Good running technique can prevent injury and keep you on track. Anthony Luke, MD, MPH, director of the Human Performance Center at the University of California, San Francisco, weighs in with tips for top-form running.
The way your feet strike the ground may determine your odds of getting injured. Most runners are heel-strikers, which means the heel hits the ground just before the rest of the foot. But it's not necessarily best. Heel-strikers had more repetitive stress injuries than forefoot-strikers, according to a recent study. The research isn't conclusive, though, Luke says.
Be Careful of Barefoot Running
Barefoot running has surged as a way to boost performance. But research doesn't support it. "Barefoot running can lead to more Achilles and heel pain [a condition called plantar fasciitis] problems, since it loads the calf muscles and the foot differently," Luke says.
Instead, choose a lightweight shoe with a firm heel. If you have high arches, get a well-cushioned shoe. If you have flat feet, get a stabilizing shoe with arch support. If your feet get sore, roll too far inward or roll too far outward, visit a specialty running store with a knowledgeable staff -- they can help you find the best shoe.
Good posture keeps your spine in proper alignment and boosts efficiency. Keep your shoulders back, your head balanced, and your pelvis straight. "Don't arch your back or stick your butt out," Luke says.
Flex your arms with an angle of more than 90 degrees. Let them swing freely, which helps you balance and propels you forward. Focus on tightening your abs, Luke says. A strong core is the foundation of your running and key for proper form.
If you take long strides, you may want to dial it down. Overstriding puts more stress on your lower legs and can lead to foot, shin, and knee pain. You're better off with a shorter stride than a longer one. It may feel awkward at first, but quick strikes -- one foot striking the ground three times each second -- will help reduce injury.
Q: "How do I start running? How long will it take to work up to a 5K?" -- Ekho Powell, 35, business consultant, Lakeland, FL.
A: "Shoot for 3 days a week, with a day of rest between runs. Increase your mileage or your time no more than 10% from week to week. Soon you'll start feeling better, more in shape, and less tired. That's when you can start ramping up. Walking breaks are fine. Run for 4 minutes, then walk for 1. Gradually increase the amount of running between walk periods. Strength training and flexibility work a couple of times a week is a must and will help your running. Most people should reach a 5K within 8 weeks. Start with 1 mile, three times a week. Then gradually increase, using the 10% rule. Within 8 weeks, you should be there." -- Anthony Luke, MD, MPH, director of the Human Performance Center, University of California, San Francisco
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