Assess your form and take an honest look at the flaws making a negative impact on your stride.
The heart of the minimalist and barefoot running craze suggests that by transitioning from overbuilt running shoes to shoes that allow the feet to function normally, heel-striking will become a thing of the past and running form will be naturally corrected. This is not always the case, however, and to ensure you get what you’re looking for out of a minimalistic running shoe, attention to good form is a necessary objective. The first step? Take an honest look at flaws that are making a negative impact on your stride. Here are a few telltale signs of improper stride form you may need to correct.
Are you a loud runner? You’re likely overstriding and hitting the ground on your heels with too much impact. You might even be hitting the ground with a double impact: First you land hard on your heel, then your forefoot flings forward and slaps the ground with considerable force.
Are you a bouncy runner? This is a sign that you’re heel striking and significantly overstriding. By significantly braking with every heel strike and then accelerating by pushing off to start a new stride, you’re continually raising and lowering your center of mass. If you were to plot the position of your hips on a side view over several strides, you’d see a jagged line with many peaks and valleys. That’s not an efficient way to run because you’re constantly stopping your momentum, spending more time on the ground than necessary, and using too much muscle energy to start a new stride.
Do you look down in front of you when you run? If you do, you might be throwing off your center of mass and thus forcing another part of your body to compensate. Your head is a very heavy part of your body, but your body can naturally balance it without too much muscle energy if it’s upright. However, leaning your head forward (or to one side) when you run requires considerably more energy to sustain and throws your balance (and your gait pattern) out of whack.
Do you twist your arms, shoulders and upper body excessively when you run? In theory, your upper torso and shoulders should be mostly still and upright, while your arms are alternately moving from front to back in the sagittal plane parallel to your body. The more your arms swing across your body (in the coronal plane), the less efficient you’ll be. Your arm swing helps you maintain your forward momentum during your running gait, and if your arms are crossing your body and your torso and shoulders are twisting, you’re not maximizing that momentum because your energy is being wasted with side-to-side motion.
Can you see your foot landing in front of your body when you look down? If you look down in the middle of your stride and see your feet landing in front of your body, it means you’re overstriding. And if you’re overstriding, you’re running with an inefficient heel-striking gait.
This piece appeared in the January issue of Competitor magazine and was excerpted from “Natural Running: The Simple Path To Stronger, Healthier Running”