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Will Adjusting Form Make You a Better Runner?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whenever friends or family see me running around our neighborhood, they know it’s me right away.  I have a very distinct run, or as I like to joke, a distinct “shuffle”.  Over the years I’ve tried to adjust the way I run, because I think it could help me get faster.  So far, that has been totally unsuccessful.  I blame my dad for the problem because he runs exactly the same way I do.  It must be genetic.

My problem is that all of the movement in my legs comes from the knee down.  My feet don’t come very far off the ground and I don’t have any lift in my knees.  I know if I could get my knees up and my quads working a little more, I’d have additional power and potentially, additional speed.  I’ve worked with a running coach to try and correct the issue, but at this point, it’s hard to change something I’ve been doing for so long.  Perhaps if I would have tried much earlier in my running career, I would have had more success.  A new study proposes that people naturally become better runners, just by running more.  Although I can’t say the same applied in my case, the results are pretty interesting.

The study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, followed 10 women on a 10-week, self-paced program for new runners.  Each woman visited a lab before started the program to have their aerobic capacity, running form and running economy assessed.  “Running economy, also known as running efficiency, is a measure of how much oxygen a person uses to run at a particular pace — in essence, how hard it is to run at that speed. Efficiency is considered one of the determinants of running success.  A more economical runner requires less energy than others and presumably should be able to run farther or faster.”  It’s no surprise that the new runners were not very economical in the beginning, but that improved as the 10-week training program progressed. 

Additional tests over the 10-weeks found that the women improved their speed and endurance, and also improved their running economy (their ability to use oxygen increased by about 8.5%.)  There were also changes in running stride which ended up making running easier.  For example, their legs became more flexed as they left the ground which allows for a quicker turnover and increased speed.  They also increased stability in their feet as they struck the ground, which indicates becoming more comfortable with the movement of running. 

This study was done on a very small, specific group of people.  The results won’t necessarily translate to all runners, but the study’s author feels it can lead to some important takeaways:   “You can optimize your gait naturally,” she says, “by becoming more conscious of your running movement and how it feels.” Your body, at least in the early stages of becoming a runner, can be a fine and knowledgeable coach.”

My advice is to stick with what feels comfortable.  I know I’ll never have the long stride and leg lift of an Olympic sprinter.  But as long as I can stay injury-free and enjoy what I’m doing, that’s what is most important to me.
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CECELW 2/19/2021
I've never heard of CHI walking Report
MJ7DM33 1/4/2021
Thanks Report
MAREE1953 6/28/2020
Love reading the comments as much as the story. I have a love-hate relationship with running. I hate when I see it as a part of the crossfit workout of the day, but LOVE the endorphins that flood through me when the run is finished. Now I try to remind myself how wonderful running makes me feel. My favorite running shoes also motivate me. Do what it takes to keep yourself active! Longevity depends on it!! Report
DALLEN316 6/2/2020
This is a helpful artical. You answered questions that I have had . Thank you Report
Great information. Report
Unless you're trying to be elite, it's not that important Report
Unless you're trying to be elite, it's not that important Report
Thank You............. Report
Changing your gait could cause you worse problems that you initial feel you already have. I have knee issues but if I consistently wear a knee support brace I do just fine. I incorporate a stretching routine after every run and have been strength training to build up the muscles in my legs. All seems to be working. Thank you for playing this article. Report
I'm a big proponent of the approach of running how it feels natural. There are so many people with free advice about how you "should" be running - and at first, I used to obsess over it. Probably not coincidentally, that was also when I injured myself over... and over... and over.

Now, I run in a way that allows me to go the distance without injuries. I'm sure it doesn't look like the graceful striding of a finely-tuned Kenyan marathoner - I'm pigeon-toed, I'm a forefoot runner, and I supinate like crazy - but I'm not especially concerned with how I look to other people. Running happy and healthy is my #1 goal. :) Report
I'm not so much as a new runner as a repetitive beginner. I run for a few months, stop for a few months longer and start again.

I do monitor my distance, time and heart rate (which I believe can equate to running economy - correct me if I'm misunderstanding) and my running economy certainly increases.

I also try to think about my running form when running and also if I take longer strides I do find that I tire less quickly, though my issue is that my mind wanders (one of the pleasures of running for me) and I fall back into my more stumpy steps. Report
As a former track, cross country and road running coach who trained women almost exclusively I think your problem is one of a lack of leg strength. Trying to run efficiently without a quality strength training programme is often an exercise in futility. The other issue is running mechanics, you runs from the hips not with the legs. All of the leg motion should come from the hip joint with only the push off for the next stride involving the leg muscles. For more information on good running mechanics check my post in the forum on the teams F.I.T. Females in Training or Resistance Bands and Bodyweight Training. Report
Thank you so much for your article. I've been running for about 10 weeks now, and while my breath and stamina have improved, I still "shuffle-jog" rather than run, and when I try to "run" it feels awkward and out of control to me. I was beginning to think I wasn't built to run. I'm so grateful to know that I'm not the only shuffler and so I'll just keep on keepin' on. Report
before I had kids I had a weird way of running. People would often comment on how I ran asking if I was trying to work on my calves - which were already big because of the way I ran.. I ran 'on my toes' like I was always in a sprinting form even though I wasn't sprinting. I wasn't able to change that until I was forced to take a year off from running/jogging due to a high risk pregnancy. After I was able to start up again all my muscle was gone so I was able to retrain in a more efficient way! Report
great info , thanks ! Report
Running barefoot has improved my form. Report
I have trouble running for a long period of time. It is hard to keep my breathing in sync. Any advice?? Report
I tried running two lamp posts and walking two but I do most walking because I go walking with three elderly ladies, two of them are i75 years old and cannot run so I can only try my lamp post when they are not walking on mornings. Interesting blog. Report
I've heard about Chi running too - a friend recommended it years ago. I'm finally off to check it out! Report
I have been working on a 5k running program and lately have been researching more about proper form. I really want to be careful and avoid injury. It makes a lot of sense what this blog says about everybody having their own individual, comfortable style of running. I plan to pay attention more to my style to make sure I'm not doing anything majorly wrong but at the same time try not to over-think it which can be somewhat of an issue for me. Report
i don't run either with my age and size.... that would be impossible... but i can sure walk fast when i have to... hats off to all of you that can run... Report
I wish I could still run PERIOD. Report
I ran while my husband watched on a vacation where I had some confidence in my skill. He suggested more arm pumping and I realized that you could change things and find more comfort. I say if you are learning to run and you trust an advisor/coach..try a few things might enjoy the outcomes!!! Report
"I have a very distinct run, or as I like to joke, a distinct “shuffle”. LOL!!!

