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Why Running Form Matters -- Coach Jack Daniels

31 October 2013 @ 10:51 AM  / Garmin Connect / Sponsored Athletes / Sports / Fitness Blog /

Dr. Jack Daniels has been called, by our friends at Runner's World Magazine, the world's greatest running coach. Daniels, who has coached and mentored some of world's top distance runners at both the collegiate and post-collegiate levels, including Jim Ryun, Penny Werthner, Ken Martin, Jerry Lawson, Alicia Shay, Peter Gilmore, Lisa Martin, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, is also the author of one of the most popular running books-- which helps runners of all levels reach their goals. In addition to his coaching accolades, Daniels is an Olympian himself. In both the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics Daniels earned a team silver medal in the modern pentathlon. We had the privilege of spending some time with Daniels during the development of our latest GPS running watches, Forerunner 220 and Forerunner 620. Both of these highly anticipated state of the art running watches will begin showing up at local running shops in November, and if you are headed to the New York City Marathon this weekend, be sure to stop by our booth and be one of the first to own one.

Most people fall into a relatively “OK” running form when they start running, but there are certainly some things that will increase the energy demand of running. Try running with your hands folded on top of your head some time; is that easier than letting your arms swing back and forth with each leg stride? Or maybe run with your hands in your pockets or on your hips. The arms naturally swing when running, and what they are doing by swinging is to balance out what the legs are doing. It is not very good to swing the left arm forward as the left leg goes forward; try that and you will easily see it isn’t very comfortable.

So we run along swinging arms forward and back to balance out what the legs are doing, but even doing what seems to be accomplishing this arm/leg relationship can be adjusted for some runners to make the energy demand a little less stressful. For example, elevating the shoulders while swinging the arms is a waste of energy (energy demanded by the muscles used to elevate the shoulders). The arms should be relaxed and allowed to swing comfortably back and forth with each stride. The hands should also be relaxed, not with clenched fists. Any muscle that is contracted is requiring energy and if that muscle contraction is not making you run faster or more easily, it is not necessary.

It is also possible to put too much effort into lifting the legs with each forward motion. It sometimes helps to think of moving the knees forward, rather than upward with each stride.

Turning the toes outward upon landing with each step can sometimes lead to injury in the feet or lower legs, and it is a bit safer to try to land with the feet pointing forward. Stride frequency can also affect the energy demand of running; a slow, bounding stride can be quite costly because of there being a higher elevation of body mass, which also results in landing harder with each stride.

Something that can often help in terms of reducing the “cost” of running is to do the following during some of your training runs (or even in competition). Start by relaxing your face – eyes, mouth, jaw – then think about relaxing your shoulders and arms.  From there relax in the hips, then the legs and finally the feet. In other words start at the top of your body and gradually move down, relaxing each area as you think about that part of your body. Include thinking about relaxing your breathing, a topic of its own that I cover in my book.

As is true of learning any new activity, there are things to concentrate on doing and things to avoid doing.  Avoid unnecessary muscle contractions and concentrate on relaxation during all aspects of your running technique. Your body will usually adjust to a good way of picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down, so relax and let your body do its thing, but be willing to make some adjustments if someone or something indicates it may help reduce the energy needed to perform the task at hand. 

Keep on running,

Coach Jack

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