Assessing Run Form

Case Study: Mysterious Hip Pain

Today I had an amazing professional experience. A client, who back in September suffered a hip injury, is now able to run again after a single session. Here's what happened...

Quick and Easy Test For Proper Shoe Fit

In my last post, I discussed the tapered toe box and why its so problematic. Then it occurred to me you may want a simple way to discern if the shoe you're considering buying makes the grade. Here ya go!

Runner's Cat 5 Marks (a.k.a. Dirt on Inner Calf)

Recently, I wrapped up a group run with Fairmount Park Conservancy (join us!!) and noticed a friend had dirty scuff marks all over the inner aspect of her calf. The scuff marks are a result of your swing leg foot swiping the stance leg calf as it...

The Form Flaw You're Not Seeing

There's been a ton of focus in recent years on running form. Yet certain aspects of form have gotten WAY more 'press' than others. I'm thinking specifically of footstrike. Forefoot? Mid-foot? Heel strike? Barefoot? Definitely useful to consider, but let's not miss the forest for the trees or overstate it's importance. Today I'd like to draw your attention to all of the various ways rotation is present throughout our body as we walk and run. Or, it's supposed to be.

Footstrike – Should You Worry About It?

Are you a heel striker? Most likely. Perhaps you connect with the ground with the entire foot at once (mid-foot)? Or maybe you're one of the few that land with the ball of the foot first (forefoot)?

Does it even matter?

Yes and no. It depends. Hopefully by now you know there are no absolutes with this stuff. (Run the other way if someone preaches one way for everyone) Here are two things to think about regarding footstrike. As you consider these points, keep in mind that everyone is different and arrives at a running with their own unique set of history, movement patterns, skill, strength, endurance, etc.

Land With Your Foot Beneath The Body

Regardless of exactly which part of your foot hits the ground first, you need to position your leg in such a way that it will absorb impact efficiently AND not slow you down. For teaching purposes I'll typically cue someone to simply put their foot down “earlier”. Sprinters think of stepping “over and down” and I like that for distance runners, too, with less emphasis on “over” and more on “down”.


A quick way to determine if you're overstriding is to have someone take a picture of your stride. Notice the angle of your shin as your foot makes initial contact with the ground. The closer that shin is to vertical, the better the body can tolerate load and dissipate force throughout your body. A locked out knee is not a good shock absorber!

Make Sure Your Foot Is Relaxed Before Impact

Toes pointed, calf tensed, braced for impact. THIS is the most common error I encounter during my comprehensive running assessment when I'm working with someone who's attempted to “change their stride”. Prancing = no bueno.

If your calf is already tensed before it hits the ground, you'll have a few issues.

First, you can't take advantage of the natural stretch reflex of your achilles' tendon. You've got to allow the tendon to relax and lengthen fully so that it can then recoil and provide you with some 'free' power.

Second, since you aren't taking advantage of that stretch reflex, you are relying on the calf muscle to contract incredibly forcefully in order to prevent the heel from hitting the ground. This is very inefficient!

Third, since you've got limited stretch reflex and lots of muscle tension going on, you'll also wonder why your calves are incredible SORE. I'm betting that's starting to make some sense now ;-)

Changing your footstrike is a delicate act.

It's just one aspect of the puzzle and I'd say that there are bigger fish to fry in terms of improving your running form. If you're not doing things correctly you can easily get hurt.

Work on Cadence First

Before worrying about changing your footstrike, try optimizing your cadence. Your footstrike will change subtly but you may not even notice that. You may, however, notice that your knee hip, or back pain does feel better!

Identify your current running cadence (how many strides per minute you take) by counting your steps for 20 seconds and multiplying by 3.

The average person should be in the 170-180 range. If you're lower than that (and you're not 6'6”), try adding 5% to your number and work on making that feel normal. This will take a few weeks and can be best implemented by doing increasingly longer intervals at the faster cadence.

Start with only 100m and add on only if you can maintain your form and match your stride to the beat. You can use a metronome app on your smartphone or check out to find music that has the right tempo for you. This song has a beats per minute of 180!


The Workout You're Not Doing: The Form Run

Most of us skip right to the jam out session without much technique work to support it. We lace 'em up and “just run”. And that is totally cool if that's all running is to you, a little jam-out session. But even for the person who doesn't want to run farther, faster, or with less injury risk, I think you'll enjoy your basic jam-out that much more if your running skill is better. Here's a great little routine you can practice

Don't Run On Crack!

I think we can all agree that generally the goal in racing is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. To that end, the less sideways movement, the better. With crossover gait, you've got a bit of lateral motion in not only the feet, but also the entire center of mass. This is NOT GOOD!

Single Leg Solutions

Want to quickly assess your risk for a future running-related injury? What about efficiency? Every runner wants to run fast with less effort. Would you like to peal back the curtain and observe a possible energy leak?

First, You Need To Move Well - Pt. 1

A new client came in the other day and was interested in running better.  But when we talked it became clear that before we could help him run better, he had to regain “running eligibility”.  He was constantly caught in an injury cycle and was desperate for a solution.  He was frustrated that, just as his fitness was close to an all-time high, knee pain threatened his every stride. Hold on.  Running eligibility?  Huh?

Yup, you gotta earn the right to run.

But we're Born To Run!

Yeah, you WERE.  But you aren't anymore.  Thanks to that desk job.  Thanks to that car.  Thanks to that special occasion meal every couple of days.

The bottom line is that you've likely lost your basic ability to move PROPERLY.  When you try to run, you are equally likely to be running on one compensatory movement after another.  How do you think that's going to play out?

Well, if you run at the typically recommended 180 strides per minute, you're going to accumulate a lot of strides → impact → tissue stress.

In fact, here's a formula that reliably predicts injury risk:

Injury = [Number of Repetitions X Force] / [Range of Motion Amplitude X Relaxation]

Basically, in running, we have a lot of repetitions and a lot of force (2.4-2.6 times bodyweight).  At the same time, we have very little range of motion and, since everyone wants to train for a marathon these days, very little relaxation!

So the formula predicts that we are playing with fire by choosing to run.  Crap.

But wait... “I love to run and I'm not gonna stop!”

So, ok, I finally have some good news.  You don't have to stop running.  You just have to understand one basic fact.

Your ability to move properly makes it possible to train for running.

Remember how the ball coach used to preach fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals?  Well, we need to have basic human movement fundamentals down pat before we, uh, train for a marathon!

I educated my new client about movement, took him through the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) process and identified his weakest link.  We were now on the road to recovery.  Turns out he needed help re-learning hip separation.  I gave him drills that improved his hip mobility within a few minutes.

He must practice these simple, proven movement drills in the morning, before running, and at night.  This is what it will take to make lasting improvement in his movement quality.  In fact, one of them is soooo simple: breathing properly.  More on this later...

In the next installment, we'll discuss why focusing on mobility before stability is critical when reprogramming movement habits.