Updated: Sep 5, 2022
Can I just be honest with you, running fit fam?
Let's talk about maybe a not so popular opinion…or maybe a truth you don't really want to hear...
But we have to talk about it anyway.
Fixing your running form is not always a 5 minute hack.
Yes, there are somethings that are presto-chango! Wow-so-much-better-immediately! Like running tall, open chest, general running posture awareness type stuff.
But other running form compensation corrections like foot strike (if you actually need to change it) or knees that cave in or feet and/or lower legs that whip out to the side…things like that are probably going to take some time to resolve.
And I'm not sure there's an accurate "estimated time of arrival" for your new and improved running form.
This stuff takes time, practice, and consistency. (I know, not the sexy quick-fix that instagram or tiktok or social media in general claims to deliver.)
However, with the right cue or the right exercise, some runners just "get it" and voila! Fixed running form!
Other runners are going to need more long term solutions that require building progressive strength and motor control.
Both are OK!
Both are COMPLETELY normal.
And that's WHY you shouldn't get discouraged.
It's always worth it to be working on your running form because as of right now, the best information we have in recent literature about injury prevention is 1) healthy joint mobility 2) strength training 3) running form 4) cross training.
(that's it, the end, thank you for coming to my Ted Talk. ok, just kidding.)
So let's jump in and talk about a couple funky running gaits or compensations that either I've seen or you all have messaged me about.
Let's get you some answers!
This was a great question from a member of the running fit fam:
"My husband says I sometimes bounce when I run- that’s what I’d like to fix, it’s mainly when I'm tired at the end of a long run. How can I fix this myself?"
What it is:
"bounding, a strategy to increase float time to increase overall stride length". So we're all on the same page, I'm imagining the bounding/bouncing compensation as you running and it's noticeable that your head is bobbing up and down vs running and your head appears at a constant level.
Why don't we like bounding?
It's wasted energy (and nobody wants that). Think of all the hard work you're doing to just run and add additional work to it by trying to overcome gravity some more by also bouncing UP. I think we'd all agree we want to use that same energy to keep running forward.
So why is this happening?
We're using the same Souza article from last week (check out that blog post and disclaimer HERE). I'll be honest, I learned something new and it was AMAZING!
Souza is hypothesizing that bounding is a compensation used by a runner when they don't have enough hip extension.
Quick lesson: drawing your leg back, winding up to kick a soccer ball is hip extension (plus some other movement, but I digress). Swinging that leg forward is hip flexion (plus extra…you get it).
Souza also mentions in his article how freaking important hip extension is for runners, but states, we don't know what the ideal amount is. (that's the research world for ya…). Then how do we know hip extension is important at all?
Well, check this out:
"Commonly observed compensations for persons with reduced hip extension include (1) increased lumbar spine extension (think sticking your butt out like Kim K), (2) bounding, a strategy to increase float time to increase overall stride length in the absence of adequate hip extension, (3) increased overstriding, including excessive reaching during initial contact as a strategy to increase stride length, and (4) increased cadence to increase running speed in the presence of a limited hip extension."
The point: the ability to have and access good, normal, healthy range of motion in your hip is priceless! (And something I've been preaching from the very beginning.)
How to fix this:
No, I didn't say hip flexor stretches… "It is traditionally believed that lack of hip extension may be associated with reduced flexibility of the iliopsoas muscle…".
Mobility Drills, specifically ones that target all 6 degrees of freedom (aka 6 different ways your hips move).
Flexion. Extension. Abduction. Adduction. Internal Rotation. External Rotation.
1 hip flexor stretch is NOT gonna do all that for you.
Work smarter, not harder by Daring to Train Differently.
So what are these amazing hip drills?
If you've grabbed my FREE running guide, then you're ahead! If you haven't snagged your copy, grab it HERE! Inside, you'll find my favorite hip drills: shin boxes, the worlds greatest stretch, and squat <>crawl sequence.
Will these hip drills alone fix my bounding?
It could be a little more complicated than that.
Check out this part from Souza's article:
"Vertical displacement (how high you bounce up or how much your head or more technically center of mass in your pelvis moves up) during running has key implications for injury mechanics as well as energetics. (aka don't waste your precious energy.) Increased excursion of the center of mass vertically has been found to be predictive of the peak knee extensor moment, the peak vertical ground reaction force, as well as braking impulse during running, all very important variables in running mechanics."
"This variable can become a problem in “bounders,” runners who increase float time, often in response to other deficits (eg, reduced hip extension)."
Ok, great we worked on that.
But let's say you're still a-bouncing.
Now what? "The end result (of bounding) is increased work required by the runner to perform this type of running. It has been found that increasing cadence by 10% during running can reduce significantly the vertical displacement of the center of mass."
Now side bar: changing and adapting your cadence takes time.
And other research has found that it is easiest to increase your cadence by adjusting it 3-7% at a time. In other words, this is a process! For some runners, it may only take 3 runs. For others, it might take 1 month worth of runs!
Either way, all you bounders out there, work on your hip extension and slowly increase in your cadence UP TO 10%.
Forward Trunk Lean
Another great request from you all: "I need help with leaning forward and not running so upright…"
I answered this runner back with: "what makes you think you're perhaps NOT leaning forward during your run?"
"I guess I just *feel* like I’m running with a super upright posture. I definitely feel the change in my posture/lean and glute engagement with a slight uphill grade. And if I actively focus on that forward lean ,I feel the “fall” and pick up my pace. Maybe I do lean more than I realize but it’s hard to watch yourself run!"
Ya'll are smart.