Sounds like me too! I don't really care how I look when I run because just the fact that I'm out there exercising is all good to me. However, in the past few months that I have been jogging, I have gotten faster or maybe it's just I've gotten more "economical".

I've been doing the same run for awhile now (I enjoy the view so I have no desire to change it up at this time). When I first started, it used to take me 36-37min to do the whole run. I'm now doing the same run in 32-34min so I have become better at something. Report
I don't think you should fight what your body does. Different people have different forms. A natural form for someone who ran a lot barefoot before switching to shoes is a lot more like your gait it sounds like. That is a natural form that reduces impact because you don't land on your heel so much. This isn't really a bad thing it is just you. I have been trying to concentrate a bit more on my form over the years but I don't think it has done as much for me as just running more has. You have run several marathons and long races so I am sure your form isn't doing too bad for you. :) Report
Very interesting!

My parents recently overhauled their running form using the Chi Running technique - which focuses on a mid-foot strike and a slight forward pitch to the upper body. My dad used to have a lot of trouble with his knee, but this has greatly dissipated since he has started the Chi Running. My mom has found her endurance greatly improved.

I know that this is anecdotal, but I saw such a significant improvement while running a marathon with them earlier this month, that now I'm starting to read the Chi Running book! Since I'm not training for anything over the winter, I figure it's the perfect time to try and improve my form. I'm hoping for some improvement with my knees and my IT band, which gives me some trouble now. Report
I don't run normally - just do a lot of walking (very brisk) and weight work. My form has improved naturally for the minimal running I do, such as to catch a bus.

I think it depends on what part of the form. When I was young, my step mother pushed on me the idea that I had to make both toes point straight forward. My running in P.E. got all messed up. (Of course, a serious ankle sprain, unrelated, didn't help either.) On the other hand, even with walking I can tell the difference when I get my arms in the right L shape rather than hanging down by my sides. I go measurably faster with less effort. Report
I noticed that for some reason my right foot likes to turn in for about my first mile. Not a huge amount just a slight angle. I also do the same thing as coach Jen with running from my knees down that's usually towards the end of my run though so this morning I tried to push it a little more but it seems like once my legs are tired they have their mind made up and are only going to push harder for little spurts here and there once they are tired. Report
When training for the Austin half I had a trainer looking at the way I ran as well as looking at the way I bend my knees. Turns out I have one leg slightly longer than the other and a knee that turns in just a tad when running. I still need to practice running slightly different because it is such a dramatic change (for me) thinking about the little details. Every once in a while I still have issues with knee pain so I have become a more avid swimmer. I'm in my mid twenties now and am thankful for the function I have in my joints. I miss running but not trying to over do it before I have kids or have joint pain hold me back from everyday things. Report
So what was the actual program that these runners in the study followed? Report
"My advice is to stick with what feels comfortable." I really have to disagree with this. Improper form can lead to a host of issues. It's not about running faster. It's about avoiding muscle imbalances and strains as well as joint and ligament pain and damage, etc. You may not feel it on short runs, but damage is still being done. If you start building mileage, you likely will be sidelined. That's not to say the everyone will run the same (toe vs. midfoot strikes), but if your knees are turning in or ankles are rolling, you could be in for a world of hurt. A good trainer can help make you aware of issues and show you specific stretches and strengthening moves that can help you correct the issues. Report
my form improves when I hit my 180 steps per min cadence. Report
I'm not sure that I'm more efficient, but when I was going through the Couch 2 5K program I do know that my gait changed significantly. I could tell because I was doing intervals at the same location every morning and I was suddenly getting more distance during my jog intervals, while my fast walk stayed the same. The wear pattern on the soles of my first pair of running shoes is completely different from my second. I recently was refitted for shoes and went from needing a stability shoe due to pronation to being able to choose a more neutral one. This is all anecdotal, but I do know that I feel more comfortable with the mechanics of running today, and have *much* less pain (shins and knees) than when I first started. I can see how if you've been running for a while, though, that it would be hard to force a change in the way you run. Report
I can say that this is very true. I now have learned 3 different ways my body copes during running, my different strides, and how much I can push myself. Furthermore, by running more, I am now able to close my mouth and use my nose more often. I have also learned to glide when I run and not stomp (which is saving my knees and joints). Report