So you want to change your running form? It is not uncommon for runners to explore changing how they run. Whether it’s exploring different training methods, switching shoes, or adjusting how their foot contacts the ground – some runners will try anything to improve performance and minimize pain and injury risk. In this article, you will learn common running forms, running specific exercises, when shoe type matters, and how to change running form safely.

 

Why Change Running Form? What Are The Common Running Forms?

What is so unique about running is the fact that almost everyone runs differently from one another. I believe that movement analysis of running is so popular because of this, everyone has different mechanics and nowadays runners want to know more about their running form. So on that note – is there such thing as a ‘common’ running form?! In regards to ‘running form’, we are going to highlight and discuss footstrike position as this is a little more black and white (literally see the image below).

Footstrike Positions

foot strike patterns how to change running form safely the prehab guys

 

Why Does Foot Strike Pattern Matter?

Roughly 90% of runners are rearfoot (heel) strikers whereas the other 10% of running form is made up of midfoot and forefoot strikers. However, it is not uncommon for distance runners to change their strike pattern as time goes and even some runners demonstrate side-to-side differences in their running form. Foot strike pattern matters in regards to running form as it affects something called Ground Reaction Forces (GRF), load rate, and impact peak. If you’ve ever heard someone say running can impose forces on your body up to 3x your body weight, they’re referring to the vertical GRF that occurs during running when your foot makes contact with the ground. What’s important to understand is how fast this happens with different foot strike patterns

Peak And Loading Rate

loading rate impact peak active peak how to change running form the prehab guys

Fellrnr.com

  • Impact Peak is the greatest force seen during the initial landing. This small peak before the main landing is often only seen on Rear Foot Strike landing.”

 

  • Active Peak is the greatest force detected during foot strike.”

 

  • Loading Rate is how rapidly the forces build up and can either be averaged over parts of this section of the graph or an instantaneous peak can be used. This is a measure of how steep the curve is during this initial landing.”

 

Change Running Form: Footstrike Force/Time Relationship

rearfoot vs forefoot strike graph the prehab guys

Fellrnr.com

As you can see, rearfoot strike running form creates a high impact peak very quickly as compared to a forefoot strike. This induces stress on the body, particularly joints and bones, especially if the muscles are not doing their job (think of that person who is very LOUD running on the treadmill). There is nothing wrong with a rearfoot strike running form considering it is the most common form, however having adequate lower body strength, trunk control, optimal running mechanics, and the appropriate dosage of mileage is very important to minimize the risk of pain and injury with running.

“You must be fit to run, not run to get fit” – Dr. Christopher Powers, PhD, PT

 

What if I Recently Had An Injury And Want To Get Back To Running?

running program the prehab guys how to improve running form

A lot of people think that you can just grab a pair of shoes and start running, which can be true. However, failure to prepare may set you up for failure. “You don’t run to get fit, you have to be fit to run.” Without proper training, education, and an understanding of healthy running hygiene habits, issues may arise that can keep you from running. The Running [P]Rehab Program will teach you the best cross-training routine for runners and education to help you maintain optimal running health. Learn more HERE!

 

Exercises For Heel Strikers

Stress fractures and other stress-related injuries are important to avoid. Other than overall running and training volume, two important considerations with heel strikers I always look at are active shock absorption and over-striding.

Bounding Exercise

Sample [P]rehab Running Program

Here is a simple exercise that focuses on active shock absorption and optimal running mechanics, meaning optimal alignment throughout the kinetic chain. This is a great one to practice if you change your running form, especially learning how you plan to land with each running step. Active shock absorption happens during eccentric muscle contraction such as the hip and knee bending after the foot contacts the ground. Leg stiffness is inversely related to active shock absorption, think the stiffer your leg is – the louder the noise your foot makes when it contacts the ground.

A study by Teng and Powers in 2015, concluded increasing forward trunk lean and hip flexion during running can decrease the energy absorbed at the knee. Here is a bounding exercise to promote active shock absorption with hip and knee flexion, and a forward trunk lean. The best cues to use are to land softly and stay quiet! The less sound you make, likely the more active shock absorption you are doing! You can find more great running exercises HERE!

READ: EXERCISES FOR SHIN SPLINTS

shin splint exercises running form the prehab guys

 

Increase Cadence

If you don’t want to change running form in terms of your foot strike but your knees are bothering you, try this!

🙋‍♂️Got a cranky knee that bugs you when you run? Try increasing your step rate (how fast you move your feet) to take pressure off that knee! 🙅‍♀️While not a solution for faulty mechanics, weakness, or muscle length issues, changing your step rate on your runs is an effective and fast way to decrease the load on your knees and hips, potentially even reducing your pain. A study in 2011 by Heiderscheit et al found that increasing your step rate by 10% (at a consistent speed) significantly lowered the amount of mechanical energy absorbed at the knee (a 34% decrease!!) and hip! Even a 5% increase in step rate decreased load at the knee by 20%!

adjust your step rate how to change running form the prehab guys

This happens because as the STEP RATE INCREASES, the STEP LENGTH DECREASES. Think about it, if you are moving your feet faster, but staying at the same speed, then the amount of distance you cover per step (step length) has to decrease. Because the step length decreases, it means that your heel is closer to your center of mass and the amount of force (braking impulse) the joints must absorb from the ground is reduced.

