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"Bad?" Running Advice: What Does All This Running Form Advice Mean?

"I see soo much information about form that I think I get overwhelmed and don’t know where to start."

"I have trouble translating what I read to actually practicing it."

"I hear what seems to be conflicting advice about running…Too much info sometimes lol."

These are your words, not mine.

And frankly…

I couldn't agree more.

Running form should feel effortless, natural, and strong and instead it feels conflicting, overwhelming, and confusing.


Add "stressful" on top of that if you're just coming back from an injury. In that case, you're determined to do everything in your power, including adjusting your running form, to avoid any other set back in the future.

But a lot of times that turns into:

"How do I know I'm doing this right? And what does all this advice mean? How do I actually improve my running form?"

Not what you were looking for, right?

What do you say we de-mystifying a couple confusing pieces of running form advice? (And busting 1 "bad" piece, but I'm getting ahead of myself..).

Then while you're here, lets Dare to Train Differently and try out some VERY NON-TRADITIONAL running form exercises as an experiment? These will challenge you. And most runners will NEVER do them! And it's not that they're ridiculously hard; they're just…different. ;) (but you already expected that, didn’t you?)

You in?

Let's go!


What does it mean to run tall? And bend from my ankles?

I'm a PT and the cue "bend from your ankles" makes my head hurt…

I understand the purpose and the motion that's trying to be created with it, but I'd (personally) rather cue you a different way, a more natural way… but here I go again getting ahead of myself.

"Running tall" isn't a "bad" cue if you or a running buddy tends to have slouchy posture, especially with sagging shoulder or a head that sticks out. Where "running tall" can get us into trouble is when it allows you to "drive from the back seat" or "sit back in the ‘bucket’ with your legs out in front of your body".

www.forefootrunning.com

Where do these cues come from?

"Many running styles, including ChiRunning, pose running, and even barefoot running have included cues for novice runners to increase trunk lean. A focus on leaning “from the ankles,” rather than increasing hip flexion to achieve the trunk lean, seems to be a priority for some styles. Many running experts suggest that trunk lean is a key component to correct running posture. However, very little has been done on the research side of this issue

the authors noted that the trunk lean in these subjects was not purely from the ankles, as is recommended by some running styles, but rather a combination of hip flexion, pelvis anterior tilt, and other small kinematic adjustments"

Is this starting to come together for you?

What might have you so confused is multiple cues all trying to help you achieve ONE thing: leaning forward which (hypothetically) creates an efficient running form and stride.


Some other cues that do this:

  • "Don't lean from your waist"

  • "Don't bend from your hips"

  • "Fall forward off the feet"

  • And I'm sure there's a million other ones..

Here's my physical therapy 2 cents:

this happens a lot in the PT world, too. We overcomplicate an exercise and give too many directions or cues from something simple, like a squat.

Which makes more sense?

"lower your center of mass to the box, bending from your hips, knees, and ankles evenly at the same time and don't let your knees cave in or touch or weight shift in weird ways"

Vs

"Tap your butt on the box as if you're going to sit down on it."

See what I mean? The same thing is happening here. Which naturally connects with and leads us into the next piece of running advice…

"Lean forward and land under your body." What does this mean?

So hopefully that leaning forward part is making more sense now. (If you want to read about it in full, check out last week's blog post HERE! I go waaaay more in depth on it.)

But as a quick review:

forward leaning is not yet back-and-white 100% supported by scientific running research. Common sense makes it a good argument and there's even some pelvic floor physical therapy treatment ideas and theories that support forward leaning as it places less pressure on your pelvic floor. (so by all means, I am NOT the forward-leaning expert on this very grey issue!)

To give a quick reference on what this physically looks like, we're borrowing pictures from Dr. Souza's research article:

Can you see how subtle that forward lean is?

(A research article that Souza mentions in his paper cites that forward leaning may only need be about 7 degrees. It's not much!)

But what does this have to do your feet landing under your body?

We're going to steal something from my Running Form 101 Course where we go way more in depth into unlocking your best running form, fixing compensations, all with clear, second-nature, easy methods. (ain't nobody got time for confusion!)

I want you to do a trust fall with yourself. We've used this in the past for assessing stride length and potential tendency to overstride. It’s crazy simple.

  • Stand with your feet together and start to fall forward. Let your body naturally catch you. (see more about this in last week's blog post HERE.)

  • What you'll find is one foot reflexively steps forward to catch you so you don't face plant into the floor. What this also does is very naturally (without you even thinking about it!), creates that "bending from the ankle" to achieve "forward lean". What it also does, as you follow through with motion, is it cues your foot to land under your body, aka, not overstride.

  • (or, it tells you that you are indeed overstriding,….to get the answers to that one and how to fix related compensations, go check out the Running Form 101 workshop.)

"I hear about how the pelvis supposed to be tilted forward (like balancing fruit around your waist or something)?"

Based on our discussion above, can you start to see how this cue is also trying to affect that forward lean?


A "forward tilted pelvis" cue can also be used to:

  • avoid overstriding

  • create good "core stacking" (where from shoulders to hips, your entire torso is upright and strong)

  • And eliminate posterior pelvic tilt (aka old man butt syndrome…yea yea yea, go ahead and laugh, but it makes sense, OK?!)



I personally do NOT cue a forward tilted pelvis, aka anterior pelvic tilt unless a patient REALLY needs it. (And even then, I need a really good reason.)

Because too much anterior pelvic tilt can:

  • put too much stress on your low back creating low back pain

  • potentially result in tight hip flexors

  • and sometimes shut off your core, etc.

  • Basically, it can become another compensation and your body will find a way to cheat around.

What do you want ideally?

  • What we call "neutral spine" or that first picture above.

  • No "Kim K booty stance" with an anterior pelvic tilt.

