Advice on form from Active.com (Read 1064 times)

    Proprioceptive cues By Matt Fitzgerald For Active.com November 12, 2006 Proprioceptive cues are images and other sensory cues that enable you to modify your running stride for the better as you think about them while running. I have used proprioceptive cues in my training for the past four years and have found that they really work. Using proprioceptive cues effectively requires concentration and discipline. Our natural tendency is to let our thoughts wander aimlessly while running. If you're serious about improving your stride, you must fight this tendency by forcing yourself to concentrate on and execute a particular proprioceptive cue for hundreds of consecutive strides. The stride improvements that proprioceptive cues facilitate do not happen overnight, because the motor patterns that underlie your current stride habits are deeply ingrained, to the point of being almost completely automatic. You'll get the best results from proprioceptive cues if you use one at a time throughout the entire length of a run and you use them generally at least three times a week every week. Because proprioceptive cues require you to use your muscles differently than they are accustomed to being used, certain muscles may fatigue more quickly, so it's best to begin using each specific proprioceptive cue only during short recovery runs. It's not necessary to "master" the stride change associated with any given cue before moving on to other cues. In fact, no matter how perfect your stride becomes, you can still benefit from using each cue regularly as a reminder to keep your form sharp, especially when you're fatigued. Therefore, I recommend that you cycle through the following cues in an endless rotation, never neglecting any one of them for long. Falling forward Tilt your whole body slightly forward as you run. Don't bend at the waist! Tilt your entire body from the ankles. When you're first getting a feel for this proprioceptive cue, feel free to exaggerate your lean to the point where you feel you're about to fall on your face. Then ease back to a point where you feel comfortable and in control, but gravity still seems to be pulling you forward. This cue will help you correct overstriding, because when you're running with a slight forward tilt in your body, your feet will naturally land close to your center of gravity. Navel to spine Concentrate on pulling your belly button inward toward your spine while running. Using this cue will activate the deep abdominal muscles that serve as important stabilizers of the pelvis and lower spine during running. As a result, you will reduce wasteful (and often asymmetrical) rotations of the hips and spine, maintain better stability in the hips and pelvis on footstrike and transfer forces more efficiently between your upper body and legs. Running on water Imagine you're running on water, and your goal is not to fall through. To do this, you must overcome the squishiness of your running surface by applying maximum force to the water in minimum contact time, like a skipping stone. Try to make your feet skip across your running surface in a similar way: quickly, lightly, yet forcefully. This proprioceptive cue will teach you to stiffen your stride, minimize ground contact time, and begin the thrust phase earlier. Pulling the road Imagine that your running route is like a giant non-motorized treadmill. On a non-motorized treadmill, you are able to run in place by pulling the treadmill belt backward with your feet. Envision yourself doing the same thing with the road as you run outdoors. You're not actually moving forward -- you're simulating forward movement by pulling the road behind you with each foot. This proprioceptive cue will teach you to begin generating thrust earlier, to stiffen your stride and to minimize ground contact time. Scooting Run in a "scooting" manner by actively minimizing vertical oscillation. Don't exaggerate this action to the point where you are reducing your stride rate or increasing ground contact time. Just think about thrusting your body forward instead of upward while running. This proprioceptive cue will help you run with greater stability by reducing vertical impact forces. Pounding the ground Most runners are taught to run as softly as possible. In fact, running speed is almost entirely a function of how forcefully you hit the ground with your feet. The typical runner -- especially the typical overstriding runner -- allows her foot to fall passively to the ground with each stride. Instead, practice actively driving your foot into the ground. Be sure to give a somewhat backward pull to this driving movement rather than a completely vertical movement. Also, if you are currently a heel striker (overstrider), work on shortening your stride and landing heel first before using this proprioceptive cue, which teaches you to stiffen your stride, thrust earlier and minimize ground contact time. Driving the thigh Concentrate on driving the thigh of your swing leg forward a little more forcefully than you normally do. The more forceful forward/upward movement of this leg will create a counterbalancing downward/backward action in your opposite leg as it comes into contact with the ground. (Think of the way your free arm moves in opposition to your throwing arm when you throw a ball hard.) Feel free to concentrate on driving only one thigh throughout a workout or, if you can manage it, to concentrate on driving both thighs. (The average stride rate being in excess of 150 per minute, it can be difficult to focus your attention properly on both legs when using this proprioceptive cue). This cue will help you refine the coordinated timing of movements between your two legs and enhance your stride stiffness. Floppy feet The human foot contains 27 bones and dozens of muscles and ligaments. This structure enables the foot to deform in an intricate, wavelike pattern while it is in contact with the ground during running. Unfortunately, shoes greatly restrict this natural movement. You can get a lot of it back by wearing a running shoe that allows greater freedom of foot movement, such as the Nike Free. You can get even more back by concentrating on running with relaxed, "floppy" feet. When practicing this cue, continue to strike the ground forcefully with your feet, but use the muscles of your upper leg to generate this force while keeping your foot relaxed, enabling it to absorb and transfer impact forces in a way that will minimize stress on specific tissues and increase the amount of free elastic energy you are able to store and reuse. Butt squeeze In the instant before your foot makes contact with the ground, contract the muscles in the hip and buttock on that side of your body and keep them engaged throughout the ground contact phase of the stride. This proprioceptive cue will enable you to maintain greater stability in the hips, pelvis, lower spine and perhaps even the knees as you run. It will also minimize wasteful (asymmetrical) long axis rotations. Feeling symmetry Focus your attention on a specific part of your body, or stride, on both the left side and the right side. Concentrate on the feel of your arm swing, the forward movement of your swing leg, the moment of footstrike, push-off, etc. Compare the feeling on the left side of your body to that on your right side. If there is a discrepancy, adjust your stride in a way that eliminates the discrepancy, if possible, or at least reduces it. Specifically, alter your stride on the side that feels less comfortable, natural, or "right" to make it feel more like the side that feels better. Obviously, this proprioceptive cue helps you reduce asymmetries in your stride.
    Running is a mental sport, and we are all insane! --Unknown
      Interesting stuff. It seems like most of us pretty much ignore form; I definitely do. And I sometimes wonder what I'm missing out on. Someday maybe I'll hire a coach to watch me run and fix everything wrong. Which brings up a question: would most runners be well advised *not* to worry much about form at first, and just work on that aerobic base ... or would it make more sense to focus on form right from the beginning? I wonder if I'm developing bad form habits that will end up being a lot of work to fix in 5-10 years.
      E-mail: JakeKnight2002@aol.com

