The best way to develop great form is to practice. There is a process to learning and applying any knowledge which I get into in another blog. However, the essence is we start with understanding, then develop by listening and adjusting. Building a skill takes practice to become natural. I like to think of this development as playing with form and it is my favorite way to practice a skill.
Playing With Form
When I say ‘play with form’ I mean figure out the balance your body needs for that aspect right now. The balance needed will change as your form and strength develop. To find this balance start by feeling the full range of the mechanism you’re starting to play with. For example, for lower abs it would look like something like this:
Run for 30 seconds with your lower abs fully engaged as hard as you can to see what that feels like and what comes up in your body.
Run for 30 seconds with your lower abs as relaxed and loose as possible to see what it feels like and what comes up in your body.
Take some time to think about what you liked and what didn’t feel right. At first the answers you come up with may seem rudimentary, but as you refine your skill to listen and differentiate inside your body, you’ll notice more (This is another reason to continue to play with form)
For the rest of the run go back and forth and find the balance for that mechanism, see what you like and what you don’t like. Where is the tension between these two extremes that feels the best?
Aspects to Practice
This is the same process that I got through to find the balance for other mechanisms. Here is a list of some elements that you can practice:
Core - Remember to engage the lower abs, lower back, gluts and the inner thighs. Once you start to develop a sense for each of these individually, you can start to play with how they feel together.
Pelvis Rotation - When you engage your lower abs and your lower back, both of these will impact your pelvis. What balance feels best? How does this change as you go up or down hills?
String through Body - Imagine there is a string going from your feet up to the top of your head like a puppet, pulling your body straight. How does that feel? Try imagining this while you’re running, although you can’t be perfectly straight while you run, what happens? How does it feel?
Where to Lean - Where in your body are you leaning from? Are you leaning from your hips or your ankles? How straight is your body? How does it feel to run straight up and down? To lean from the ankles? From the hips?
Center of Gravity - Where does your center of gravity land? How does it feel when you change it? Does this add pressure to other parts of your body like your knees? How is your lean impacting your center of gravity?
Stride Length - How long is your stride? How does it feel when you take extremely short steps? What about when your stride is longer than natural? Now play with it in the middle, what is the balance that feels comfortable? Studies suggest that a cadence of 180 steps (that's both feet) is a good place to aim for.
Foot Striking - How does it feel to land on your heel? Does it impact any other part of your leg? Your body? How about when you land on your toes? How does that change your stride? How does it feel? What about when you land on your arch? Does this change when you change your center of gravity? When you speed up or slow down? Should it?
Depth of Breath - How deep are you breathing? How does it feel? What changes when you go deeper? What happens when you breathe from the top of your lungs? Which one feels more comfortable?
Breath Speed - How fast is your breath going in and out? How does that relate to your effort? How does it feel when you go faster or slower?
Effort Level - Similar to what we talked about in the article on effort, what happens when you push harder? What happens when you ease off your effort? What is the balance? Can you feel the cost when you add a little effort? When does it feel like the cost outweighs the benefit?
Acceleration - How does it feel when you accelerate? What happens when you are constant? Can you start to feel the difference in rates of acceleration? As in, getting to top speed in a couple of meters versus speeding up over 100 meters? What's the cost of quick acceleration feel like?
Where to go from here
As you can see any of these aren’t complicated individually, but as you start to try to coordinate them and find the balance between each mechanism it becomes harder and requires a higher level of attunement with your body. This is the journey toward perfect run form.
The next time a friend tells you or you read about the perfect way to run, get excited, but don’t take it as absolute. It may work for them, but it's important that you try it out and see if it works for you. And maybe it doesn’t work for you now, but as you progress, it may fit in better. Keep an open mind and stay in tune to yourself.
Remember this is a long journey, play with it. Don’t try and do it all at once. It will overwhelm you and could lead to injuries. Take one or two aspects and find the balance on an easy run. Don’t do too much playing around on fast runs with unknown as