Fitness

Tips on optimal running form

Author: Canadian Living

Fitness

Tips on optimal running form

Running is an aerobic activity that, when done regularly, helps the heart, lungs and circulatory system stay healthy and helps muscles and bones stay strong. It gives you more energy, may help lower your risk of getting certain cancers -- and it's convenient. "All you have to do is put on shoes and clothes," says fitness pro Shane Lakins of Kingston, Ont., "and you can be out of the door in three minutes."

Learning how to run
When Lakins, a kinesiologist and owner of Kingston Body Management, teaches clients how to run, one of the exercises he uses is running slowly on the spot. "You'll find that when your foot strikes the ground, it strikes at the forefoot," he says. This is one of the ways Lakins teaches people to land when they run, and it's a perfect example of why he believes runners should be forefoot strikers.

Foot-strike – how your foot hits the ground when you run – is a somewhat controversial area among coaches and runners, who wonder whether they should hit the ground with the heel, the midfoot or the toe.

For many years, a heel-to-toe motion was the standard. Landing on the heel reduces stress and helps stretch calf muscles, say proponents of this method. Also, there is less stress on the Achilles tendon. But opponents contend that landing on your heel can cause over-striding, slower running and poorer form. Landing on your toes, on the other hand, is easier on the knees, ankles and form but is thought to contribute to shinsplints, Achilles tendonitis, muscle pulls and contracted calf muscles.

How to reduce stress on your body while running
Landing on the midfoot or forefoot puts less stress on calf muscles and the Achilles tendon, and it provides better shock absorption. Furthermore, it's a natural motion, says Lakins. "When you get someone who is a heel striker to take off their shoes and run, they will all of a sudden land on their forefoot," he says. "The reason -- without the protection of the thick heel found in most shoes, landing on the heel hurts." Landing on the forefoot means you are using the body's natural shock-absorbing mechanisms rather than relying on your shoe for support.

Midfoot or forefoot running will reduce the chance of injury, says Lakins, and as a result, you'll have a much better chance of enjoying the sport as a lifelong activity. While he recommends that a coach teach all beginners how to run, in general he says beginners should focus on landing on the mid- to forefoot rather than the heels when running. Anyone who already runs and is a heel striker should take it more slowly, Lakins says, "because your body is used to that motion." Practice for a few minutes at a time and increase the time slowly.

Running form
Runner's Choice, a pro shop in London, Ont., recommends paying attention to the following when running:
• Maintain an easy stride and be careful that your stride isn't too big.
• Keep your head centred with your eyes looking ahead.
• Keep your arms relaxed somewhere between your waist and chest.
• Think comfort when you are landing, and roll forward onto the next stride.

Read more: Tips on starting your own walking or running regimen.


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