Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"The One Where Phoebe Runs"

As I watched Phoebe (AKA Lisa Kudrow) running - or rather, flailing - wildly through Central Park on a Friends re-run (which, might I add, just might be the greatest sitcom ever!), I began to think about running form. Is a "good" running form imperative to get from point A to point B in the most timely manner?

Often I see people outside, perhaps along the street, cruising along in a relaxed jog. Some have strides very different from mine, and I note that others seem to move rather inefficiently (i.e. expending unnecessary energy). However, talking to one of my friends who has a self-proclaimed "awkward" gait, I wonder how applicable the typical don't-swing-your-arms-over-your-midline advice can be in a sport where individuals' strides are anything but universal. When asking my said friend to elaborate on her evaluation of herself, she explained that despite her many futile attempts to emulate the pristine stride we see in televised, elite races, her body simply wouldn't respond. Because of how she was built, it was physically impossible to run in such a fashion.

This thought brings back part of a previous blog, referencing the role of DNA and genetic endowment in one's running potential. Is it possible to force the commonly-prescribed running form on someone who doesn't have the means to do so? Is this setting people up for failure, discouraging those who don't fit the "runner's mold?"

Jeff Galloway offers some very good advice on improving running form, yet not at the expense of your natural stride. Some of his tips include a good posture (without a forward/backward lean), staying close to the ground without excessive bounce, and focusing on stride frequency rather than stride length. Looking ahead is also important and can help promote a good posture. Eliminating tension in the shoulders, hands, and even face allows you to have a more relaxed stride. Galloway also gives a drill you can perform 1-2 times/week to isolate and improve stride frequency and foot turnover:

"As runners become faster, their stride length decreases. Therefore, the way to get faster is to increase the turnover of feet and legs. Even those who lack a fast bone in their bodies will benefit from turnover drills because the teach the body to find a more efficient motion.

The Drill

After a slow 1-mile warm-up, select a level and traffic-free stretch of road, trail or track. Without picking up your speed, count the number of times either your left foot or your right comes down in 30 seconds. Jog or walk for a minute or so and then run back, counting again for 30 seconds, with the goal of increasing the count by one or two. Repeat this four to six times, with the same projected increase each time but without a significant increase in effort."

Aside from speed, another reason one should aim to improve their running form, whether they be competitive, recreational, fast or slow, is to lessen the occurrence and frequency of poor-form-related injuries. With the exception of engrained biomechanics, consciously checking yourself to correct controllable factors in your form can make you both a more economical and less injury-prone athlete.

Running Planet has a list of ten pointers to help anyone achieve a more efficient and smooth stride:
  • Foot Strike Under Your Center of Gravity

  • Flat-Footed Touchdown (i.e. landing on neither your toes nor your heal)

  • High Cadence ("Try to attain a stride rate of 90 strides/minute at all running velocities.")

  • Dorsi-Flexed Foot (i.e. raising your toes. This "puts your foot in the proper position for a flat-footed touchdown, pre-stretching your calf to maximize energy return, and are also encourages a “triple response” in which your knee and hip flex into proper running stride position.")

  • Low Ground Contact Time (Strength training and plyometrics will decrease ground contact time by developing stronger, more powerful muscles)

  • High Heel Kick (Running Planet cautions, "You don’t need to artificially pull your heel high. Just stay very loose and relaxed. Let the natural motion and momentum of your stride pull your heel high.")

  • Backward Arm Drive (Forward arm drive may promote over-striding and unnecessarily wastes energy.)

  • Bent Knees ("A common mistake many runners make, especially when trying to increase their speed is to reach out with a straight leg. A straight leg will cause the braking effect as well as drastically increasing the amount of impact stress on your knees and hips. Keep your knees soft and slightly bent.")

  • Slight Forward Lean (Don't lean at your hips, but instead, your entire body. The lean should be very slight.)

  • Run Easy (i.e. maintain a relaxed, smooth position that is comfortable and natural.)

If nothing else, I hope you take at least this from everything above:

Rachel Green: It's just the way you run is a little...
[waves her arms like crazy]
Phoebe Buffay: Oh, yeah. Well, I wasn't embarrassed running next to Miss "Ch Ch Ch"
[imitating Rachel]

In other words, for your sake and everyone else with eyes, please do not run like Phoebe. However, do not be too rigid and self-conscious of your running form like Rachel (AKA Jennifer Aniston), because if you relax and make a habit of more efficient techniques to the best of your ability, your body will likely begin to fall into a natural and comfortable stride.

Something to ponder on your next run.

No comments:

Post a Comment