Common Questions:

  • Does increasing my step rate by 10% mean I will have to work harder/breathe harder❓
    • NO. Greater oxygen consumption is required when the step rate is increased by more than 10% of preferred, while increases less than or equal to 10% of preferred reveal a minimal change in metabolic cost.

 

  •  If I run at a faster rate than normal with an increased step rate, will I still have less loading on my joints❓
    • NO. The decrease in energy absorption is due to the decrease in step length, not necessarily the rate.

 

Learn 5 of The Most Important Runner Exercises!

 

Transitioning To Barefoot Running

So you want to change your running form to barefoot running? Barefoot running is the same running form as the forefoot strike pattern. Studies have shown when you run in a minimalist shoe it is similar to the mechanics of barefoot running. What are minimalist shoes? These types of shoes weigh very little, are very flexible, have minimal to no cushion, no motion control or arch support, no midsole, and feature a zero drop. The intention is to mimic the feel of barefoot walking/running while still protecting your feet from the outside world.

Ankle & Foot Anatomy: Intrinsic Foot Musculature

intrinsic foot musculature change running form the prehab guys

Barefoot running form tends to decrease stride length and increase stride frequency compared to heel strikers. So in regards to the initial loading rate and the impact peak we covered earlier in the graphs, both are lower with this running form compared to heel strikers. This running form can be beneficial for trying to avoid injuries related to high vertical impact loads. However, it is imperative to understand switching to this running form will increase the amount of work required at the ankle joint. According to a study by Williams III et el. 2012, transitioning to a barefoot running form shifts power absorption from the knee to the ankle. This can expose structures at the ankle and foot including the Achilles tendon, the gastrocnemius, and soleus muscle complex, the posterior tibialis, the arch of the foot, the plantar fascia, and even some of the foot bones (metatarsals).

A proper transition to barefoot running is necessary

But, running with minimalist shoes can provide direct benefits to the muscles of the foot as well as the arch of the foot. Think about it, if you don’t use it you lose it! If we always have our feet stuffed in thick, padded shoes or we are relying on inserts, we may lose a sense of body awareness with our feet and the mind-body connection with our feet muscles. Deconditioned feet are prone to musculoskeletal issues like plantar fascia and arch issues.

 

Prehab Membership The Prehab Guys

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Barefoot Running Form Exercises

Having adequate intrinsic foot musculature strength and size is essential to transition safely to barefoot running! A proper program allows a safe transition. Featured below are barefoot running specific exercises targeting these muscles. Some of these exercises also strengthen the extrinsic foot muscles, which are more commonly known as the calf muscles! When programmed correctly with progressive overload, there is evidence to support these exercises to significantly increase intrinsic muscle foot size and strength.

So what is the program referenced? Runners performed strength training that included some of the exercises below. These exercises were performed for at least 5 days/week for 8 weeks. The exercises got progressively more difficult through the 8 weeks. What is interesting about this study is that the participants were asked to continue running with their traditional shoes and traditional running form.

It is important to perform these exercises barefoot

Doming

Sample [P]rehab Running Program

Also referred to as the short foot maneuver or short foot exercise, the goal of this exercise is to literally make a dome shape of the foot by activating the intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles. When performed correctly, the medial longitudinal arch will raise in height and the foot will actually shorten in length. I like to perform this exercise with at least 3-5s isometric holds for 2 sets of 15-20 reps. It is important to feel the foot muscles burn and work these muscles to fatigue. This is the only way to impose adaptation and improve muscle endurance! Be sure to have sound on for additional cues and instructions! A great exercise to start with when you plan to change your running form!

 

Double Leg To Single Leg Eccentric Heel Raise

Similar to the exercise above, however a small but very important progression. After performing a bilateral heel raise, transition to one foot, do not lose any height, and slowly lower the heel down to the ground. The slow, single leg eccentric portion of this exercise is so important to running. What we know from running analysis and running mechanics is that the ankle is responsible for eccentric work every time the foot makes contact with the ground. It would be silly not to train the calf in this fashion!

 

Doming + Single Leg Box Jump Progressions

Sample [P]rehab Running Program

After building a solid base of intrinsic and extrinsic foot strength, it is time to introduce jumping exercises performed barefoot. Some individuals may be able to tolerate these immediately, however, it is so important to program these correctly and monitor overall training volume. Some researchers have suggested running only 10% of your regular running volume when transitioning to barefoot. I would suggest the same when it comes to performing barefoot jumping exercises for the first time compared to normal jumping exercise volume with shoes on. 10% may be too low, however, starting with a few sets of 5-10 reps of just one jumping exercise would be wise, and then build up your tolerance from there.

