How Can I Improve my form?
This is one of the most frequent questions coaches hear. Before getting into a discussion of form or giving advice to a trainee, I usually suggest that they come with me to the finish area of a local road race, so they can watch the lead runners come in. It is always very apparent that in the lead pack, as in the whole pack, there are some runners with great-looking form and then there are some with butt-ugly form. What I ask the trainee to look at is not the display of form as much as the degree of relaxation. The lead runners are certainly fast, after all they are in the lead at the finish, but if you study their concentration, you can see that they maintain a more relaxed form even under race conditions.
Another thing to do is to go down to a local track area and listen to the advice of the running coach. The number one thing you will hear the coach say during a workout is, Relax. The coach will be making all kinds of points to the runners, but the basic thing the coach wants the runners to do, no matter how hard they are pushing, is to relax.
So relax, and let's take a look at how to improve your running form.
Have a buddy videotape your running—both at the start of a run and near the end of a long run. You will end up with a valuable tool to assess any running posture problems. Here are some of the most common problems as well as some tips on how to improve them.
Increase the rhythm of your arm swing and concentrate on shortening your swing. Think of running on hot coals to shorten your reach with each foot stride forward.
Learn to relax the palms of your hands by gently touching your thumb to the middle finger. Your fingers should be loose, so make sure you do not grip a fist as you run. Practice running with a couple of soda crackers held in your hands. Cup your hands with thumbs up top.
Your knees should be lifted just high enough to clear the ground. Too high a knee lift causes wasted energy—most runners are training for a forward-motion sport.
Holding the palms of your hands inward and slightly upward will keep your elbows near your sides. Think of your arm swing being in the general area of your heart. Too high an arm swing results in your heart having to pump uphill. Think of the words relaxed and rhythmic. An increase in your arm swing can help increase the turnover rate of tired legs.
Look at the horizon and concentrate on keeping the head in the same plane. Do some accelerations with an increased body lean, stressing lower knee lift and try to think of reaching with your arms rather than pumping them.
There really is no perfect form. Check out the top finishers at some local races: you will see some gazelle-like form alongside some butt-ugly form. The important thing to remember is to stay relaxed, stay rhythmic and push hard. Much of your running form is a gift from your parents, but you can make the most of your gift with some attention to fine tuning your individual form.