You've done the work.
Read the books.
Watched the videos.
Saved the IG posts.
But how do you know? How do you really know if your running form is…good?
There's two answers.
First answer: It takes time and practice. And it changes with practice over time.
Second answer: You put it to the test.
What the heck is that supposed to mean, Dr. Whitt?
Hang in there. Let me explain.
Our running form is partly intuitive.
No one really teaches you how to run.
You just start doing it when you're a kid.
It's only as adults and we play and move less, that we need to actually learn how to run.
Crazy, I know!
At least I think so.
But then, I've made movement and running my medical profession.
With time and practice, we achieve what we believe is the gold standard of running forms.
Over time though, our bodies grow and change.
However, we can train through those changes with practice over time.
And our running form is no exception.
The problem is, we can't see our own running form. That's why we should have running form "check-ups". Just periods throughout our running year where we take the time to check in with our bodies and our form and make sure we pass …(my second answer).
Well, technically I've given you 3 here.
Use these tests as your guide to gauging where your form is at, how it responds to different loads, and to help you determine where you can make improvements.
Let's dive in.
Test #1: Does your form look like the elites?
Images by Getty Images
You don't have to run "like" them in regards to pace. But you can definitely emulate their form!
Take a video of yourself running.
I suggest capturing multiple angles including from the side, from the front, and from behind.
Compare your running form to an elite runner who does a similar distance to you.
Compare form, NOT body type! Each athlete is built differently due to the culmination of years of specific training, life events, and unique anatomical composition. What you're looking for is how their arms and legs move.
What looks different?
But what looks similar?
Does their head stack directly atop their shoulders?
Are their arms relaxed at their sides?
Are their shoulders tall and pulled back?
Are their feet landing directly below the center of their body?
Now take the time to answer these questions as you review the videos of yourself running.
See room for improvement? Try some of the circuits I mentioned in my previous blog posts.
Test #2: Can your running form hold up to speed?
Dr. Whitt, what does that mean?
Let's take it apart step by step.
Speed is the ultimate test of your running form.
Let's start with what speed is.
Running fast is moving your body quickly despite the force of gravity.
It's also moving the load of your body against the load of gravity, and doing it quickly.
And it feels like a ton of work, right?
So where does running form fit in with this?
Good running form is mandatory for speed/running fast because good running form ensures maximum tolerance to the loads we described above.
Good form ensures your body will be to tolerate, handle, the increased workload that is speed.
Because, what happens when you get fatigued, when you can't hold on anymore? What's the first thing to go?
As your running form deteriorates.
You get sloppy.
You're no longer running tall, with an open chest with equal arm swing.
You might start to bend forward at the waist or wave side to side through your core.
You might start to lean your head forward or allow your head to bobble and your knees might not come up as high.
All of these are signs that your body has reached its limit and gravity is starting to win.
So circling back to how is speed the ultimate test?
Speed challenges your form in a unique way.
It requires what we call in the physical therapy world "postural stability", meaning strong back muscles from your shoulders down through your hips to ensure you run tall and upright.
Speed also requires core strength from where you generate the power to run fast.
It demands appropriate hip and spine mobility and powerful leg strength and stability.
All of this to run "normal".
But even more so to run fast.
Speed is such a high load, such a large amount of sheer work and effort, that if any of these attributes above are missing, your form will become very sloppy very quickly as you try to sustain a challenging speed.
So the test?
Try sprinting a 400m.
Yes, even if you're a self-proclaimed marathoner!
I guess you can make it an 800m then.
But run it FAST!
And look and feel for breakdown in your form.
Can you sustain that top speed for the majority of the distance?
Is your body struggling to keep up, to stay tall, to run strong?
Or notice, did you totally crush those wicked paces?
Was your body able to deliver the power and strength you needed to finish the test?
Test #3: This test is optional. But in my opinion, the most fun.
Definitely the most lighthearted but still very effective.
Because sometimes looking at elites and comparing your form to theirs is a little too intimidating.
Or maybe you just really don't like filming yourself, I get it.
So watch a different film.
Watch a Mission Impossible Movie. Or almost any other Tom Cruise movie.
Now, go run like Tom Cruise.
Yes, I'm serious!
I suggest doing this test on a track so you can fully embrace the zoomies.
Will you feel kind of ridiculous running like Tom Cruise?
Or you might feel a like an unstoppable secret agent.
Either way, you will be practicing the FULL body movement that is running. You will feel how your entire body is engaged, activated, and pumping to make the cinematic running style of Tom Cruise happen.
But it'll click.
You'll get it.
Because you'll have an example in your head and theme song pumping in your ears and mission to save the world spurring you on.
This blog will self-destruct in 5 seconds.
Marie Whitt PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit