I've talked before about my experience with physical therapy, and how one of the best results of it was a professional evaluation of my running form. I was fortunate to find a physical therapist who could not only help me recover from my torn hamstring, but was also a strong advocate of minimalist running AND had just invested in some expensive slow-motion video equipment to analyze his patient's running and walking form.
The tips he gave me were extremely valuable. Even though I thought my form was already perfect, he showed me in great detail how my left and right feet landed differently, how my arms swung much further forward than I imagined and how tightly I was holding my shoulders.
If you want to take your running seriously, then I strongly recommend finding someone who will analyze your form like this. There are now many professional running clinics all over the country that will do the same thing, but unfortunately they don't come cheap. It took me several weeks to pay off my PT bill, and I'm not anxious to go through that expense again.
So what do you do if you want to improve your form and can't afford the professional package? I was recently asked this question by one of my blog readers and thought it was worth sharing. The good news is that this day and age, largely due to the wonderful technology available to us, you have a few free and inexpensive options for getting advice.
Before I delve into them, I want to point out that nothing will beat a professional analysis from a PT or running clinic. That doesn't mean you need to see one to have a great running form, but I feel it's an important disclaimer to make: any amateur advice you receive runs the risk of being poorly-founded, which could ultimately lead to injury. I still think these free sources are all worth pursuing, but keep that in mind:
1. Look for a free running workshop in your area:I was lucky enough to find the Minimalist Mondays workshop in Portland, Oregon, which unfortunately no longer appears active. It was totally free and taught by podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan (inventor of Correct Toes) and physical therapist Dr. Sanatan Golden. These guys are experts in the field of minimalist foot health and they really knew their stuff. Each session dealt with a different aspect of improving running technique, including form tips, breathing and exercises for injury prevention. It was well worth the 90-mile drive to and from Portland every Monday. Most of the earliest posts on this blog were recaps of the workshops.
2. Join a running club and ask for feedback:Unless you live out in the boondocks, there is probably a running club in your area. Running Meetups is a good way to look for one, and you can also find nationwide listings at Road Runners Club of America and Running in the USA. You could even try searching Facebook groups and Craigslist. My local group, the Heart of the Valley Runners, has both a website and a great Facebook group page with weekly updates on the next running route. Once you join a running club, you can ask other runners for advice. Of course, there's no guarantee there will be any form experts in the group, but odds are there will be some experienced runners who have gone through the work of improving their own form and will be happy to watch you and give you tips. Just remember, they're there to run and not to be someone else's doctor, so don't be too annoying about it. Think of it as an opportunity to make friends, not just asking for advice and then disappearing.
|Don't ask the guy in the blue shirt and black pants for advice. He clearly wants to destroy his knees.|
3. Film yourself:
You may think you know how your body is moving when you run, but you could be wrong—like I was. Video doesn't lie, and there are many apps that will allow you to take slow-motion videos on your phone. I'm an Android user, but I heard a rumor that newer iPhones may even come with slow-motion video recording installed. If not, then check out the iOS apps iMotion HD, SloPro, Slow Motion Camera or Videoshop. For Android, try Coach's Eye, Reaction Slow Motion Pro, Slow Motion Video or Controlled Capture (I should add that haven't actually used any of these since I got great video from my PT, and I also don't know which are free, but I found them online as recommended slo-mo apps). Just set up a camera with yourself running, either on a treadmill or running past the camera, then check it out frame-by-frame to see how your form looks. Don't know how to analyse it? Well then...
4. Ask Youtube:
I see this all the time. Runners post their slo-mo videos on Youtube and then ask the world for advice on form. The risks: you're opening yourself up to crude remarks and criticism and you don't know how much expertise your commenters have. Keeping that in mind, you could still pick up a few valuable gems from the viewers. If you see a point repeated in many comments then take it to heart. Getting people to see your video without an existing Youtube following can be a challenge. In that case, you can try posting the link to your video in running forums and ask the readers (who are likely to be serious runners) to check it out and give feedback.
Remember those thick square paper things that were like smart phones stuck on the same webpage? Head down to your local library and your'e sure to find a plethora of books with tips on running form. One of my favorites for beginners is Barefoot Ken Bob's Barefoot Running: Step-by Step, largely for its simplicity. Ready for more advanced tips? Check out Chi Running or Dr. Nicholas Romanov's Pose Method. Or just look on the shelf next to where you'd find these books. You'll probably see several others. My advice is to be mindful of the date because older books may advocate hitting the ground with your heel (I know, it's still a subject of debate, but if you're reading this blog then you know I'm all for a minimalist midfoot or forefoot strike).
6. Turn to the Web-o-Sphere:
Is the thought of going to the library too archaic for you? Well, you could just type "running form" into a Google search and see what comes up. Here are a few articles that came up quickly for me, and that I think look good:Photo Copyrights: 123RF.com
- RunnerWorld.com: Proper Running Form
- ChiRunning.com: 10 Components of Good Running Technique
- Competitor.com: The 5 Most Common Running Form Mistakes
- MindBodyGreen.com: 7 Tips to Perfect Your Running Form
- Active.com: Good Running Form for Beginners
- TallGuyRunning.com: Maintain Good Running Form with Visualization Cues
Too lazy to read all those results? Switch to an image search and find an infographic with pretty pictures to save you from the boredom of reading text. Of course, if you can't take the time to read a few paragraphs then are you sure you can actually move your body enough to run? Just sayin'...
Seriously, though, I love infographics. They're just fun to read, and I'm likely to believe anything they say just because they're paired with catchy images. Here's one for you with a few good tips from denverfitnessjournal.com:
And for those who won't believe anything unless an unrealistically fit and attractive person endorses it, then check out this one from superskinnyme.com (which really does include some great tips):
There you go. Plenty of free options to work on your form. Did I miss any? Let me know!