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How I fixed my running form in 6 weeks and how you can too
Improving your running form. There’s nothing more fundamental when it comes to running and our vulnerability to injury. It’s at the core of every step we take. But if you think that all you need to know is that we were born to run, then it’s time to think again.
Maybe we were born to run. But look around. At a time when the majority of runners suffer at least one injury every year, there’s clearly something that we runners are missing.
That’s where running form comes in.
Looking beyond the latest running fad
It’s not simply a case of following the latest running fad. The idea that take off your running shoes and all will be fine.
Even the most ardent barefoot fanatics would recognise that the role that barefoot running can play depends on how it affects the way we run.
But if your running form is riddled with problems, then is the simple act of removing your shoes…or slipping on some a more lightweight, less cushioned model…or trying the latest new running fad…is that really going to fix your injury problems?
From my experience, the answer is a clear ‘no’.
For many years, my running experience was a bit of a joke. I’d make steady improvements as I trained for my latest goal – a wildly popular event like the wonderful London Marathon or sometimes something a little more low key but even more full of character. I’d often feel as though I’d be on track for a new personal best and then…
Injury would strike.
Plantar fasciitis was a common enemy, but occasionally other injuries would throw up some more challenges.
It was a depressingly familiar pattern. Progress punctuated by despair and frustration. For every step forward, a couple of steps back. And no new running fad would change that picture (sometimes it would just make things worse).
But this wasn’t just a depressingly familiar story for me. Countless other runners have similar experiences all the time. Maybe you have too?
Relentless forward progress
The turning point for me was when I realised the importance of getting back to basics. The moment when I started to appreciate that running really is a skill and that it doesn’t just happen.
Now, I don’t believe in silver bullets, magical panaceas that can cure all running problems and challenges. But I suspect it’s no coincidence that it was only when I turned to the most fundamental aspect of running – how we run – that my steady sequence of running injuries came (touch wood) to an end.
But first things first. I had to actually find my perfect running form in the first place. And I guessed that wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
For a start, the ideal running style for you is likely to be pretty different to the ideal running style for another runner. We’re all different after all. So I knew that the answer would be something tailored to me – my build, my mechanics and everything else that characterises me as a runner.
At the same time, I realised that there are some pretty fundamental aspects of good running form that I would somehow need to adopt – and some equally fundamental running gait weakness and vulnerabilities that I would need to avoid.
Your roadmap to injury-free running
The answer eventually dawned on me. What I realised (admittedly after quite a while) was that when you need to get to a destination, but you’re uncertain of the route, there are few things more useful than a clear roadmap.
Fortunately, there are a few good roadmaps out there. Just be aware that some provide a rather more reliable route to your injury-free destination than others.
Take these three roadmaps below.
At one end of the spectrum, you have running schools. Many runners have waxed lyrical about their usefulness.
But this option comes at a price – a large one. And unless you’re lucky enough to be located close to one, and can find sufficiently large blocks of time in your diary, then it’s a major practical challenge too.
Magazine advice on improving your running form
At the other end of the spectrum, you have the tips and tricks you’ll pick up from a magazine. This will often involves changes to a single aspect of the way you run.
With that approach, though, you’re playing with fire. Does it really make sense to make a single change to your running form and not expect that to affect the rest of your body as you run?
The dangers of the magazine-style approach have been neatly highlighted by Jeff Gaudette, Head Coach at RunnersConnect.
He tells the story of a runner who read a magazine article about avoiding heel-striking. Next thing, she was consciously attempting to land on her forefoot.
But that conscious shift was done in isolation. No attempts were made to fix fundamental problems, for example relating to her posture.
As a result, her overstriding hadn’t been fixed. All she had done was transfer impact forces away from her heel and onto her forefoot.
She suffered a stress fracture.
Online running form courses
The third option is the one that I opted for. It’s an online programme that walks you through development of proper running form. And it’s what I’ll focus on in the rest of this post.
An alternative approach to improving your running form
The Proper Running Form course was developed by expert coach Jeff Gaudette (mentioned above). He neatly sums up the thinking behind the course in the quote below:
Runners shouldn’t be going around willy nilly, reading the latest article about “proper form” and then trying to change one singular aspect. They need a comprehensive, step-by-step plan that addresses how to improve form in a logical fashion.
More importantly, they need a plan to develop the strength, flexibility and awareness to allow their body to make these gradual changes.
Below I set out what the course involves. I’ll then give you my overall rating of the course.
What do you get with the Proper Running Form course?
