What is the “best” running form?

What is the best way to run? What is the “correct” running form?

Is it Pose running?; Chi running?: heel, midfoot or forefoot striking?; maximalist or minimalist? Advocates and evangelists of them all argue that they are the best and usually cite a whole lot of references to back their cases. What does that evidence actually say? I have seen no evidence that there is any one particular running form or technique that is better than another. I have seen a lot of people misinterpret the evidence to claim one is better than another. I see lots of rhetoric and propaganda; lots of misuse, misrepresentation, misquoting and misinterpretation of the science with no real good data.

Look at this image from Iain Hunter at Brigham Young University¹:

footstrikesmens10k

This is from the USA men’s 10km 2012 Olympic Trials. These are the best of the best running very fast over 10km’s. Look at the foot strike patterns. Notice the differences? How can any one of the foot strike patterns be any better than another if elite athletes use such a variety?

This means to me, that the best running form or technique for any individual is the one that suits that individual. To make a blanket claim that there is one better way to run over another is nonsensical.

As a clinician, this also means to me that if I am managing an runner with a clinical problem, I want them to use the running technique that best reduces the load in the tissue that they are most having a problem with. Different running forms and different running techniques load different structures differently, so its a matter of working with the runner to determine which one loads the problematic tissue the least. For example, posterior tibial tendon pathologies tend to be associated with forefoot or midfoot striking; anterior compartment syndrome appears to be associated with heel striking; other injuries (for example, probably plantar fasciitis) do not appear to be associated with any particular running technique. I would be acting irresponsible and unethical if I was to advise a runner to change their running form if it increases the load on the tissue that they are having a problem with (see the post on: Which injuries are probably more common in which foot strike pattern?).

Running form is complex and there can be problematic issues that need to be addressed in a number of runners. For example, heel striking does lead to a risk of overstriding, but apart from overstriding, no one has yet shown anything wrong with heel striking (and the elite athletes in the image above can certainly run fast over 10km when heel striking). All we have is a lot of propaganda and rhetoric that heel striking is somehow evil, yet I have seen no data that it is! To add to the propaganda and rhetoric is all the usual argumentative fallacies, not to mention the appeal to the ‘natural’ fallacy.

‘Form’ clinics seem to be opening up all over the place to teach the best running form, but from my observation it is way too superficial approach to a complex action being taken by many. The approach that is being taken by some of those that run these “form clinic’s” tend to be promoting one particular agenda rather than draw on aspects of all running techniques that may best suit the individual runner. I also note that I have seen no elite level coach identify themselves as a Pose, Chi, or whatever coach. I assume that they know to use many different tools at their disposal to suit the individual runner.

As always: I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise.

¹Used with permission.

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3 Responses to What is the “best” running form?

  1. Elie February 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Hello Craig, I recently discovered your website and I have to say it’s quite a valuable source in that confusing ocean of information overload and misinformation the www has become.

    I think it would be interesting to address what the “best” running form is from the angle of “best for whom?”.
    I might be wrong about this but, the best running form for an elite athlete who wants to break the world record might be different than the best running form for an non elite athlete who wants to run as fast as possible while minimizing the risk of injury (by spreading the load onto as many tissues as possible for example).

    Furthermore, even though this article addresses running form, would you agree that the best sprinting form almost always involve mid/forefoot striking?
    I am not sure if you have previously addressed sprinting vs running form – I couldn’t find a link through your search feature.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Craig Payne February 12, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

      Of course you are probably right. It all depends on goals etc and just shows why a good technique coach is so helpful. This is why I suggest people stay away from the ‘one size fits all’ fan boys.

      A third of those in that 10k are heel striking and they are running fast!

      My perspective is that I deal with runners with a history of injury; I going to want to look at what changes, if any, can reduce the load on the problematic tissue without overloading too much a non-problematic tissue.

      To sprint, it all comes back to lever arms to generate the velocity to run as fast as they do – at some point (and it will be different for each runner), using that bigger lever arm is going to be uneconomical to maintain it for long … again a good coach is going to work that out with each runner.

      I have not really address sprinting here – here is some info here on sprinting mechanics:
      http://www.podiatry-arena.com/podiatry-forum/tags/index.php?tag=/sprinting/

  2. Elie February 13, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    Thank you for sharing the sprinting mechanics link – I appreciate it.

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