        While we can all benefit from some general focus on form I don't know if I swallow everything from the above. "Pounding the ground" doesn't sound right for me. I have a very soft footfall; I'm always scaring the bejezzus out of people I run up from behind on my night runs. I've had very few injuries. The one nagging injury I DO have is a sore hip when my stride gets sloppy towards the end of a long run. I tend to overextend when I'm tired. Threre's a lot of good stuff here but, I don't think it all applies equally to every runner.
          One thing I always wonder when I see stuff like this is, what exactly are these stride improvements that people are striving for? How would one know if one needed to make stride improvements? As far as I know, my stride is perfect. How would I know if it wasn't? My .02 is that 99% of runners would be well advised to not worry about form at all. Doing hills, strides and just plain running more will improve your form naturally. Basically your body will figure out proper form over time if you run enough. At least this article doesn't go so far as POSE and Chi similar snake oil programs in promising X% improvement in race times for ANYONE simply from learning better form. Interestingly the people claiming to have dropped 30 seconds per mile off their 5k time in just 3 weeks with such programs all seemed to have just started running about 4 weeks ago.

          Runners run.

            dropped 30 seconds per mile off their 5k time in just 3 weeks
            30 seconds per mile? Where do I sign up? Big grin I actually followed that other thread on "pose" or whatever with interest. Not sure what to think. In general, I'm a firm believer in the "if it sounds too good to be true ..." school of thought. Then again, I have a garage full of goofy golf gimmicks I tried out. So you just know I'll have to try out these gimmicks sooner or later. I take it you're not a big fan? I just don't really get it. I followed the links, but don't understand the technique. It looks like you run on tippy-toes, and that can't be right. Can it? How do you land on the ball of your feet? I'd be interested to see if any experienced runners have seriously tried out any of those methods.
            E-mail: JakeKnight2002@aol.com