Personally, I think you can split the course into three different parts.
Proper Running Form: Core course
The first aspect is the essence of the course. It’s where you learn the basics and science behind each movement in the running gait cycle. And it’s where you’re shown the practical steps needed to apply that knowledge: the specific drills and exercises you need to perform; and how you should perform them.
The core course is split into six separate weeks, covering the following areas:
- introduction to running biomechanics;
- posture and arm carriage;
- hip extension;
- push off, recovery and knee lift;
- foot strike and cadence;
- fixing common problems.
This six-week approach worked great for me for a couple of reasons.
First, dividing the course into six parts helps ensure you follow a logical sequential approach to improving your running form. (And it helps you avoid the kind of mistakes that lead to injury – recall the stress fracture injury I mentioned earlier.)
Second, and just as importantly, the six-part approach makes the challenge of improving your running form far less daunting.
Would I be able to dedicate a serious block of time to make inroads into the course in one go? No, that’s not really an option (as any other parents of babies and toddlers would know).
Can I dedicate a small amount of time when I get the chance, ensuring that I make progress on one key aspect of running form before moving onto the next? Yes, for me, that’s far more manageable.
Proper Running Form: Bonus material
Whereas I consider the core part of the course to be essential to any runner looking to improve their running form, the second part of the course I’d describe as a bonus.
It comprises a series of video discussions with a guest instructor. That gives you a deep dive into specific issues of interest. And it makes for fascinating viewing, not least given the quality of the instructors involved:
- Dr Brian Heiderscheit (co-director of the Neuromuscular Biomechanics Laboratory at University of Wiconsin-Madison);
- Dr Greg Lehman (physio and strength and conditioning expert);
- Matt Phillips (run conditioning coach and sports massage therapist);
- Jay Dicharry (author of the excellent Anatomy for Runners
book and Director of the REP Biomechanics lab in Oregon);
- Pete Larson (the man behind the great RunBlogger blog and author of Tread Lightly;
- Dr Irene Davis (director of the Spaulding National Running Center at Harvard Medical School.
But, from my perspective, this is the icing on the cake. If you’re pushed for time, as I found myself, then it’s not essential viewing. And you can return to these videos at any time, when you do have a bit more time.
Proper running form course: Optional video analysis
You then receive a detailed breakdown. This includes information on, for example, the length of your stride, hip drop, posture and foot pronation. You also receive specific recommendations on aspects of your running form that you need to fix.
Accessing the Proper Running Form course
The core and bonus parts of the course that I mentioned above are accessed online. From the Proper Running Form training site, you can then download the material so that you go through it at any time. The screenshot below shows what your training site looks like:
As mentioned above, I didn’t use the video analysis option so can’t comment on this (though given my experience with the other parts of the course, I’d expect this to be pretty straight-forward as well).
How good is the Proper Running Form course?
I was very impressed with the course, as I fed back to Jeff himself. It successfully provides a comprehensive guide to proper running form, while also giving you the practical steps required to put that into practice.
The ideas are explained clearly and in as jargon-free a way as possible. So this is suitable for any runner looking to improve their running form (and who isn’t?). Beginners will get a huge amount of this course. And that’s also the case for experienced runners, as well.
The quality of the course didn’t surprise me – I’ve followed Jeff’s Strength Training for Runners course, as well, and that’s one high-quality programme.
I would recommend, though, that you run through the core parts of the course first. That way you can make real progress quickly and achieve some momentum as you start to fix your running form. Then return to the bonus material at a later time, when you get a moment.
Also, if you buy through a link on this post, keep your receipt. I’m putting together a bonus, which I’ll forward on to you soon. Just contact me, include your receipt and I’ll send the bonus through as soon as it’s ready.
So to sum up, I thought the Proper Running Form course was terrific. It’s suitable for beginners and more experienced runners. And it’s a great way to fix your running form in as little as six weeks.
More information on your running course options
You have two options when it comes to the course.
The first option is the full six-week training course, including video gait analysis. This costs $149 – a little under £100 at the time of publishing this post.
The second option is the one I took up. It comprises the full six-week training course, with the core course and the bonus elements I describe above.
The only thing it doesn’t have is video gait analysis.
At the time of writing, this option costs $69 – a bit less than £45 at current exchange rates. Or, as I think about it, not very different from what the average runner spends, over the course of a week or two, to fuel their coffee habit! (Yep, I’m guilty of that too.)
You can access the discount option for the full course (minus video gait analysis) here.