Have you ever looked at old race photos and thought, “Was I walking there?” I know I have. This type of running style is known as “the marathon shuffle”. Your legs feel heavier with each step and before you know it your feet barely swing above the pavement. You might notice that you’re scuffing your shoes as you run, maybe even catching your toes on the ground. This shuffling pattern will cause your heel to hit the ground first as you try to pull yourself toward the finish line. There are so many things wrong with this picture.
One way to protect your joints is by focusing on smart running form. The key to avoiding the marathon shuffle is to maximize the efficiency of your running and minimize the effect of outside forces on you. With every step you take the ground produces a reaction force three times your body weight! These forces will differ based on your running style, body shape, size, etc. Over thousands of steps, that force can take its toll. Don’t fret, the ground reaction force that your joints are subjected to can be manipulated in your favor.
Let’s begin by looking at foot placement compared to body position upon initial contact. If your foot is in front of your body, you are hitting the ground with your heel first. You’re essentially pulling yourself to the finish line. It is always harder on your body to pull a load vs. to push a load. If you train yourself to land with your foot underneath your body, you will be pushing yourself towards the finish line. You will get there quicker, with less fatigue and risk of injury.
The knee is the next place to look. Upon landing, your knee should be slightly bent. By bending the knee, you’re allowing the muscles to act as shock absorbers. Also, landing with a bent knee causes you to naturally land with your foot under your body versus out in front of you. This eliminates the impact of heel striking. This allows you to recruit your powerhouse muscles that provide the push (glutes), and avoid straining the muscles used to pull your body over your front foot (hamstrings).
Landing on your heel or with a straight knee translates to that ground reaction force getting absorbed through our joints and connective tissues vs. our muscles. Unfortunately, our bodies are not designed to tolerate repetitive excessive force through connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, cartilage) and our joints. This is why run form and recruiting our power muscles is important for injury prevention. When you start shuffling down the street you start to increase the impact on your joints and start to use smaller, less efficient muscles. The smaller muscles can’t propel you for long, leading to injury. Think about it, your glutes are much larger than your calves. Glutes are likely more equipped to power you to a strong (and injury free) finish than your calves are.
Changes to your run form do not happen overnight. It takes time, patience and persistence. It is all worth it in the end. Your body will feel better and your race photos will be mantel worthy. Take a look at the video below where we demonstrate a few techniques you can utilize to improve your running form and protect yourself from injury!
1. Taunton, J. E., Ryan, M. B., Clement, D. B., McKenzie, D. C., Lloyd-Smith, D. R., & Zumbo, B. D. (2002). A retrospective case-control analysis of 2002 running injuries. British journal of sports medicine, 36(2), 95-101.