shoulders as hands, as opposed to your elbows, because they will be moving the most. Keep your back straight, do not shrug and breathe properly to avoid cramping and fatigue.
Land on your midfoot
Though it might be tempting to give it your all and get carried by momentum, overstriding (taking strides beyond your usual capacity) will put added pressure on your hips and knees as well as disrupt your form. Donald F. Kessler has also mentioned the pitfalls of improper foot strike in his 2020 paper. “The evidence supports that overstriding may increase injury risk or make running inefficient and slower. There is evidence to support that, as stride length is decreased, the probability of stress fracture is decreased 3–6%,” he says. You need to make sure you take short, quick steps that land directly underneath your body.
Apart from stride length, you must also make sure your steps are landing in a straight line and not flaring out. Commenting further on which part of your foot to hit the ground first, Kessler says that, “by landing on midfoot, a runner is in a better position to reduce braking forces and transition to the explosive push-off quicker.” Therefore, short, light steps under your body will improve your running form as well as prevent vertical oscillation (a bouncing effect) while running.