THERE ARE SEVERAL COMPONENTS TO RUNNING FORM: posture or body alignment, foot-strike, direction and type of lean, and cadence. GOOD RUNNING FORM, which is said to help ensure easier and efficient running with less chance of injury includes: an upright tall posture, a high cadence (many rather than fewer steps per minute), a slight forward lean from the ankles (no bend at the waist), and a mid-foot strike.
A Harvard Gazette article reported on research by Harvard Medical School and the Spaulding National Running Center, lead by it’s director Dr Irene Davis, which sought to identify more specifically, factors that lessen the chance of injury. Davis’s group studied runners who land on their heels (heel-strikers), who are thought to be more injury prone than mid-foot and forefoot strikers, and who make up the majority of recreational runners. Her study recruited 249 WOMEN*, all HEEL-STRIKERS who ran at least 20 miles per week, measured the impact force of each participant’s running step (when they ran over a force plate), and followed them for 2 years with monthly questionnaires that detailed injuries. The results identified several groups. There were no significant differences between the 2 largest groups: runners who were mildly injured (144) and those who were uninjured (105). The most important distinction was between the 2 smallest populations within the large groups: runners who were INJURED SERIOUSLY ENOUGH to seek medical care and those who HAD NEVER BEEN INJURED. “What are they doing right?” the researchers asked of this last small group.
What seemed to make a difference between them was vertical average loading rate (highest in the injured runners and lowest in those who were uninjured) and the suddenness of impact. The “softer-landers were better off”; weight did not seem to make a difference. Davis explained the difference between hard and soft-landing footfalls as similar to “jumping from a height and landing stiff-legged versus allowing ankles, knees, and hips to flex.” A helpful tip, she offered, is for runners to listen to the sound of their own footfall; if “loud, it’s harder” and they can work to make it quieter and softer.
How might following the GOOD RUNNING FORM recommendations, help runners achieve a softer footfall? For a heel-striker, a MID-FOOT STRIKE in which the entire foot lands under the hip might be easier to adopt than a forefoot strike; INCREASING CADENCE would shorten the stride and lessen the tendency to land on the heel, and a less stiff, LEANING FORWARD-from-the ankles stance could reduce impact forces.
There are great articles in Competitor.com, one covering this research and another with comments from experts on how to achieve a softer landing. Assessing your injury risk based on form/gait and making necessary changes now could save you weeks or months of rehab and lost training and racing opportunities later.
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EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. In 1978 I began participating in 10K road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health and longevity.
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