Why Do Runners Get Injured? – Running Form

Why Do Runners Get Injured? – Running Form

Why Do Runners Get Injured? – Running Form

In my previous post about running injuries (“Why Do Runners Get Injured?”), I focused on non-running activities like strength training, programming, scheduling, and more. In this post, I want to talk more about what you’re doing while you’re running – in other words, running form.

There’s a lot of information out there right now on what will make you a better runner, and, like most information about exercise and health, it can be conflicting and confusing. Barefoot running vs. high-tech footwear. Heel strike. Arm placement. Torso position. There are champions and critics of each new trend, so who should you listen to?

My first and most important answer is: you.

Listen to Your Body

I want to be point out first that, when it comes to running form, you should be in tune with your own body. “Listen” for twinges, aches, pains, fatigue, or tightness when you run. Exercise should be effortful, but it should make you feel great – or at least good. If exercise consistently has a negative effect on your body (not counting over-exertion factors like fatigue, nausea, a “bad day,” or energetic discomfort), it’s time to make a change! Your own body’s signals are a very reliable indicator of whether you’re doing things “right.”

Runners get injured often because their mental toughness is so great that they run right through twinges or tightness and into full-blown injuries. If you want to run faster, further, and longer throughout your lifespan, it pays to listen to your body!

In other words, what feels right is usually right!

Now for the guidelines…

When it comes to the overall form advice that has been doled out over the years, the basics are simple, unexciting, and time-tested. Like Marion Nestle, my favorite nutrition scholar, I believe that health advice that really works doesn’t get blown around by trends or radically new information. The same is true for running form.

Here are the most simple, effective tips for improving your running form, assuming that you are already strength training and following a structured training program:

  • Take short, fast strides, and lead with the knee (not the foot). Many runners get injured because they “gallop,” with the feet far overreaching the knees with each step. Keeping the foot strike under the knee upon landing automatically fixes heel strike issues. When you want to sprint, focus on dramatically increasing the tempo while keeping your stride length very short.
  • Run energetically. You should be running, not jogging. Your knees should be coming up and forward with each stride, and your foot should be hitting the ground quickly and then returning up towards the hip in a circular motion with each stride. I recommend using interval training and sprints (with rests built in) to teach your body to run faster and more economically.
  • Breathe on odd numbers. You may not realize this, but there is a slight difference in core stability on inhales and exhales. Exhalation tends to “firm up” the body, and inhalation tend to “relax” the body. So if you breathe in for two and out for two, you’re consistently stiffening up on the same side, over and over. You can balance out hip stability out by breathing on odd numbers – inhale for four steps and exhale for three steps, for example.
  • “Lean” forward. Please don’t read this as: “hunch over.” Instead, shift your center of gravity of your entire body forward, so that you would fall forward unless you started running. Then, maintain this position throughout the run.
  • Keep your hips as level as you can. Notice I say… “as you can.” When you’re running, the legs should be the primary mover and your knees should come up on every step, rather than the hips rotating around to facilitate the movement. However, not all of these issues can be fixed by proper form – you have to correct the difference with strength training.
  • Warm up for success. Instead of stretching to warm up, do fast, explosive form drills as warmups to improve your overall form, so that you can teach your body to run with pep in your step. These can include fast high skipping, squat jumps with a spin, high knees, skaters, and butt kickers. These moves train your legs to step high and light when you run. Try doing each move I just listed for 45 seconds as a circuit as your warmup.
  • Know when to tap out. Finally, in what I know will be the most unpopular advice for runners, you also need to know when to quit a particular run. For example, if you notice that your feet have started dragging/shuffling or that there is a twinge of pain behind your knee (or anywhere in your legs), stop running immediately. If you walk for a few minutes and can resume the running without the pain returning, it was just a passing spasm and you’ve effectively “walked it off.” If you resume running and the pain comes right back or your feet are still dragging, you need to call it a day.
Want to Improve Your Own Running Form?

Interested in talking about race training and improving your running form? ‘Tis the season! If you’re a beginner, the next half marathon is in the late spring – a perfect amount of time to train! Let’s get those movement issues fixed so that you can be the best runner you can be, and feel like a true athlete! Fill out the form below to get started with a consultation, and to receive a free copy of my book Injury-Proof! 

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