Is there a right way to run?

Posted on 19 August 2019

So you want to compete at the 2019 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon but you don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. Most new runners have more questions than answers. Is there such a thing as proper form? Heel first, toe first? How do I find the right shoes? What is the right way to run?

You’ve been running since about the time you started walking … but, you’ll be surprised to hear, now that you’re a grown-up, you’re probably doing it wrong.

When it comes to distance running (or jogging), about 80% of us are what’s called rear-foot runners, which means our heel hits the ground first (heel-toe). A further 15% of runners are mid-foot runners, so their feet hit the ground flat. The final 5% are forefoot runners, who run on the balls of their feet.

Here’s the funny thing, though: almost everybody, when they run barefoot, turns back into a forefoot runner.

“Forefoot running is what you’d use for sprinting,” says Dr Herman Kotzé, a doctor of sports medicine at Mediclinic Stellenbosch and the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. From a biometric point of view forefoot running is faster, but it requires strong calf and leg muscles.

There are various studies – and loads of online debates – about the pros and cons of each running style. “The theory is that if you run on your front foot, you should experience fewer injuries,”says Dr Kotzé. “Based on that, if you had to ask me to say which style is best, I’d say forefoot running: toes first.”

Your running style (or ‘gait’) can play a huge role in affecting your efficiency. For example, if you lean too far forward, you’ll increase the load on the front of your knee and limit your arm movement, which can slow you down. To fix this, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lean forward at your ankles until your weight shifts to the balls of your feet. Feel that? That’s your best running angle.

To conserve energy, you’ll want to reduce the amount of time that your foot is in contact with the ground – and, as a result, the amount of time and energy your legs spend supporting your body weight. So keep your rhythm brisk, making each step quicker and spending less time with your feet on the ground.

If you experience any kind of pain when you’re running, then you’re doing something wrong. Speak to a biokineticist about your form (remember, you may just be leaning too far forward), and speak to a podiatrist about getting a good pair of running shoes.

“There’s been a lot of discussion lately around barefoot running and minimalistic shoes,’”says Dr Kotzé. “Minimalist shoes will help you run more on your forefoot, instead of your heel striking the ground first.”

And that, the theory goes, will help you run better: faster, and injury-free.


Published in Exercise

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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