There are varying opinions on whether it’s a good idea to try to optimize your running form or just let nature ‘run’ it’s course. One opinion is that with increased training volume, your running form becomes more efficient on it’s own and trying to mess with it is not advised.

My opinion is that it’s better to try and change bad habits or inefficiencies early in the process and to continue to fine tune as you train. Although distance running involves less ‘learned’ skill than many other sports no one seems to challenge the idea of working on form for sprinting, golf, tennis, bicycling, swimming, etc.  And if you think running involves ‘no skill at all’  then let me send you racing down a fast technical single track trail with roots, ruts and rocks. Or negotiate a 180 degree turn in the rain with a pack of other runners.

With slow motion video, many aspects of the running gait can be analysed. Like acing an exam, perhaps the video will show that your alignments, cadence, foot strike, toe off, swing through, etc. are all fine. On the other hand you may be seeing for the first time what you really look like when you run and that might not jive with your ‘mental picture’ of what you think you look like running! Often there are several ‘issues’ that are revealed on the video and that can be worked on during training.

What needs to be understood is that changing certain parts of one’s form can take time. For example if you are instructed to increase your cadence, it’s not just a matter of moving your legs faster but getting to the point where you can do it efficiently which takes focused practice. Usually it feels uncomfortable to increase your natural cadence more than a few beats. But by using a metronome or device which counts your cadence you can keep a slightly higher cadence until it becomes the new norm.  A good rule of thumb is it takes 6 weeks for adaptations to take place and become more natural to where you don’t have to think about it so consciously.

Instead of trying to do too many things at once, it is advisable to work on one area at a time. It takes focus to perceive what is happening when we run, especially since things are happening very rapidly, flowing from one movement to another.

Often we can use mental images to improve our form. The famous New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard gave images to help running posture that I have found particularly helpful. Imagine that you have a rope or string connected to the top of your head, pulling you up with gentle pressure. This helps to keep you running ‘tall’ , in alignment and avoid the ‘slumping’ that can happen if you don’t use some core tightening to keep good form. Trying this especially when you start to tire and your form feels like it is breaking down. Also imagine a rope or elastic that is tied to the middle of your chest and is pulling from a point ahead and above you (like from the top of a house a few blocks away). This mental image of something pulling you from the front will help you to lean forward slightly with the entire body and increase your speed. Make sure you let your elbows swing back far enough (to where your hands stop around your waist area) to counter balance the forward lean of your body. I have yet to use this image during running without experiencing at least a slight increase in speed. Now imaging holding this form for the entire run/race and you see how effective this type of imagery can be.