Want Good Running Form? Don’t Be Lazy

Efficient runners don't spend a lot of time on their feet in between strides. Photo: www.shutterstock.com


I don’t think runners arrive at SGCT/MSPD and high running economy and speed by adopting the various individual elements of good running technique. I think they reduce their ground contact time and deceleration simply by trying really hard to keep running fast despite mounting fatigue in training, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. This repetitive exertion of will stimulates an unconscious evolutionary process whereby the runner’s neuromuscular system gradually figures out how to move his unique body to generate more speed with greater efficiency.

Here’s where I really step into the realm of speculation, but I also believe (or suspect) that the reason we don’t all start off in possession of the one great virtue of good running form is that we’re lazy. There is a part of us that doesn’t want to run — that never wants to run. When you do run, each landing of your foot represents an opportunity to rest. Most of us take that opportunity to a greater extent than is good for our running performance. We land — pause — and then push off. The best runners don’t really do that. They don’t let themselves rest when a foot hits they ground. Instead they bounce off it like they’re tossing a hot potato and catch their rest in midair.

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It’s hard to think of an analogy. The best I can come up with is the way we pick up heavy objects from the ground. The most effective way to do it is, of course, to squat down and use the legs, but this technique is seldom instinctual. It usually has to be learned the hard way. Why? Because we’re lazy. It takes a smaller initial investment of energy to bend over from the waist and try to do the work exclusively with the smaller muscles of the upper body.

Running is kind of like that. The ground is very tempting. Your foot wants to hang out there a while. To the beginner it seems (unconsciously) a little easier to land — pause — and then push off than to essentially refuse the ground’s embrace — to strike it, thrust it away, be done with it. But that extra investment of effort up front saves energy in the long run. Most runners make little progress in overcoming their laziness. Those who make the most progress become the best runners.

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It is interesting that, in the latter miles of a long race, even the very best runners see their ground contact times and sagittal plane decelerations increase. As they fatigue, the part of them that doesn’t want to run starts to gain the upper hand. That’s exactly what fatigue is: the athlete’s rising refusal to keep running.

Runners improve their form by reducing their ground contact times and sagittal plane decelerations, and they do that by encountering these moments of rising refusal and resisting them with everything they’ve got. We do not become better runners by emulating some Platonic ideal of good form. We become better runners by not letting ourselves be lazy — by pushing back against the pain with good old-fashioned willpower. When we do that, the details take care of themselves.

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.

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