  • No "old man butt syndrome" with a posteror pelvic (think about tucking your tail between your legs).

Your hips are your power house and you have the most access to that strength with that neutral alignment.

"Don’t heal strike!" vs "Don’t pay attention to how your foot lands"
Yup, I've seen both of these.

But quick review:

"Foot strike types can be categorized as forefoot strike, midfoot strike, and rear foot strike. "

https://enablingfitness.ca/2017/03/23/running-its-all-in-the-hips-part-1/

"At this time, there is limited evidence that any 1 foot strike pattern is more or less likely to cause a runner to sustain an injury.

However, this is an area of active research and data on this issue are emerging. One study on competitive collegiate runners suggested that runners with a rear foot strike pattern developed more repetitive overuse injuries when compared with runners with an forefoot strike pattern. And although these finding suggest possible association between foot strike patterns and running injuries, more work is necessary before broad conclusions on foot strike recommendations can be made to modify injury risk. "

Does that quote start to clear things up?

Based on how your body is made and how your brain perceives movement, heel striking might actually be really natural for you and when we look at hard core foot mechanics, you start every stride on your heel (want to learn more? Check out a podcast I did with Elisabeth from @runningexplained).

Heel striking has gotten a bad rap in the past when it essentially became demonized for any and all injures. Now, we know better.

Heavvvyy heal striking still isn't great for you because it IS putting extra stress on joints when muscles should be doing the job of braking, but in smaller amounts, taking into context the entire runner and how they move and injury history etc, it ain't so bad.

Which leads us into our final and only "bad" piece of running form advice…

"There is no wrong running form. Run how you want and feel comfortable because everyone is different."

Yeaaaa…um. I understand the sentiment behind this one…

Each runner's body is unique and to some extent, every one's form will be a little different. However, there are some common characteristics that are generally good to emulate or avoid (like overstriding).

But the reason I threw this one in here, is that *technically* the evidence-jury is still out on what the "perfect running form" is (wanna read more on that? Check out this blog post HERE).

What does this mean?

  • It means adjusting, fine-tuning, correcting your running form is a science and an art. And something that continues to evolve as we run more and gain more experience, get stronger, faster, and…older.

  • So there's a kernel of truth here.

  • You just have to know how to interpret it.

Now What?
Now that you know the truth behind these oversimplified running tips, how do you reasonably put these into practice without needing a degree in kinesiology?
  • Step 1: be honest about your form. Video yourself. (see a step by step breakdown in THIS blog)

  • Step 2: validate that your form is at a good foundational level. (you can only do this by getting eyes on it. READ THE BLOG.)

  • Step 3: pick 1-2 things you want to work on at a time. No more! Like we talked about above, knowing the WHY behind a running cue is what empowers you and helps you understand the correction or benefit it's trying to achieve. But since running is supposed to be a natural movement that you don't overthink, give yourself some patience, practice, and grace and focus on one thing at a time.

Now, put all of that out of your head for a second.

Let's Dare to Train Differently and take your running from to the next level.

  • Go outside and play a game of tag. (Yes, I'm being serious.)

  • Or borrow a friend or a friend's kid and play hide and seek.

  • Kickball.

  • Football (either one is fine).

  • Just something!

Why?

Because moving, responding, playing, completing a task, is how we hijack our overthinking and analytical brains and tap into that natural athleticism that is motor planning.

Think about it: how did someone teach you to play tag? They probably just shoved you and shouted "you're it!" That's it. End of tutorial. Game on! And you naturally responded and chased after them.

Ok, fine, let's say tag isn't your style any more but you do have access to space…somewhere! Outside or in a gym with some space to do a 60yd dash or maybe even an indoor track!

I'm not gonna lie; you're gonna feel a little crazy,

Probably a little weird.

But you're here and part of the running fit fam.

And around here, We Dare to Train Differently.

So embrace that, fam. And just lean into these drills.

(which by the way, these exercises and more are in my FREE running guide, along with an even more in-depth explanation on the what's and why's of them.)

Circuit: 2x of each, running maximum 100m each.

This fit in PERFECTLY as stride outs at the end of your run.

Directions:

Start in one of the position below. Ideally, get into position and set your watch to go off in 5secs or have a friend shout "go!". The point is, something external of you is telling you "GET UP AND GO NOW!" and you get up and take off running.

  • Supine/Lying Down to race

  • Prone/on your belly to race

  • Tall Plank to race

  • Overachiever points: switch which leg leads



You're going to feel a lot more core with these than you anticipated, once you get over the "omgosh this feels so stupid and awkward" phase.

With each variation, feel the movement.

Feel the transition of getting off the floor into a full run. Observe your own body and how it just makes everything happen and flow and…you don't have to think about every single step.

You just do.

You just move.

And this is the art side of the running form that's both a science and art.

The science is still developing. That's just the way it is. And with each research paper, we slot in one more puzzle piece into the larger picture, just in time for another article to say "nope, that's not how it goes".

*shoulder shrug*

So what do we fall back on? Natural movement. Our bodies. And trying to adapt running to your body and help you succeed as a strong, efficient, resilient runner.

All by Daring to Train Differently.

So what do you think, running fit fam? Go grab that FREE resource with those running drills (they're in the speed section, so feel free to tell that nosey nelly at the track you're doing speed work ;) ).

And…what running from questions do you have for me? Drop them down below in the comments and let's chat.

Until next time,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


 

REFERENCES


Jay, D. (2018). Running Rewired (pp. 23-33). Boulder: VeloPress.


Souza, R. (2016). An Evidence-Based Videotaped Running Biomechanics Analysis. Physical Medicine And Rehabilitation Clinics Of North America, 27(1), 217-236. doi: 10.1016/j.pmr.2015.08.006

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