Whether you call it running, jogging, “roadwork”, or by another name, pounding the pavement is something many people do. However, a good portion of those people may not know how to run properly. Running might seem simple, but it’s often unnecessary, and when done with poor form, can cause significant injury. This guide will discuss running, when you should/shouldn’t do it, and how to run properly.
Do You Even Need to Run?
Before looking at how to run properly, you really need to ask yourself why you’re running in the first place. Is roadwork something you even need to do? If you’re competing in a mud run, a 5k, have a military or law enforcement PT test coming up, or just plain enjoy jogging, then that’s perfectly fine. Feel free to run as much as you want or is as needed.
However, if you’re running because you need to lose weight or for improved cardio, there could be better options. Getting your diet on point is going to be your best tool for fat loss, and there are many other activities you could do in lieu of running to burn calories and improve heart health. These could include:
- Walking (preferably up a hill or over rough terrain)
- Rucking (i.e. – walking/hiking while wearing a heavy backpack or weight vest)
- Using an elliptical machine
These are often better options than running because they are all much lower impact activities. As a result, they take much less of a toll on the body.
Are You Ready to Run?
So you’ve decided that jogging is going to be your “go to” activity. However, you’re still not ready to learn how to run properly, yet. This is because you first need to determine if you’re even fit enough to run in the first place.
As was alluded to above, jogging comes with quite a significant amount of impact on the body. After all, they don’t call it “pounding the pavement” for nothing. That combined with the sheer volume of repetition (your average 5k – just over 3 miles – consists of roughly 6200 steps) can lead to quite a bit of overall ballistic shock to your body. The more you weigh and the worse shape you’re in, the worse running is going to be for you.
If you’re more than 25-30lbs overweight and if you’re not already fairly strong, you’re probably better served spending some time getting in better shape first. Get your diet on point, lose some weight, ensure you’re strength training 2-3x/week, and spend a few weeks doing one of the low-impact cardio choices listed above, first.
Get a Good Pair of Shoes
When deciding on a pair of running shoes, you might think that the more support and cushioning a shoes provides, the better it is. This would, of course, be because of all the repeated shock the feet, ankles, knees, hips, and legs in general endure from taking so many steps. However, you’d be incorrect.
Most people don’t know how to run properly (discussed next). However, because they’ve got a shoe that provides so much comfort, they don’t necessarily know that they’re jogging with poor form because they’re not in immediate pain. This leads to them continuing to run improperly, subjecting their body to prolonged ballistic shock and impact.
At the same time, because it’s the shoe that’s providing support instead of the feet, ankles, arches, and so on, they never have a reason to get stronger. When you combine bad form, sustained, voluminous impact, and weak feet, you’re going to inevitably get injured. This could be from something as minor as a strain or sprain to something as major as a stress fracture.
A much better choice would be one of the “minimalist” running shoes on the market. You don’t have to go with one of the training shoes that simulate being barefoot, as that’s probably going to be too drastic of a change, too quickly. The former will still give you some support and cushioning while you learn how to run properly.
Improve Your Footwork
The biggest jogging form mistake people make is thinking they should be stepping in “heel-toe” fashion. This would have them kicking their leg out straight and landing heel first. On the contrary, this method is going to send the most amount of shock throughout the body. When you land on your heel like this, your leg is straight and the impact is sent reverberating up your entire leg, through your hips, and even into your upper body.
Instead, you should pull your knees up with each step, take shorter strides, and aim to land on the balls of your feet. If this feels foreign, and it probably will, picture yourself almost leaning forward a little bit as if you were doing a slow sprint. Doing it this way has a number of benefits, including:
- Less impact on the body – Your lower body joints are all bent, therefore can all absorb and dissipate the shock.
- A tendency to land lighter on your feet – Go out in your back yard. Jog heel-toe one direction, stop, then jog on the balls of your feet the other. You’ll find the former results in almost a “pounding” on the ground, while the latter lets you almost “kiss” the ground with your feet on each step.
- Improved ground drive – A step propels you forward because of the force you drive into the ground with each leg. If you look at a sprinter coming out of the starting blocks, they’re leaning heavily forward and driving into the ground with the balls of their feet. This allows them to put as much effort into the ground as possible, propelling themselves forward faster and easier. The effect you take advantage of won’t be as great, but the same effort on your part can lead to you covering more ground than you normally would.
Use Hill Sprints to Dummy-Proof Your Running
Jogging on the balls of your feet will likely be new and feel awkward at first. However, you can “dummy-proof” your form and develop some appropriate muscle memory by doing hill sprints. If you think about running up a (steep) hill, you have pretty much no choice but to use proper form:
- You have to land on the balls of your feet because the elevated ground in front of you wouldn’t allow you to land on your heel
- Your steps are going to be shorter (which is better)
- You have to lean “forward” (in relation to your lower body) just to keep your torso vertical
Spend a bunch of time doing this, and you’ll be inherently teaching your body what proper roadwork form is like. All you have to do then is gradually translate that hill sprint technique over to flat(ter) surfaces.
Other Misc Tips
Now that you know how to run properly, are wearing the proper shoes, and can even do hill sprints for the sake of “getting it right without trying”, here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Don’t actually “pound the pavement” – A constant theme throughout this article has been to minimize ballistic shock and impact. All other things aside, a super easy way to do this is to stay off hard surfaces. Instead of running on the street or sidewalks, stick to grass, trails, or even a rubberized track at your local high school or community college.
- Don’t neglect diet or strength work – Both of these have already been discussed, but they bear mentioning again. Getting your body weight on point is another way to minimize impact on the body, so keep eating right. Additionally, continued strength training can help ensure your lower body as a whole is less susceptible to injury as a result of being too weak.
- Cool down – Even after you learn how to run properly and jogging becomes a significant part of your training, be sure to end each run with a cooldown. Walking for a few minutes to let your heart rate and breathing come back to normal is a good idea. Static stretching when you’re cold isn’t a good idea, but a couple for your quadriceps, hamstrings, and Achilles at the end of your workout when your core temperature is high and muscles warm can go toward promoting recovery.
Running properly really isn’t all that complicated – you just probably were never taught how to do it correctly. However, make a few tweaks to your technique, wear the right shoes, and ensure you’re actually ready to run in the first place, and your running will improve in no time. Not only will your performance skyrocket, but you’ll radically reduce the risk of getting hurt, and likely very much enjoy yourself.