“Do I Need to Change My Running Gait?”

Race photos notoriously suck. Have you ever trained so hard for a race that you knew it was a PR, even before you crossed the finish line? You waited days for the race photos to get uploaded, imagining how fierce and strong you looked. Finally the link’s functional and the pics are up! You scroll through the milieu looking for a glimpse of the fluorescent gear you raced in…there! But wait, what the hell? You look like you’re hardly even moving! You’re all sunk down in this weird little crouch with your butt sticking out. Your arms look like chicken wings, with T-rex hands. All that waiting and excitement, for this? Nevermind! Nothing profile-pic worthy here.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

There’s actually more than just your social media profile at stake. Ugly form is also slowing you down. A few small changes can improve your efficiency, literally getting you more mileage for the same effort:

  1. Knee drive: the thighs are your legs’ biggest movers. The knee drive is your most powerful mechanism of forward momentum. Don’t stride out further — pump you knees and arms faster.   
  2. Footstrike: Your legs are a lever system connected by the hips. The farther your foot falls in front of your hips, the more effort it’s going to take to pop the rest of your body up, over, and in front of that leading foot. If your foot strikes directly under your hips, you’re already poised for takeoff! A hunched back usually indicates tight hip flexors, and compromises your forward drive.
  3. Economy of backswing: Kick your heel towards your butt so your knee bends and decreases the amount of time it takes to get your rear foot back in front of you. Imagine running with straight legs — getting your foot in front and up high for a powerful knee drive would take much longer.  
  4. Torso oscillation: If you pump your arms side-to-side across your torso, you’re wasting energy that could be driving you forward. Work on developing core and low-back strength.

It’s quite difficult to sense inefficiencies when they are part of your native running pattern. Quite simply, you’re used to them. With the help of a camera phone, a coach, and plenty of time to transition gently, you can tease out subtle changes for a more elegant (and faster) gait. Your race photos will look so much sexier.
The caveat is that changing your natural gait is also a great way to get injured. Everyone’s bones sit slightly differently in their sockets, with subtly different muscle and tendon tension and tensile strength,  so no one’s movement patterns are completely the same. Get too prescriptive, and you end up imposing a huge amount of impact and torque in places they don’t belong. Using photographic or video evidence, identify the primary inefficiency in your movement pattern. First try just paying attention to it. Then, practice altering it during post-run stride-outs. Next, start correcting it for brief periods during your long and/or easy runs. Finally, start integrating it into your faster workouts.

Eventually you will be able to maintain the change unconsciously and under pressure, such as during a race!  If you live in the Denver/Fort Collins areas and are interested in form coaching, hit me up! This is seriously one of the most gratifying and effective steps to becoming a better runner.  

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