An easier and lower impact running and walking technique

Damian Stoy is a professional runner, coach & founder of Wholistic Running. He offers personalized Online Coaching and Injury Prevention Plans. Find out more HERE.

When you run, do you feel like water flowing down a mountainside?  Is it effortless, easy and peaceful?  Are you rarely or never injured?  I ask because running can be all the above and pain-free.

Think of the last time you rode a non-motorized scooter. To propel yourself forward, you would place your foot flatly underneath you and kick back.  Of course you wouldn’t reach your foot out in front of you with a straight leg, heel strike and then kick back to propel yourself.  It doesn’t work because an extended leg acts more like a brake. But this is exactly what I see most runners do. And when I say most, this MOST likely means you.

This is what I see most runners doing with their feet and legs and the same is exactly true when I see people walk!  The jamming impacts your knees and back and you are running as if you are constantly applying a brake instead of letting gravity do the work for you.  The only way to create movement is to push off with the back leg which wastes energy and causes fatigue.

So what exactly are most runners and walkers doing (think you)?  With their legs, they are reaching out in front of them.  They may or may not heel strike and usually land with a pretty straight leg and sometimes with a locked out knee.  This results in a lot of excessive impact (think of the jamming of the scooter) and needless running related injuries.  What is important is where the foot lands in relation to your hips or center of mass.

This is how many people run.  Notice the foot landing in front of the hips and heel strike creating excessive impact especially on the knees and back.

A more efficient, less impactful and more natural way to run is to have the feet land mid-foot and underneath the hips.  The faster you go, the more they will actually land behind your hips, same as when riding a scooter.

Proper running technique.  Notice how the feet land underneath or behind the hips just like how children run.

Please don’t think you accomplish this by thrusting the hips forward when you run.  You accomplish this by leaning slightly from the ankles with proper posture allowing the legs to open behind you.

I teach a very effective way for runners to easily learn how to run in a way that is more natural, reduces impact and therefore, reduces injuries.  Because you are using gravity instead of your own energy, you’ll also run more efficiently, easier and have more fun!

So much attention is being made about heel striking and how it is ‘bad’.  It is, but what is more important is where the foot lands in relation to the hips.  It is almost impossible to heel strike if your feet are landing underneath your hips.

For a more efficient, low impact way of running, try these quick tips: 

Have your feet land more underneath the hips.  You can accomplish this by having a shorter stride or higher cadence (steps per minute). Think smaller, shorter steps.  You will not lose speed because you can open up your stride behind you and relax to increase your stride length therefore your speed.  Also, with good posture and long spine, think of leaning from the ankles and letting gravity pull you forward.  The key is not leaning from the hips or head.  You may not get it right away and feel the difference at first, but ideally you will progress gradually.

Poor technique resulting in fatigue and injuries.  Don’t lean from the hips or neck.  Proper alignment, an engaged core and good posture is key.

Barefoot running can accomplish some of these goals.  But still, many people run poorly and have poor posture resulting in fatigue and injuries while barefoot running.  Also, I have some runners who come to me saying they have practiced running technique and it has made running more difficult.  The problem is that they are doing the technique incorrectly without knowing it.  This is why it is important to learn from an experienced teacher and runner.

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Yoga and Running

What can yoga do for you?  Give you more energy.  Reduce injuries and recovery time.  Increase patience, courage, and clarity.  Increase endurance, lung capacity, performance, speed and mental determination.  Reduce dis-ease including aches and pains, digestive issues, arthritis, tendonitis, sleep issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, skin issues and more.  Yoga will help bring you more into the present moment and give you abundant peace of mind bringing more happiness and joy.  Now who doesn’t want that?

For runners, yoga can be an incredible asset and complement to your training.  I have experienced many benefits in my running because of yoga.  I often say,

“yoga keeps me in better running shape than running does.” 

And it isn’t a joke.  As an elite ultramarathon runner, I don’t run as much as you may think.  Yoga and Wholistic Running allow me to run far and fast.  Some benefits I have experienced from yoga include reduced injuries, faster recovery time, increased performance, more speed and endurance, and less effort and more joy while running.  This all sounds too good to be true?  Let me share how yoga may benefit you.

How does yoga reduce injuries?  Yoga is all about balance.  Contrary to what many people may believe, yoga isn’t just about stretching.  Yoga brings the body, mind and spirit into balance bringing overall health and well being.  Hatha yoga (physical yoga) increases flexibility and range of motion, strength, and balance.  In order to prevent injuries, the body must have a balance of flexibility and strength.  Too much or little of one and you are more susceptible to injury.  Yoga challenges the entire body bringing strength to every muscle and encourages your body to move correctly and efficiently.  By practicing balancing postures, we teach the body to move with strength and fluidity.  Increasing flexibility promotes a more graceful and light running pattern which reduces impact and effort.

How does yoga increase performance?  Yoga increases lung capacity, efficiency, mental strength and reduces recovery time allowing you to train harder and more often.  Breathing exercises in yoga expand your lungs allowing you to run faster and harder while more efficiently bringing oxygen to your muscles.  Breathing with your entire lungs, especially the lower lungs where more oxygen exchange occurs, is a more efficient way to breathe requiring less effort and producing more energy.  You will run more efficiently because of increased range of motion and flexibility.

By ‘opening’ up the body, you will run more like when you did as a kid.

With ‘open’ hips, your stride will be more graceful and fluid.  Yoga promotes spinal twisting which will allow your body to move effortlessly and efficiently.  Yoga reduces recovery time by detoxifying metabolic wastes produced by the body when running and increasing the healing potential of your body.  This is done by ‘squeezing’ and releasing body parts which flushes the body of wastes and opens the body bringing healthy, healing oxygenated blood to your whole body.  Yoga greatly increases mental strength and determination allowing you to train and race harder and faster.  You will develop patience and acceptance while practicing yoga which will help you accept the increased effort and sensations of running harder.

Yoga helps reduce dis-ease.  Everyone experiences dis-ease of some sort whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  Yoga benefits your entire physical body including your organs promoting overall health and well being.  Yoga treats your entire body, it is a wholistic practice.  Many times, we suffer physically and the cause is mental or emotional.  Yoga brings your whole life into balance encouraging health on all levels.  With yoga, you learn and experience Self awareness and therefore you can treat the real cause of your symptoms whatever they may be.

Experience an increase of joy and happiness by practicing yoga.

This will help you be a happier, healthier runner as well.  Yoga teaches you to be in the present moment. By being in the present moment, you will be released of unnecessary suffering and on your path to happiness and health.  Acceptance, love, gratitude and patience are experienced while practicing yoga.  How does yoga do this?  I’m not exactly sure to be honest.  But from my experience as well as many other practitioners, it just ‘happens’.

Wholistic Running has many similar benefits to yoga.  They are both a great complement to each other and will enhance your running as well as your entire life.  Just like yoga, Wholistic Running is a practice.  I highly recommend finding a yoga practice that best suits you.  In my opinion, it usually isn’t the easiest practice.  Find a studio, teachers, and community you connect with.  I personally connect most with Bikram Yoga and it is the most physically healing practice I have tried.

Most importantly, practice.  Reading about it and wondering if it may help won’t get you anywhere.  Experience the benefits of yoga for your Self by practicing.