Let's back you all up with some science:
"Trunk lean is a variable that has received little attention in the scientific literature. However, this is not the case in the popular running non–peer-reviewed literature."
This is why when this runner initially asked about forward lean I was like "forward what?" We just don't read about it in the academic literature. But it's everywhere on the internet, running magazines, etc.
So, can I say it's "super important you forward lean because the evidence says so!"?
No. I can't.
But I do understand the thought theory behind, which this runner described beautifully as a "fall", falling forward onto that next foot which results in her picking up her pace.
Again, this specific form critique is about helping you become an energy efficient runner. Because the opposite of this, is super upright, straight, tall posture which *could* potentially lead to bounding. So maybe, focusing on that forward lean, forward fall onto the next foot, could be another bounding-solution?
How to practice this forward lean?
I actually go into depth about this in my Running Form 101 Workshop.
Interestingly though, I talk about it from a stride length perspective rather than a posture perspective since we're all about being evidence-based here. If you want to dive deeper into the why's and how's of forward leaning in a beneficial way with a unique, research-backed perspective that won't be so overwhelming and confusing, I highly suggest you go check that out.
But here's a sneak preview.
1. Standing with your feet together, trust-fall yourself forward.
2. Allow your body to react and catch itself. What happens (when you don't face plant) is you naturally take a step forward.
3. Do it on the other side. Again, allow that step to happen.
That is the purpose of the forward lean-to: take advantage of gravity and your body's natural response (my professional opinion at least).
"Any tips on how to really engage my glutes for power?"
The reason I wanted to include this:
A lot of runners message me saying they can't feel their glutes working when they're running and they feel it negatively impacts their running form.
Which leads me to ask: "what is it you do want to feel? What do you think you should be feeling?" (answer this down in the comments below for me!)
Let's have another honest moment: when I'm squatting or deadlifting, or even running over level ground, I don’t necessarily feel my glutes either, but that doesn't mean they're not engaged.
This is different than the times where odd muscular compensations happen and our glutes decide to take the day off and dump the work into calves, feet, etc and cause shin splints and other running injuries.
These are the not the same thing. Want to read more about glutes and shin splints? Check out this blog post HERE!
Otherwise, if you'd like to feel more engaged glutes to see how your running form feels or change..
Use quick, corrective exercises as part of your running warm up to fire up your glutes included different banded walks
Still struggling to feel them? Run up a hill. I promise their there.
And like we mentioned at the beginning, it might not be a strength or activation deficit. It might be a mobility deficit that has your glutes feeling weak or non-existent. Go use those hip mobility drills in my FREE Running Guide to work on hip extension.
(duh duh duuuh! Dramatic music!)
What it is:
"Overstriding is a description of a running pattern in which the foot lands in front of the person’s center of mass, and is associated with reaching, including hip flexion with knee extension, before initial contact."
But what does that mean?
For being one of the most common running form errors and compensations out there, it's difficult to explain.
(I actually walk you through an evidence-based way to assess if you're overstriding in last week's BLOG POST. But it can be a bit cumbersome. I have an easier way to assess you're likelihood of overstriding it in my Running Form 101 Workshop).
What this definition is describing is a way your body is trying to cheat.
It's trying to go faster, cover more ground, or compensate for either mobility or other physical deficits. Or, you may be over striding because your brain is receiving information or has developed a habit where it thinks that's how you should run. (I only know that last one because that's my problem, but only on my right leg. It's weird.)
Overstriding is where you're reaching forward with your leg beyond your most efficient stride length. When that happens, it inadvertently creates more work and harder work for your body, which is what causes injury.
And that's why overstriding become a "scary" word.
And it's easy to see why:
"Increased stride length has been found to be associated with an increased risk of tibial stress fractures in runners. However, it is likely that a long stride is not the cause of high impacts associated with stress fractures and other running injuries. Rather, the presence and magnitude of overstriding may be the key risk factor."
How to Fix it:
Keep trying to visualize it and understand it.
If my own descriptions didn't help, that's ok! Check out Jay Dicharry's description of the Pendulum swing. He has a good visual demonstrating how our legs should swing like a balanced pendulum, not biased towards only swinging in the front.
Work on hip extension, again.
Souza in his article suggests that overstriding occurs again, because of a lack of hip extension. Your body recognizes it doesn't have full range of motion because of the missing hip extension so it's trying to make up for that and still take an efficient stride forward by compensating with extra hip flexion.
Yes, something more actionable!
The reason this is supported by the literature and potentially helps is that smaller more frequent steps within your efficient stride length is well…more energy efficient. And our bodies like that! Our brains on the other hand, have a hard to adapting to new motor movement habits. So be patient with yourself as your gradually increase your cadence by 3-7% at a time.
"These data suggest that an increase in cadence can result in several biomechanical changes in running form, many of which may be desirable in specific runners. For example, it has been demonstrated that increasing cadence by 10% can reduce center of mass vertical excursion, braking impulse, and mechanical energy absorbed at the knee, as well as decrease peak hip adduction angle and peak hip adduction and internal rotation moments during running."
Changes to your running form can take time.
And that's OK!
Give yourself some grace, patience, and don't be afraid to take videos of yourself running to compare before and after.
Our form naturally changes with age, experience, fatigue, weight loss or weight gain, pregnancy, you name it! That's why it's ok to occasionally check-in.
Your turn now! Drop it in the comments below: what running form compensation do you struggle with? Which ones did I miss above? Let's make sure you're running your best!
Don’t' forget, resources to do just that:
Until next time, Dare to Train Differently,
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit
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