Demonstrated in this video is doming with a box jump progression. Why jump up onto the box first? Actually jumping up onto an elevated surface will induce less ground reaction forces compared to jumping down from a box. As long as the individual can jump high enough on one leg, this is an appropriate starting point. After getting comfortable with this and having success, the goal is to progress to a drop jump off of the same box. Try to maintain the foot dome before and after each jump, especially with the landing! As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

 

Doming + Single Leg Hop Progressions

Demonstrated in this video is doming with single leg hops in place, and doming with linear single leg hops. Running is a single leg sport, need I say more?! Of course, this isn’t what running looks like, but just like any other good training program, you have to build brakes before power AKA working on landing and decelerating. The stationary doming with single leg hops could be introduced before/after doming with single leg box jump, I just think it comes down to which exercise is able to be performed with an optimal landing. Again, focus on that arch position with each landing!

 

How Else Can I Strengthen My Feet?

Want to work on strengthening your feet in other ways? Start by simply walking in your minimalist running shoe! Some researchers from the same group referenced above compared a foot strengthening program to minimal footwear use on intrinsic muscle size and strength. They compared the groups after 8 weeks, the minimal footwear use group simply progressed walking distance over the course of 8 weeks. The exact details of the foot strengthening program and walking program are not included, however, both groups were successful! The group concluded, “Exercises that target the intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles are effective in increasing strength and size of the muscles. However, similar increases in strength and size can be obtained by progressive walking in minimal footwear. Combining both these approaches may have an even greater effect. Stronger feet may offer greater protection against overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis.” You can find the study HERE!

 

What About My Running Shoes? Does it Matter?

So we covered minimalist shoes and how that is coupled with a forefoot strike pattern. What about other shoes? Well, one thing is for certain, comfort matters! It is true, that some of the best advice you can give to a runner is simply picking a shoe that is comfortable. For the average runner, there is no perfect algorithm!

LISTEN: DO I NEED A SPECIFIC TYPE OF RUNNING SHOE?

choosing the correct running shoe change form the prehab guys audio experience

 

Wet Test

Wet test foot type the prehab guys

What about shoes that are specifically tailored towards your foot type? Well, a study by Knapkik et al. 2010 assigned shoes to Air Force Basic Military Training recruits based on the shape of the bottom of their feet. The study concluded assigning shoes based on this had no influence on injuries. Curious about your arch type?

 

Become A Healthier and More Efficient Runner!

running program the prehab guys how to improve running form

The human movement system provides a beautiful example of a build meant for movement efficiency. The tendons are built not just to anchor down muscles, but also to store and release energy acting as a spring to propel us forward. We were built to run, and not just to run, but to run gracefully. That script can for sure change when muscle weakness is present, tendon elastic energy is lost, or an injury occurs. No worries, running efficiency will return by completing this program!

 

REFERENCES

  1. Peter Larson, Erin Higgins, Justin Kaminski, Tamara Decker, Janine Preble, Daniela Lyons, Kevin McIntyre & Adam Normile (2011): Foot strike patterns of recreational and sub-elite runners in a long-distance road race, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:15, 1665-1673
  2. https://fellrnr.com/wiki/Impact
  3. Teng, H.-L., & Powers, C. M. (2015). Influence of trunk posture on lower extremity energetics during runningMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 47625630. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000436
  4. Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB. Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(2):296–302.
  5. Williams DS 3rd, Green DH, Wurzinger B. Changes in lower extremity movement and power absorption during forefoot striking and barefoot running. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012;7(5):525–32.
  6. Ridge ST, Davis IS, deVries TD, Myrer W, Johnson AW. THE EFFECTS OF A FOOT STRENGTHENING PROGRAM ON INTRINSIC FOOT MUSCLE SIZE AND STRENGTH – A PILOT STUDY. 
  7. Ridge, Sarah & Bruening, Dustin & Jurgensmeier, Kevin & Olsen, Mark & Griffin, David & Johnson, Aaron & Davis, Irene. (2018). A Comparison of Foot Strengthening versus Minimal Footwear Use on Intrinsic Muscle Size and Strength. Foot & Ankle Orthopaedics. 3. 2473011418S0040. 10.1177/2473011418S00406.
  8. Knapik JJ, Brosch LC, Venuto M, et al. Effect on injuries of assigning shoes based on foot shape in air force basic training. Am J Prev Med. 2010;38(Suppl 1):S197–211.

 

About The Author

Craig Lindell, PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Content Officer

craig lindell the prehab guysCraig is a South Jersey native & Penn State Kinesiology Alumni. When the opportunity came, Craig packed his bags and drove to California to pursue his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. With [P]rehab, Craig oversees all digital content creation and multi-channel publication that reaches millions of people on a weekly basis. As a PT, Craig has a wide array of experience from working with various neurological conditions to working with collegiate & professional athletes across the Big Five in North American sports. Experiencing physical therapy first-hand as a soccer player in high school, Craig has a passion & special interest in adolescent athletic development working with young athletes to overcome injuries. In his spare time, Craig enjoys exercising, playing golfing, hiking, traveling, watching Philly sports, and spending quality time with his family.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Craig Lindell PT, DPT, CSCS

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