            Mile Collector

            Abs of Flabs

              "Pounding the ground" doesn't sound right for me.
              I definitely agree that pounding the ground and floppy feet don't sound right. We've been told many times that running is not good for the body because of the pounding, and they're now recommending it? That doesn't jive right. I'm poo-pooing the entire article, I think it's important that we're mindful of our posture when we run because it reduces injuries. At the same time, I think better posture comes with stronger muscles. As a new runner, your body is not geared for running. Through training, your running muscles (and that include the tiny stabilizing muscles) get stronger and you improve on your posture.
                At the same time, I think better posture comes with stronger muscles. As a new runner, your body is not geared for running. Through training, your running muscles (and that include the tiny stabilizing muscles) get stronger and you improve on your posture.
                I dunno, MC. You can have strong muscles and bad posture. And you can have strong running muscles and poor running form. Also ... it seems that you can have time and experience with running and not necessarily have the strength needed to avoid injury. I'm thinking specifically of core muscles and hip flexors... Wink I'm not saying the article is 100% right, but there is something to be said for developing proper form habits in order to prevent injuries. In spite of my harsh words about Pose earlier. Tongue Yes, it seems that we humans eventually figure out our most efficient running stride. But it's also true that we might go years running unevenly before that... and could cause ourselves injury in the process. I don't feel I have enough experience to specifically say "this drill is wrong," but I know that when I read through these most of them I thought would be a *bad* idea for me to practice at this time in my running career. I think every drill has its proper time and place, and that some would be ::ahem:: more useful than others in any particular situation.

                Roads were made for journeys...

                  I take it you're not a big fan?
                  Nah, I think Pose is complete bunk. It has been the subject of MANY a thread on other message boards--letsrun, coolrunning, etc.--and in just about every one, all of the really experienced runners seem to come down strongly against it. Anything that promises to make you faster by just *thinking* about it is, to me, a pure scheme. I basically agree with everything MC said on this one.

                  Runners run.

                    I've tried a couple of these methods, such as the navel to spine (which is extremely difficult if you've never done it), driving the thigh, and 'feeling symmetry.' What I've found is, if nothing else, it is something to concentrate on besides the running. I love running, but get bored very easily. When I'm doing long, easy runs or short recovery runs, some of these techniques have been very helpful. I find myself at the end of say a 10-mile run with the feeling that I've only gone about 20 minutes. While I agree that not every one of these techniques are for every runner, I think runners of any caliper can benefit from at least one of these techniques. Besides, when you go to the gym to lift, it is more important to have proper form than to just lift a super-heavy amount of weight so that you work the appropriate muscle groups efficiently. The same goes for running...not just for muscle groups, but for focus as well.
                    Running is a mental sport, and we are all insane! --Unknown

                    CPT Curmudgeon

                      Some of those drills sound a lot like Chi Running. I admit, I read the book, thinking that it couldn't hurt. Anyhoo, another discussion for another thread. Back to the article: I agree that for most people, their form works for them. When I first started running, I don't think we ever discussed form, other than having relaxed hands and easy swinging arms. Beyond that, your body will go with what's comfortable. I have met one person so far who had running form so bad that it actually caused injury. Everyone else I know who got injured from running was due to them not paying attention to their bodies, or poor training (i.e. ramping up mileage too quick, getting speed work in too quick, not resting, etc. etc ad nauseum). Oh, and a coworker who messed up her hip a little, but that's because her one leg is actually shorter, and had nothing to do with her form (other than it was a product of her physical make-up). I think you're better off running smart, and doing hills and other running-specific strengthening.
                      chelsea are da b

                        hello ive just joind the site and im only 13 i run tghe 100 meters and the 5,000 meters for for my county

                        Gotta Flee Em All

                          This is very interesting. I tried some of it last night during the easy portion of my run. It did seem to help, but I could not keep it up for long as my mind started wandering. That happens when you run with Jessica Alba...

                            Sorry, I missed this thread the first time around, but can't help but comment now! Really interesting, though I share the skepticism posted by others. I also agree with the opinion that most beginning runners (maybe most runners in general) don't really need to worry about their form as much as other aspects of their training. That said, it's fun to learn more about all aspects of running so I'm glad jdub posted this here for us to chat about. I actually have worked on correcting my form (though not through this method), in the past, and I'm glad I did. I generally run very very upright (which is mostly good) but at the very end of a faster race (5K) I tend to lean back as I turn on the gas, so much so that I am probably reducing my speed a bit. No, I didn't cause any form-related injuries, but by consciously leaning just a tiny bit forward (particularly when I'm tired or sprinting), I think I've made some improvements in my race times. So changing form isn't completely useless, but if you don't already know something's wrong, it's probably not worth it. As for this topic, my own intuition (for whatever that's worth!) is that these different 'cues' the article suggests might be more useful as very short "experiments" in the form of strides (100-200 meters) instead of over a 10 mile run. (In fact, over-exaggerating certain aspects of running form for long periods of time, as this article seems to recommend, seems like it could easily cause more problems thank it fixes!) Just as there are certain drills done with strides (skipping, running backwards, etc), these could probably be done over a short distance with real focus on the form and give the same instructive benefit? That said, the best method I've heard for learning about form problems is to have someone biking behind you while you run (particularly at the end of your run, when you're tired) to tell you where you're off. Better yet, get that person to video-tape you? Big grin